How to choose the best transportation management system (TMS) in 5 steps?

Have you realized the need for a TMS (Transportation Management System)? You're not alone.

Most people begin their journey to find the best transportation management software in a similar way. They:

  1. Begin with an internet search for TMS options.
  2. Visit various TMS provider web pages for more information.
  3. Download ebooks about TMS in exchange for email addresses.
  4. Receive a plethora of promotional emails from TMS providers.
  5. Agree to a demonstration of a TMS.
  6. Realize after two months of research and exploration, there's still no TMS in place.
  7. Feel the panic, and say YES to the next TMS whose sales team is persistent enough

We understand this cycle well.

Every month, at least a hundred people talk to us about switching from their current TMS.

With hundreds of options in the market, it's a challenge to find the top TMS for your needs.

Every provider will vie for your attention, but not all can claim to be the best transportation management system for you.

To help you navigate this, we've put together a simple, five-step guide. It's different from other "how to choose the best TMS system" guides on the internet.

  1. Our guide isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. We equip you with advice that you can shape as per your business and logistics needs.
  2. What you’ll read in this guide is the distilled wisdom of our 40+ months in the TMS industry.
  3. We’ve spoken to supply chain managers from companies that ship goods that can fill 100s of trucks every day. You’ll learn the techniques they use to find the #right TMS for their business.

We have one goal for this guide. By the end of it, you'll be equipped to choose the best transportation management software – a TMS that meets the demands of your business logistics.

Follow these steps, and you'll be on your way to implementing a top transportation management system.

Step 1: Assess Your Business Needs and Goals

Choosing the right TMS (Transportation Management System) starts with a clear understanding of your business needs and goals.

Think of it like planning a road trip. You won’t turn on the ignition without some notion of where you’re headed to, right?

Similarly, in the world of logistics, knowing where your business is heading helps you pick the best transportation management software.

First, consider your company's scale and complexity.

Are you a small business shipping a few orders weekly, or a larger operation handling thousands of shipments?

For instance, a local artisan selling handmade crafts online has different needs compared to a multinational e-commerce giant like Amazon. The artisan might do fine with a basic TMS, whereas Amazon needs a complex system to handle its global logistics.

Next, think about the problems you want to solve.

Are late deliveries causing customer complaints? Is tracking shipments a nightmare? Maybe you're spending too much time on paperwork. Each problem points to a feature you'll want in your TMS. Let's say you run a fresh produce supply chain. Timely delivery isn't just nice to have; it's crucial. A TMS with real-time tracking ensures that your fruits and veggies don't turn into a science experiment in a delayed truck.

Budget is another key factor.

Investing in a TMS (Transportation Management System) is like buying a vehicle. You wouldn't buy a Ferrari for daily grocery runs.

Similarly, a small business doesn't need the Rolls Royce of TMS systems.

However, if your business is expanding fast, consider a system that grows with you.

Think of it as buying a reliable car that's easy to maintain and upgrade, like a Toyota or a Ford.

Now, let's talk data.

What information must your best TMS system capture to make your life easier? For a business that ships internationally, data on customs and international regulations is crucial. Imagine you're shipping chocolates to Canada in the summer. Your TMS should alert you about temperature controls to prevent your delicious cargo from turning into a gooey mess.

Finally, remember the old logistics proverb: "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link."

In logistics, your TMS is a vital link. It needs to match your network's complexity. If you have multiple warehouses, numerous suppliers, and a mix of transport modes, your TMS should handle all these with ease. For example, Walmart, with its vast network of suppliers and stores, needs a TMS that can juggle numerous balls without dropping any.

Step 2: Explore Options and Gather Internal Data

To find the best transportation management software, where do you look?

Now’s the time to look outside as well as inside. What does that mean?

Look Outside: Explore External Options

Imagine you're at a market filled with hundreds of different fruits.

Each one promises a unique flavor and benefit.

Similarly, the world of TMS (Transportation Management System) is vast.

A quick search might reveal over a hundred TMS options, each promising to streamline your logistics operations.

But remember, not every fruit in the market is to your taste. You want the best transportation management software, not just any TMS.

Think of it as finding the right tool in a craftsman's workshop.

You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to fix a watch.

Likewise, the best TMS system that works for a giant corporation might be overkill for a small enterprise.

It’s about finding the right tool for the job.

Here's where understanding the market becomes crucial.

Among these numerous TMS options, only a handful might address your specific problems.

The key is to not get swayed by the most popular or the most advertised.

It’s like choosing a car - the most expensive or the one with the most features isn’t always the best choice for everyone.

It’s the same with TMS, when you’re out looking for the best transportation management software.

Look Inside: Understanding Internal Needs

Now, let's turn the focus inward.

Every company's logistics needs are as unique as fingerprints.

The first step is understanding what makes your logistics unique.

Are you dealing mostly with local shipments, or is your business global?

Do you handle perishable goods, or are your products more durable?

How many shipments do you handle daily, weekly, or monthly?

What are the common issues you face in your supply chain?

Your TMS should be the glass slipper that fits perfectly.

This data forms the blueprint for what your best TMS should look like.

Choosing a TMS (Transportation Management System) isn't about selecting the most advanced system in the market or the one with the most awards.

It’s about finding the one that aligns with your unique logistics fingerprint.

For example, for a business specializing in cold chain logistics, the best TMS system might be one that excels in temperature-controlled tracking over one that is more focused on global freight.

Remember, the best transportation management software for you might not be the best in the market, but it will be the best for your market.

It's about matching your unique needs with the right solution.

Just like in cooking, the best ingredient for one recipe might not work for another.

