TMS Systems Have Changed Dramatically. Your Buying Process Should Too.

To say that transportation logistics has changed a lot in the last decade would be the understatement of the…well, decade. From the impact of omni-channel to complex routing needs and the demand for lightning-fast integrations, a transportation management system (TMS) can help you manage these challenges and give you a competitive advantage.

At its core, a TMS is charged with moving an order through your system and settling it in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Some TMS systems are applicable to all modes while others are built for industry niches, such as 3PLs, freight brokers, private fleet, carriers, and others. Regardless of your specific needs, today’s challenges require a new approach for evaluating which TMS is best for your organization.

It’s not the what; it’s the how

If you’ve been involved in a TMS purchase before, you understand that simply knowing whether the software has a certain feature doesn’t actually mean that feature will be a good fit for your operations. You need to understand how the feature works and whether it’s relevant to how you do business, or whether it will add complexity and cost. It’s easy to define features at a high level, but the goal should be to understand the how of a feature.

Get in-depth demos; ask for walk-throughs of your scenarios and really learn how the software fits your operations. Understand how it fits in today and how you can adjust and configure the software yourself as your needs change. The TMS should be intuitive and flexible to evolve along with your business.

In addition, have potential vendors walk through how to change screens, adjust parameters, change delivery rules, create workflows, and onboard new clients. Don’t just ask whether the TMS can do something; find out the gory details of what works and what doesn’t. Ask to get an implementation plan and examine the steps so that once you arrive at the vendor selection stage, you will understand those steps as if they were your own.

These how questions will help you clearly understand and appreciate how each vendor addresses your needs differently and which one will give you the biggest competitive advantage.

Don’t bet everything on the RFP

The RFP process is only one input when deciding on a TMS. Though it has its place in certain scenarios, it can be tricky to use in a TMS selection. Like I mentioned above about debating the what versus the how, operations usually can’t be described by check boxes or summarized in a statement. There is just too much complexity and too many variables.

A vendor’s soft skills are hard to quantify with an RFP, but we all know how important those are when it comes to implementation and support. Does your vendor follow through on what they say? Are their successes as great as they claim? You won’t find these answers with an RFP.

Instead, consider using an RFI (request for information) or an extensive internet search to create a short list of prospects. Then, have detailed conversations with those prospective vendors: Ask for a complete customer list and contact references randomly; look at the vendor’s list of press releases for new customers and see if those same ones are still on the reference list; and ask for the vendor’s customer satisfaction rate or attrition rate.

Do your homework

Buying a TMS isn’t like buying accounting or finance software; a long list of features doesn’t mean the system will solve your core business problems. At best, you’ll end up with a cumbersome system that doesn’t achieve what was promised; at worst, the implementation will fail completely.

Shift your focus from what the TMS can do to how it does it. Go beyond the rigid RFP approach and do your homework to spot what really makes each TMS different and how each will impact your business. Your ROI and your reputation depend on it.

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