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April 30, 2024

RFPs for a 3PL Partnership: Best Practices for Best Fit



If you’ve spent any time dealing with logistics, you know that the mere mention of "RFP" (Request for Proposal) can cause a lot of eyerolls. And it’s not surprising why—responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) takes up valuable time and in many instances, there is no payback, usually because there isn’t a genuine bidding process behind it. Most 3PLs would rather work through a referral process than take the time to complete an RFP for no real results.

Yet, there are some legitimate reasons for doing an RFP. For example:

  • If you’re looking for a new partner because your vendor isn’t performing
  • If your vendor doesn’t have the capabilities needed to grow with your business
  • If internal company policy is requiring a new RFP once a contract ends

In those cases, you’ll want to know RFP best practices for getting the service you need—with no “surprises.” Business leaders are surprised all the time by logistics costs that far exceed what they originally contracted with their 3PL, and the #1 culprit is inadequate or misleading RFPs. Yet another reason 3PLs are wary of RFPs!

There requires a key balance of using RFPs for supply chain development, and most 3PLs can fall victim to common pitfalls in the process—pitfalls that can easily be avoided with a little knowledge and planning. Let’s explore some of the current trends in RFP supply chain practices, as well as real-world examples of how well-crafted RFPs can deliver a positive impact.

Beyond the Stereotype: The Value of Modern RFPs

Modern approaches to RFPs prioritize clear communication and thorough needs assessments, ensuring that both parties understand specific requirements from the outset. Here's how a well-structured RFP benefits shippers and 3PLs alike:

  • Reduced Time Investment: Gone are the days of cumbersome paper documents and endless back-and-forth communication. Modern RFPs leverage online portals and standardized formats. These tools streamline the process, minimizing the time and resources required for both shippers and 3PLs to create and evaluate proposals.

  • AI-Powered Targeted Proposals: Combined with clear expectations, artificial intelligence empowered 3PLs to respond more quickly to your RFP. You receive customized solutions, rather than generic, one-size-fits-all responses that waste valuable time for both parties.

  • Stronger Partnerships: The collaborative nature of a well-crafted RFP process fosters transparency and understanding. This lays the foundation for a long-term partnership built on mutual trust and open communication.

Take a look at Lintbells. When they discovered that their 3PL solutions provider wasn’t giving them the support they needed, they turned to Materialogic. We were able to provide them with the right support. Without a targeted RFP, it can be difficult to find a partner that can address your unique situation.

Building a Winning RFP Supply Chain: Key Steps to Success

While a well-structured RFP is crucial, it's merely one step in the journey towards a successful partnership. Here's a roadmap to guide you through the key stages of RFP best practices:

Internal Assessment to Know Yourself Before Engaging Others

Before sending out a single RFP, take a deep dive into your internal operations. Conduct a thorough needs assessment to clearly identify your specific requirements. For example, a company like a rapidly growing e-commerce retailer might require specialized value-added services like kitting and customized packaging to fulfill individual orders efficiently. In other situations, such as in the case of Tough Mudder, the company may have significant inventory management and purchase tracking needs. Analyzing your internal requirements upfront ensures your RFP asks the right questions and attracts the perfect partner with the capabilities to meet your specific needs.

The Importance of Accuracy in Your Data

Inaccurate data in an RFP is a recipe for disaster. You need to have up-to-date information on your shipping volume, product types, packaging specifications, palletizing, throughput, and general factors that impact the labor content of the operation. 

For instance, you’ll need to consider product dimensions and complexity, both of which impact labor needs. Clean and accurate data upfront prevents cost surprises later and ensures that proposals are grounded in reality. Taking the time to check for data accuracy in your RFP supply chain can drastically reduce the risk of disruptions down the line, while also helping you find the best partner to suit your expectations, as startup eCommerce company Helmm discovered

Strategic Partner Selection Helps You Find the Right Fit

Don't go it alone! Leverage industry connections, online platforms, and industry publications to identify potential 3PL partners with a proven track record in your sector. Research their capabilities, customer testimonials, and areas of expertise. For example, if you're a cold-chain logistics company specializing in perishable goods, you'll want to shortlist 3PLs with extensive experience in temperature-controlled warehouses and transportation solutions. Communicate deal-breakers upfront – be it specific technology requirements, service areas, or pricing models – to avoid wasting time for both parties.

Clarity Leads to Collaboration in RFP Content

The heart of the RFP lies in its content. These are some additional RFP best practices to keep in mind, especially when seeking to communicate as effectively as possible:

Clearly Defined Scope of Work

Outline your current logistics challenges, growth projections, and desired outcomes. What are the results you’re seeking to achieve? Be detailed, but also leave some room for the 3PL to showcase their expertise and suggest  innovative solutions that you might not have considered yet.

Detailed and Centralized Data Sharing

Provide historical and projected data on shipping volume, product types, and product handling and dimensions. The more information you share, the more accurate and targeted the proposals will be. Don’t forget to utilize content libraries and repositories, either—that way, you’ll be able to easily find the data you need to share, as well as record the 3PL’s responses in one unified space.

Evaluation Criteria

How will you assess the 3PL’s capabilities? Outline your evaluation criteria upfront, including factors like cost, service offerings, technology infrastructure, industry experience, and references. Make sure to highlight the most critical benchmarks so that you know exactly what to look and listen for when you receive responses to your RFP. Ideally, identifying the appropriate metrics should be a collaborative process with the 3PL, the first step being a discussion of what success looks like.

Discover the Right Partner for You

Materialogic is a 3PL that has been providing comprehensive fulfillment solutions for nearly 50 years, catering to a diverse clientele – from Fortune 1000 companies to e-commerce startups. We understand the challenges of navigating logistics, and we pride ourselves on having the right size solution for you today and as your business needs change over time. That's why we're here to partner with you, not just fulfill your orders. If you have questions about the RFP process or just about doing business with a 3PL,  reach out to our team today.

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