RFPs are an essential business development opportunity for carriers of all sizes, so every carrier (even those who think they’re too small) should look for ways to use them to their advantage.
A big part of the appeal of RFPs is that they often represent more steady and desirable loads than show up on load boards or the spot market. The reason is that many shippers use RFPs to lock in price and service commitment from reliable carriers for long periods. In other words, much of the freight contained in many RFPs are the ‘good’ loads that all carriers want. Even better, when an RFP is well-executed, it can be a win-win for both carriers and shippers.
However, realizing the benefits of RFPs is rarely that simple from your perspective as a carrier. The most significant barrier can be getting the chance to participate in RFPs in the first place because few shippers advertise their RFPs. So, if you are not already on their ‘list,’ even getting invited to RFPs takes a full-on strategy.
Part of the reason is that although it may seem counter-intuitive, not all shippers want to invite every possible carrier to an RFP. Shippers have limited time for running bids even though most recognize it’s in their interest to consider as many options as possible. It is extra hard for new carriers to get invited because many shippers fall into the routine of always inviting the same group of incumbent carriers—which often means a few large national carriers and local carriers with existing relationships.
Another hurdle for carriers is that shippers are well aware that it takes time to vet and bring new carrier partners up to speed. There is also a law of diminishing returns when it comes to carrier invites. At some point, all the new options start to look the same, and it simply becomes more trouble than it’s worth to invite more carriers and onboard new ones. A big part of the uphill battle for outsiders looking in is simply convincing shippers to give you a chance.
The challenge for carriers is to get their foot in the door and be part of quality bids you know are happening. And as we mentioned, while shippers’ intentions are generally good, they’re not exactly motivated to add more carriers into their bids without good reason. So, it’s up to you to get noticed by shippers and give them the chance to include you.
Fortunately, there are several approaches carriers can take to get noticed and included. Successful carriers understand that getting more invites takes a strategy, a combination of several tactics that get the job done.
There is a marketing element to successfully getting more RFP invites. Fortunately for you, there are shippers in locations and select industries that align with what your company does best.
It’s up to you to ensure those companies specifically know about you, what you offer, and that you are interested. Don’t assume anyone knows about your company already. It sounds simple, but proactively telling shippers you’d like to participate in a future RFP is often overlooked as a tactic. By the way, this includes shippers you may have already worked with, so don’t assume they are thinking about you when putting together their latest bid.
Finding the suitable types of shippers for your business takes research, but the pay-off of engaging companies you really want to work with is always worthwhile. Some brand awareness is critical here because companies need to know who you are. And as we already mentioned, breaking the shippers’ RFP routines is important. Doing so in a way that communicates how you are easy to work with and ways you can differentiate will increase the chance they’ll see you as a ‘fresh’ new choice.
An essential part of your branding needs to be about knowing your audience. It’s a mistake to try and be everything to everybody. It’s easier to get noticed and thought of by shippers when you are known for certain things, whether it’s serving specific regions, handling certain commodities, providing specialized services, or anything that can set you apart.
Unlike load boards and brokers focused on the spot market, freight procurement platforms such as Emerge already have engaged shippers looking for carriers to participate in their RFPs. Think of this approach as a shortcut. Being associated with a platform like Emerge gets your company in front of more shippers while building credibility because you’re seen as a vetted, trusted partner, which helps get you into the inner circle.
Many large shippers also offer supplier registry options on their websites, so look for those as you research companies you want to work with. Some companies make that a prerequisite to participating in bids anyways.
Lastly, remember that many shippers will do Google searches for carriers when they’re on the lookout. Don’t underestimate how much your website matters—in appearance and when it comes to SEO and keywords. Your site needs to showcase what you do well and make shippers want to work with you. The perfect website doesn’t have to be the goal, but rest assured, a bad website will get you overlooked by otherwise interested shippers.
Keep in mind, from your perspective, the goal should be to get invited to not just more—but more of the right RFPs. So be selective with the RFPs you choose to participate in. They take a lot of time, and you want to ensure you’re bidding on freight that’s right for your business.
It’s hard to break into the inner circle with shippers. Companies with desirable freight that includes consistent volumes and lanes know what they have. As a carrier, it’s worth the time and effort to get what you can when it aligns well with your strengths.
The best approach is to use several tactics to find success and get invited to more and better RFPs. Set the groundwork with some brand awareness, but be aggressive with the right RFP marketplace to access the good loads that will accelerate your company’s growth.