Your business is growing, and you need technology that can help you keep pace. As a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, you likely already have a warehouse management software (WMS). But now that your business is evolving and growing, you’re looking for something more…
But where do you start? When you try to search for “3PL warehouse management software” online, you get innumerable results.
First, you need to identify your challenges, and then based on that, you’ll be able to determine which features matter most to you.
Challenges that 3PL Warehouses Face
As a 3PL, you face additional challenges that other businesses don’t have to deal with. You’re turning warehouse management into an outsourced service. So you aren’t on the hook for marketing your customers’ products, but they’ll be unhappy if your management leaves them with dissatisfied customers.
Handling Clients, not Just Inventory
Yes, you manage products, but you also manage your customers. Their requests, questions, needs, and more. Even though they know you have other customers, they’ll expect you to courteously and promptly respond as if they’re your only customer.
Many times, customers will reach out to you when they have a fulfillment emergency. Perhaps product demand grew faster than they expected, or their product got picked up by an influencer. Whatever the case may be, they’re contacting you, and they need to onboard quickly before their business gets banned in the marketplaces.
You need lead time to set up new clients, and you don’t always have as much as you’d like. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a streamlined process that looked the same for each client, while allowing them to receive individual treatment?
Lack of Real-Time Reporting
Without real-time reporting, you’re going to struggle to make rapid-fire business decisions. If your clients decide to have unexpected sales (as they may be prone to do), does your data tell you how many temporary workers you need to hire?
Are you going to need those workers to work overnights and weekends?
Do you need your customer to place orders for additional inventory so they aren’t out-of-stock?
These are questions that require fast answers. Of course, to be sure you’re coming up with the right decisions, you need real-time data. Real-time data from all of your sales and supply chain channels comes from integrations that connect to your system.
As you grow your 3PL business, one or two new clients may require you to scale your capabilities. You will seek to grow by landing larger clients with larger budgets. However, once you start to gain those clients, your warehouse capacity will reach its max, which means you may have to add new warehouses to your network.
You’ll need more equipment and more employees, which means you’ll generate more data that can help you run your business smartly. Investing in technology that can support your business growth for the next 3, 5, or 10+ years is a smart investment.
You must build scalability into your business model to have sustainable growth and see the most return on your investments.
What to Look for When Choosing Your 3PL Warehouse Management Software
If you’re looking for a solution that allows you to treat customers as individuals, provides real-time data, and has built-in scalability, then you’re looking for a 3PL warehouse management system. There are so many warehouse management systems to choose from in the marketplace (we created a short list of the top 3PL warehouse software solutions here for your review). Here are some areas you should consider when looking for a 3PL WMS in order to bring efficiency (and profitability) to your business.
Fulfillment Process Optimization
You want your 3PL WMS to help you build better operations processes. That means your software should guide your employees in executing advanced picking methods and tools such as:
- Zone picking
- Batch picking
- Fulfillment robots
Picking can account for as much as 60% of your warehouse labor costs. Using advanced fulfillment techniques in a non-3PL warehouse can be tricky without the best technology. Handling orders for multiple clients’ customers adds a whole new layer of complexity.
This complexity is why you should use a WMS that has multiple client architecture.
Customizable and Integrated Billing
Your 3PL business has unique billing processes. You should be able to customize your WMS to reflect your requirements. The 3PL WMS that will be easiest for you will let you integrate your billing accounts, and systemically automate billing for functions and services like:
- Product storage
- Fulfillment and shipping fees
If your WMS doesn’t integrate with your billing service, then you’ll have to export this data and import it into your chosen billing platform. This integration can make things much easier when your business goes through financial audits or is preparing for tax time.
Client Portals and Dashboards
We mentioned this above, but multiple client infrastructure is a must have for your business. As a 3PL, you’ll want to extend your great tech to your clients.
Customers want 24/7 access to their business information. As a trusted partner, you want to grant them that access, but you have to make sure that they can only access the right data. Having customer portals is a great way to allow your clients to get a bird’s eye view of their inventory, while securing the data they shouldn’t have access to.
You also operate using many different sets of credentials in order to integrate seamlessly with your clients’ operations. Managing all of their marketplaces, shopping carts, and carrier credentials can easily get out of hand.
You want to present a custom solution, which means taking all of the various channels in stride. You can give your customers the ability to access their information in real-time, and view whatever data they need to make business decisions.
Many businesses struggle to turn over the management of such a critical part of their business. With a client portal, they should be able to view things like receiving, inventory, orders, and reports.
Don’t Forget Your Dashboard
So client portals are wonderful and help foster great relationships between you and your clients. But a great dashboard will help your warehouse run smoothly. When you log into your WMS, you should immediately be able to gain a sense of warehouse operations.
As their service-provider, seeing all of the data in one easy to use dashboard will save you from trying to compile it yourself.
With the account integrations you’re certainly going to want, it becomes a lot easier to trust the data behind your reporting. By minimizing the need for manual data entry, you lessen opportunities for human error. Imagine, you could have real-time 100% accurate data across your entire warehouse.
Real-Time Data and Visibility
If all of your clients’ sales channels are integrated with your WMS, then information will flow from the moment their customers hit the “buy now” button. Most modern 3PL WMSs integrate with barcode scanning technology. This allows for real-time updates on the status of all of your clients’ orders:
- A picker has received the pick list on their mobile device and is walking the pick face right now.
- The picker has picked all of the required inventory and is moving to the packing station.
- The shipping label is waiting at the packing station as your packers scan each item’s barcode.
A truly advanced WMS not only gives you the pulse of your warehouse, but also helps keep your ops in sync. Warehouse operations are kind of like an orchestra. Different parts that create a greater whole. Could you imagine how rough the orchestra would sound if you couldn’t get the percussion and woodwind sections in harmony?
A great 3PL WMS keeps your operations synchronized and streamlined, bringing harmony to your warehouse.
User-Friendly for Easy Training
Your employees shouldn’t need to spend weeks training on your WMS in order to use it effectively. During your 3PL WMS search, look for interfaces that are clean and simple. If it’s easy to use, then you’ll have no problem implementing the system across your warehouse operations.
When you bring in temporary warehouse employees during an operations surge (like the holidays), they should be able to easily grasp your WMS as well. Minimizing their lead time increases their effectiveness during their time working for you.
A System That Grows With Your Company
Your business development department is hard at work generating new business. Marketing and sales are sure to be qualifying and disqualifying leads every day. Every time you land a new client your foothold in the industry grows. You’ll be able to pursue bigger clients.
This means more revenue for you, but also a higher demand on your resources. Look for a WMS that won’t flinch if you need to add a new warehouse (or five). Do you want to take your company international? Any WMS you choose should have no trouble adding an overseas warehouse.
Remember This When Looking For Your 3PL WMS Solution
You want flexibility, scalability, and a WMS that’s innovative. You don’t have to compromise on any of those wants and needs. You can find a great 3PL WMS that’s perfect for your business. Keep your challenges and business priorities in mind during your search for the perfect WMS.
Schedule some demos, and ask the hard questions. If you don’t ask them now, then you’ll get your answer later, likely during a crisis. There’s a warehouse management system out there that can help your company grow. You can count on it.