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If you’re with an intermodal marketing company, you frontline reps spend a good part of each week calling drayage companies to arrange moves to and from rail yards.

This old-school, one-to-one outreach is killing the productivity of these reps, who could be using that time to manage more loads (and book more revenue!).

Though at one time this may have been necessary, there’s a fix for manual-intensive commerce processes in the digital age.  They’re called marketplaces, and they enable a highly efficient one-to-many connection between supply and demand.

Collectible sellers now reach 168 million active buyers on eBay.

Crafters connect with 40 million buyers on Etsy.

This same kind of hyper-efficiency has been slow to arrive to the intermodal freight space, where phone, email and faxing are the communication methods of choice.  DrayNow is trying to change that.  It’s the first and only national marketplace for intermodal dray capacity.  Brokers can post loads in as little as 30 seconds and reach close to 1,500 vetted carriers, with hundreds located in the market where services are needed.

Brokers input a requested rate and, as long as that rate is consistent with market conditions, 85% of loads are accepted within 7 minutes.  Brokers can track progress on the portal, from load acceptance through to final delivery.  Fast, easy and, most of all, efficient.

Why should the intermodal industry embrace the marketplace model?

Freight brokers should embrace marketplaces for sourcing dray capacity for several reasons:

  • Improve productivity.  Our recent research with frontline dispatchers found that they spend many hours a week on manual tasks that could be avoided using the automated workflow capabilities of a digital marketplace.

  • Improve shipper satisfaction. The efficiency of your customers’ supply chains depends on the reliable movement of containers to and through rail yards and on to the final destination. Shippers need accurate ETAs on shipments and get frustrated when a simple “where’s my container” request turns into a lengthy game of phone tag between brokers, carriers and drivers.  It’s a silly, antiquated and completely unnecessary approach in this digital age. With DrayNow, drivers use a phone-based app to upload location data and documents in real time.

  • Access vetted carriers you didn’t even know existed.  There are a limited number of larger, asset-based drayage companies. DrayNow’s core base of carriers are smaller owner-operators who have shifted from long-haul to intermodal. Brokers appreciate the work ethic of these small, “onesy, twosy” fleet operators. Unlike company drivers, their livelihood depends on satisfying customers.

  • Get the right price. Prices do fluctuate on marketplaces, owing to the ebbs and flows of supply and demand.  Over time the built-in efficiency of the marketplace model will benefit shippers.  For instance, because marketplace operators have visibility to the shipping activity of hundreds of brokers, they are able to more easily match a pick-up with an existing street turn to secure an aggressive rate that works for both the booking broker and the carrier.

Barriers to marketplace usage

Despite the advantages of marketplaces, old habits die hard.  IMCs have long-standing relationships with drayage companies and the manual ways they have of working with these carriers are well entrenched.

One ironic complaint from brokers about marketplaces is that they must leave the TMS to enter loads – an extra step.  But if that 30-second extra step actually saves at least 10 minutes of time for each load, most efficiency experts would say that’s a good thing.

Consider user groups as an example.  You’re in a program owned by one of many large software companies and you get stuck and need an answer.  You can stay within the application and click the “support” button, then wait in a long line for an answer, or you can leave the program and post your problem to an active user group where thousands of fellow users read about your dilemma and can offer a solution.

Different routes are sometimes shortcuts.

Change is not optional for the intermodal freight industry

What’s playing out in the intermodal freight industry today is the classic historical battle: Inertia vs. Change.

Inertia is a powerful force, particularly when processes have been in place for decades. But IMCs can no longer afford the luxury of “the way we’ve always done it.”  Shipper demand for efficiency and data transparency will force change – from the outside, in.

Marketplaces like DrayNow represent the impending change.  Yes, it demands a different approach to sourcing and coordinating dray moves, but at the same time promises to replace time-sucking, profit-draining manual processes with automated workflows and real-time data.  It’s an opportunity to revolutionize a segment of the freight sector that has yet to embrace technology that’s been available since 1993, when FedEx introduced automated shipment tracking.

In the battle between Inertia and Change, Change usually wins.  Companies just jump on at different times.

For intermodal freight brokers, that time has come.

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