You’ve decided that outsourcing the fulfillment operation to a professional services company might be a good solution for your business, but you’re not exactly sure where to turn. More and more companies are turning to the Web to search for business services rather than some of the more traditional avenues. Searching online offers a speed of search that is unmatched by the other sources. Searches can even be done on your smart phone. In fact, nearly anything can be found by searching the Web. But be careful where you look during your search online for the best fulfillment services, as there are pros and cons to each methodology.
Search for Companies on Search Engines: Many companies begin by searching for fulfillment services on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. This is a good place to start, as there is a wealth of information to be uncovered using the search engines. In particular, try to search for fulfillment companies that reside in your targeted location, and that specialize in your specific commodity type. For example, if you sell apparel related products in your local area, you can more precisely find companies with that focus by incorporating those keywords into your search criteria. Furthermore, make sure that you search at least a couple of pages deep, since you might uncover a company that fits your ideal criteria but doesn’t show up on the first page of results. But be extremely careful when performing this type of search. Most frequently, the companies that you’ll find at the top of the search engines are usually the larger fulfillment providers that have more marketing dollars and budget to spend on ensuring that their sites rank highly for keyword searches. You may not as easily find the smaller and mi-tier fulfillment providers using this methodology since they may not have the funds to advertise or they just may not have the know how in terms of things that they can do to get their sites to show up for these searches. And one last piece of advice for any companies that you find using a search of this type – make sure to put them through your strictest due diligence process, since there is no way to guarantee that the company you find will be a high quality provider. Anyone can say whatever they want on their website, so be certain to validate their claims and research their company thoroughly.
LinkedIn and Social Networking Helps: Social networks are such a popular place to find information and recommendations for products and services. In particular, Linked In is a professional business social networking site, geared specifically towards businesses. If you have a large enough and trusted network, you could ask them if they have any recommendations for fulfillment vendors that might be of interest. M of the social networks have specific pages geared towards topics of interest to people. In the case of Linked In, they have a number of “groups” where users give information on their experiences with service providers. Of particular interest would be anyone in your network that has actually used a fulfillment service in the past. This could prove to be invaluable – not only because they might have a good company for you to talk to, but also because they may have some insights into the most important things to look for in a good company. Make sure, when using the social networks, that you properly consider the source of any referrals. Especially with the use of Linked In groups, make sure that anyone who recommends a potential fulfillment provider isn’t financially affiliated with that provider – such as an employee or sales rep. The value of the social network is to find real references from real people – not additional sales pitches from the companies themselves. Furthermore, it’s important to note: just because a fulfillment company was a good fit for one company doesn’t mean that they be the best fit for your company. Remember to dig deeper and find out the specialization of the referral so that you can best access whether or not it will be good for your business.
Referral Sites Can Provide Good Leads: There are a handful of sites that rigorously screen service providers and then connect you with a handful of companies that would be a good fit for your project. One such company that helps in the warehousing and fulfillment industry is FulfillmentCompanies.net. The great thing about this service is that they’ve collected a wealth of information about fulfillment companies throughout the US and Canada, and they collect all of your project information and get you in touch with the best companies for your needs. Because they are unbiased and not affiliated with any of their member companies (and they don’t collect commissions on any of the deals that result from companies that they connect), they are a trusted source for recommendations. There are a few other companies out there that offer a similar service within the logistics industry. However, because the screening process and unbiased nature of some of these other alternatives aren’t as apparent, you might consider these sites at your own risk. While being instantly connected with companies can be a good thing, it is risky if the providers haven’t been seriously vetted first. Furthermore, sites that make connections and earn a commission on any deals struck will ultimately result in higher priced services fees, which will hurt your bottom line.
Directories and Other Articles – A Few Words of Caution: Because fulfillment directories and articles on fulfillment services companies are plentiful on the Web, it’s important for you to use your better judgment when reviewing and accessing their content. First, directories are usually paid websites where companies are listed for a fee. Therefore, the only reason that companies might be a part of the directory site is because they paid a fee. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part directories require payment and should be viewed as such. Also, directories oftentimes don’t keep up with their listings as frequently as needed, so the list may include companies that have gone out of business or changed in scope substantially. Second, there are a number of articles out there claiming that they know the top 3 fulfillment providers or compare 2-3 of the “best” companies. Again, these are usually paid articles rather than unbiased pieces – you should definitely “take them with a grain of salt”. There are literally thousands of fulfillment companies in the US – there is no way that 3 companies are the most ideally suited provider for all businesses!
A Last Few “Off the Beaten Path” Sources: If you still haven’t found a good option, you might take your search offline and talk to some of your business associates or give the local Chamber of Commerce a call. Especially when searching for a company in an unpopulated area, you may not find adequate resources on the Internet. Sometimes, either a close associate or the local Chamber of Commerce will have an idea of a local option that you weren’t able to find yourself.
What To Do Once You Found Your Short List: After you’ve compiled a short list of potential vendors, your job isn’t yet complete. The fun task of determining the best company for your business has just begun. No matter which avenue you choose above, it’s important that you perform adequate due diligence on any potential provider. Due diligence includes the following: visiting the facility if possible, speaking to different staff at the company, talking to references of people who are currently using the company, speaking with trade references to determine financial stability, validating any awards, memberships or claims of the company, obtaining a demo of any of the systems that they will use, and any other method that you can think of to verify that the company will perform the task as claimed. It’s a lot of work, but the fulfillment operation is vitally important to the success of your company. Take your time and you’ll be able to find a good fit. The more time you spend searching, the less time you’ll hopefully have to spend managing fulfillment crisis or even worse – switching companies after a bad experience.