Would you describe your relationships with the 3PLs you utilize as merely transactional relationships or as relational partnerships? That is, are you mostly dictating to them what you want done on a case by case basis, or are you working with them collaboratively to devise solutions that will bring you the most benefit over the long run? David Gonzalez (VP, Analyst and KI Lead for Logistics Strategy and Operations at Gartner)1, wrote a persuasive blog post in July that talks about the importance of relationships in logistics.
It might seem practical at first glance to find one or more 3PL's that meet an immediate need and then move on when the need is met. If you find one that meets those needs to your satisfaction, you might come back to them periodically. The relationship is more or less cut and dry, and while you might end up using their services for years, there's no promise of long-term business opportunities. Certainly there's a place for transactional relationships. In fact they describe most business engagements. Therefore, there is nothing inherently negative about transactional relationships.
However, if on a regular basis your business needs product to be handled, stored, and shipped to other businesses or to individual customers—and you need to outsource these services to a third party—it would be beneficial for you to develop a relational partnership with at least one 3PL. Yes, it takes time to vet suppliers and nurture relationships. But when you put in the time and value the expertise that that 3PL provides, that 3PL becomes just as committed as you are to getting your product from point A to the final destination, in the most efficient, safe, and cost-effective manner.
Having a truly collaborative partnership with your 3PL can provide you with a competitive advantage. As your relationship evolves, you can more fully learn about your 3PL's capabilities and how you can help it grow or pivot to handle additional aspects of your business. This is something from which you would not be able to benefit if you merely had a transactional relationship.
1 David Gonzalez, “Is your 3PL partnership for life or just for peaks and pandemics?” Gartner. July 13, 2021, https://blogs.gartner.com/power-of-the-profession-blog/is-your-3pl-partnership-for-life-or-just-for-peaks-and-pandemics.