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Times are tougher than ever for our fellow freight forwarders and customs brokers here in Florida this year. Everyone is facing new challenges, however, for larger freight forwarding businesses that are already adapted to the digital world, the pain is more manageable and may prove to be a long-term advantage.

For the remaining 60-70% of forwarder operations that are small- to medium-sized, they have their own set of unique challenges to deal with. During the launch of Cargologik, we spoke to some 800+ logistics companies around the globe, uncovering a lot of pain points.

We then boiled that down to some of the top needs that this independent market needs some help with. Let’s start first with what we discovered, and then take a deeper dive into the advantages of adding strategic software and tools to your operations.

Challenges that independent Freight Forwarders deal with:

  • Way too many texts, calls, and emails on a daily basis to help teams and their organizations attempt to collaborate
  • No effective, paperless system of record to know what’s happening across shipments and customers (How many times have you had to run to the office just for a customer file?)
  • Difficulty identifying and revisiting critical information in long email threads with dozens of “reply-all” messages
  • Hard time uploading and finding key documents, contracts, photos, videos, packing lists, and compliance documentation when you need it most
  • Too slow of response time when dealing with critical shipment information and managing exceptions

Various forms of these problems we found exist from operations with one employee all the way up to teams of 200+, from Hong Kong and Tokyo to Dubai, to Ecuador to Colombia and Miami. Pretty much any independent, small- to medium- sized business continues to deal with these issues.

They’re stuck looking at 40-50+ freight forwarding solutions, hopping on demo calls with providers that are too expensive, and choosing not to go with the standard customer portals and user experience that the industry has had to deal with.

Changing innovation landscape for small to medium forwarders:

But that is changing rapidly, and as much as we may hate 2020, we are at least seeing Venture Capitalists (VCs) begin to invest heavily in the transportation and logistics industry.

According to a the latest research from McKinsey Consulting:

“Venture capitalists (VCs) have recently invested around $28 billion in logistics startups, nearly all of it since 2015.”

Access to this new funding is fueling an expansion of industry innovation. New startups are building tools for those segments that have been historically ignored.

This means that you will finally be able to use great software that’s a fit for your business, and not the other way around. And you don’t have to struggle with legacy software that still costs you an arm and a leg to purchase, implement, and maintain.

The time for freight forwarders to engage technology is now:

Technology, at its core, is meant to be a democratizing force, allowing small- to medium-sized players to have access to technological solutions that are cheaper, better, and faster than ever before. And when you combine these trends with advancements in modern technology such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), you start to see more tools for the independent market that are affordable, easy to use, and collaborative. And also fun!

Freight forwarders of any size now have access to the lightweight tools that they have been searching for. They likely aren’t going to have all of the features on your checklist, but probably will, relatively soon. And compared to the incumbent market leaders when it comes to freight software, expect them to get challenged by a whole new slew of startups and competitors looking to disrupt.

All things considered, the current logistics tech scene is playing out in your favor. It might take a little bit of a shared vision between you and the companies you choose to work with, but if you can align on vision and mission, that’s the biggest part of the battle.

This is especially true to those who are thinking about the short-, medium-, and long-term strategy for their company and who are also focused on the customer experience.

Online freight sales are producing a “golden age” according to a recent article from the Loadstar.

In that article, Lars Jensen’s SeaIntelligence Consulting reported that:

“digital booking platform accounts for 41% of Maersk’s spot bookings, and Hapag-Lloyd’s equivalent represents 33%-50% of its spot bookings, around 11% of its total.

And according to digital forwarder, Kontainers, Eytan Buchman reported that:

“airfreight has seen a sharp uptick in digital freight sales through the pandemic, too. For instance, Air France KLM saw its online bookings surge from mid-20s% to 43%”

Quick business tech tips for the independent freight forwarder/broker:

1. Seek out a customer-friendly freight forwarding platform that fits your business.

It means that now’s the time to take the dive and to explore new lightweight, freight forwarding platforms and systems to open up your business and to enhance and invest in the key relationships and clients that drive your business. Technology and bringing it into your customer-facing operations is a best practice.

Start by searching online for “freight forwarding software.” There are many providers out there, and before you start embarking on your search for the right solution, think about how you want that technology to apply to your own strategic vision and company culture. You can also search the FCBF Member Directory for “Software Vendor” to find vetted, proven technology solutions.

For example, do you want to stay innovative or not? How transparent do you want to be with your customers? How defendable is your current customer base? Do you need help enhancing those relationships or not? Whatever software you choose, it needs to fit your own vision.

2. Use a CRM to enhance your business relationships.

**Trying to juggle existing and new customers, old and new commitments, delivering great service, monitoring your shipments, keeping your clients up to date…it never ends. And while you and your team may have “been fine” retaining thousands of data points in your head, it’s time to level-up.

Every logistics company says they deliver great service, but how many can prove it? How many can provide deep guidance, sales, and marketing intelligence with a few clicks to help the client run their own business better? This is how to build loyalty. Maintaining an updated system record of communications and past shipments allows you to better advise your customers.

There are tons of client relationship management tools (CRMs) out there, ranging from $9/month Gmail plugins all the way to standalone, full scale transport CRMs like Oracle and Salesforce which cost literally hundreds or thousands of dollars. We use Hubspot Sales CRM, which is free to start working with. It’s a great tool to use, but not optimized for logistics operations, which is why we built that functionality into Cargologik (also free to try).

3. Start moving to an analytics-driven culture to stay competitive.

One of the things that has been next to impossible for the independent forwarder is having a good grasp on cost, analytics, and key performance indicators such as Quote Win-Rate and Revenue Booked. These statistics enable you to work onyour business strategically, to help you and your team get out from being stuck in the business.

Some independent forwarders and brokers are exceptionally great at spreadsheets and pivot tables and running their business cost effectively. But from our conversations, most do not, and most independent companies don’t have the resources or know where to start.

There just aren’t that many affordable, lightweight tools out there that are more comprehensive and catered to the needs of the independent forwarder or broker just yet. But that is changing rapidly. Companies like Logixboard, Qwyk, and Cargologik are driving innovation in this space.

We are all just starting to tap into the new technological possibilities that will quickly lay the legacy technologies dominant in the market today, to rest.

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