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One of the most frequent complaints I hear from carriers, in person, on social media, or at conferences, is about the number and quality of freight bids that they receive. Carriers complain about the poor quality of the data, the number of carriers in the bid, and about the lack of professionalism in the bid process. They also assert that if the shipper would just meet with them face to face, rather than through a bid process, the result would be more successful for both parties and would take a lot less time, money and effort.

My company has designed and executed many successful bids over the past fourteen years. We have learned that for many shippers, success comes from getting “your house in order” before executing the bid. This is what is involved.

Many shippers have been moving the same freight, to the same consignees, using the same processes, for several years. In their haste to put their freight out for bid, they overlook certain aspects of their business.

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A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog entitled “How do you know when it is time to conduct a freight bid?” (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/how-do-you-know-when-it-is-time-to-conduct-a-freight-bid ). In that blog, I outlined a set of general conditions that shippers can use as a guide to reach this decision point. Half way through the first quarter of 2017, I find myself thinking about this issue again. Here’s why.

The stock markets in North America are hitting record levels on an almost daily basis. Usually this is a sign of good economic times ahead. The US Consumer Confidence Index in December of 113.7, reached its highest level since 2001, a sure sign that people are ready to open their wallets and buy things. The National Purchasing Manager’s Index increased to 54.7% in December 2016, an increase of 150 basis points over the previous month and the 91st consecutive month for growth in the overall US economy.

The Shippers Conditions Index for October 2016 increased to a neutral reading of 0.4. FTR, an American transportation consulting service, expects that shippers will see a couple more months of neutral market conditions before they may be impacted in the latter half of 2017. The impact would in part be due to potential capacity issues stemming from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) implementation scheduled for the end of 2017.

ACT Research’s For-Hire Trucking Index sees freight rising faster than capacity, increasing the gap to levels not observed since 2014. January freight volumes for TransCore’s Link Logistics continue an upward trend after a surge in freight volume in December 2016. Although the record for highest load volumes for January was set in 2014, last month’s load volumes are the second highest recorded for the month of January, and compared to last year load volumes have leaped 43% year-over-year.

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The subject of online freight bids and internet freight auctions came up a few times at the Surface Transportation Summit that took place in Toronto on October 13. The carriers that raised this topic spoke of the high volume and poor quality of bids that have been hitting the transportation industry this year. One carrier was so fed up with the internet auctions in which they were participating that they made a decision to opt out of them.

It is clear that where there is a market opportunity, there are a multitude of companies that are seeking to meet the needs of unsuspecting shippers. It was apparent from the carrier comments that there are a number of unqualified or underqualified, unprofessional providers, some with very limited expertise, who are providing an unsatisfactory service to their customers and a disservice to the industry. These are some of the issues that were brought to light.

There are bids on the market where the carrier is being asked to quote on 6000 lanes of traffic, a massive undertaking. In one case, the carrier was provided with shipment data that stated that there are 1600 truckloads of freight that move on a particular lane each year. The carrier that is the incumbent, looked at their data and noticed that they move only 160 LTL shipments on the particular lane each year.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Sample-Routing-GuideV1_20160429-193844_1.jpgMany shippers don’t achieve the cost savings they expect from their freight bid exercises. This can happen despite the time, energy and costs that go into these projects. Based on our work with shippers over the past twelve years, these are the main reasons why this happens.

A Failure to Provide Full Disclosure of Requirements and Expectations

As a prelude to the execution of a freight bid, shippers are required to gather and document the scope of their freight transportation requirements. For carriers to bid properly on a shipper’s freight, this goes well beyond volumes, lanes and transit times. Carriers need to understand everything about the pick-up, linehaul and delivery operations. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. The omission of certain requirements can lead to erroneous carrier selections and turmoil after the bid has been completed and the freight has been awarded. Here is one example.

Some shippers require early morning (i.e. 7:30 AM) deliveries. Not all LTL carriers are able to supply this service in all locations on a consistent basis. If carriers are not informed of this requirement in the RFP and then expected to meet this requirement in certain locations after the bid has been awarded, this can lead to service failures and pressure to bring back the incumbent (s).

A Failure to Gain Buy-In and Support from all Divisions and Sister Companies

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Recent stock market and currency value declines in China and Canada point to a challenging year ahead for the economies of these two countries and many others around the world. While the United States has remained fairly stable amidst current world turmoil, its high valued currency may slow exports to its key trading partners. If business levels deteriorate this year, this will place added pressure on shippers who are trying to manage their freight costs? Is this a year to conduct a freight bid?

Certainly faltering economic conditions typically encourage manufacturers and distributors to conduct RFPs to keep freight costs as low as possible. Beyond the general state of the economy, there are a usually a range of conditions that set the stage for a successful freight bid. Here a few to consider.

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