Your goal is to find the best TMS system that turns your logistics operations into a recipe for success.

Step 3: Evaluate Features and Integration Capabilities

To make it easier, let's categorize the worthiest features into three key groups:

1. Movement

How does the TMS (Transportation Management System) ensure every vehicle takes the smartest route? In this category, we look at features that help you move goods efficiently.

Think of it as a GPS for your logistics - guiding each truck to use the best routes, avoid traffic jams, and reach destinations faster.

This category includes route optimization, real-time tracking, and estimated time of arrival predictions.

2. Load Efficiency

What can the TMS do to ensure every inch of your truck is used wisely? You want features that help you pack your trucks like a game of Tetris. These include load planning, 3D load visualization, and weight distribution analysis. It's about ensuring that you're not just shipping air and making the most out of the available space.

You can’t go wrong when you can visualize space like this.

3. Data

How does the TMS turn data into actionable insights? This category is all about features that collect data and turn it into gold. It includes analytics, reporting tools, and performance metrics. It's about seeing beyond numbers and understanding the story they tell.

Warning: Think of the Integrability of your TMS

Let’s talk about integration capabilities.

The best transportation management software should play well with others - meaning it should easily integrate with your existing systems like ERP, accounting software, or warehouse management systems. A feature-rich TMS that doesn’t integrate well with your systems is like a sports car without a good road to drive on.

You need both - power and compatibility. So, when evaluating a TMS, don’t just ask what it can do; ask how well it fits into your current ecosystem.

Step 4: Conduct a Thorough Evaluation

The evaluation process is where you test drive your best transportation management software options to see which one truly fits your needs.

How to evaluate and choose the best TMS from the rest?

  1. Request Demos and Trials
  • Schedule demonstrations and free trials with your shortlisted TMS (Transportation Management System) vendors. This is your chance to see the systems in action.
  1. User Experience Testing
  • Have your team use the TMS during the trial period. Check for ease of use, interface intuitiveness, and overall user satisfaction.
  1. Feature Verification
  • Cross-check if the features promised are as effective in practice. Confirm that ‘Route Masters,’ ‘Space Wizards,’ and ‘Data Detectives’ functionalities are up to the mark.
  1. Integration Checks
  • Test how well the TMS integrates with your current systems. Seamless integration is key to a smooth operation.
  1. Watch Out For The Five Sneaky Tactics TMS Vendors Use to Mislead You
  • Overpromising Features: Vendors may claim their TMS can do everything. Be wary of exaggerated capabilities.
  • Hidden Costs: Look out for hidden fees not mentioned upfront, like extra charges for support or updates.
  • Glossing Over Integration Issues: Some vendors might downplay integration challenges. Ensure you test this thoroughly.
  • Fancy Jargon to Confuse: Vendors may use complex terminology to make their product seem more advanced. Stick to what matters to you.
  • Rushed Decisions: Vendors may push for a quick decision. Take your time to evaluate thoroughly.

This step is crucial, but remember, it doesn't have to drag on for months for you to find your best transportation management software.

How to evaluate transportation management systems quickly?

With your basics in place from Steps 1, 2, and 3, you could wrap this up in a neat seven days. Let's break it down:



Time Allocation


Schedule demos/trials

1 day


Conduct demos

1 day


Begin user experience testing

1 day


Continue user experience testing

1 day


Feature verification and integration checks

1 day


Review and discuss findings with team

1 day


Make an informed decision based on evaluations

1 day

By the end of these seven days, you should have a clear picture of which TMS (Transportation Management System) dances to your tunes perfectly.

Step 5: Make an Informed Decision

You're at the final stretch of choosing your best transportation management software. This step is like crossing the finish line in a marathon. It’s where you reap the rewards of your diligent research and thorough evaluation.

Finalizing Your TMS

  1. Review and Compare Findings
  • Sit down with your team and weigh the pros and cons of each TMS you tested.
  1. Budget and Contract Terms
  • Revisit your budget and the contract terms of your selected TMS. Ensure everything aligns with your expectations and there are no hidden surprises.
  1. Making the Decision
  • After thorough discussions and evaluations, select the TMS that best fits your business needs.

The First Three Months: Signs You've Chosen The Best TMS

The first three months with your new TMS are crucial. In these 90 days, you will learn if you’ve made the right choice and found what’s truly the best transportation management software.

What to Look For?

1. User Adaptation

  • Your team should be able to adapt to the new system without major hiccups. It’s a positive sign if they find it intuitive and better than the old system.

2. Improvement in Efficiency

  • Watch out for signs of improved efficiency in your logistics operations. Faster processing times, fewer errors, and better route planning are good indicators.

3. Responsive Customer Support

  • The TMS provider should offer prompt and helpful customer support.

Remember, the best TMS system is a tool that grows with your business, making logistics a smoother, more efficient process. By now, you should feel a sense of accomplishment. You've not only chosen a TMS (Transportation Management System) but also set the course for a more efficient, data-driven future in logistics. Here's to smoother roads and smarter journeys ahead.

How to choose the best TMS? FAQs

1. How do I start the process of choosing a TMS (Transportation Management System)?

Begin by understanding your current technology landscape. Know the age of your systems and how they perform currently. This helps in identifying the need for a TMS that can integrate with your existing infrastructure.

2. What should be my main focus when looking for the best transportation management software?

Focus on your business's unique needs. Consider how your company operates and how a TMS could improve efficiency. Understanding your logistics operations provides a solid foundation for selecting a system that will enhance your supply chain capabilities.

3. Which functionalities should I consider non-negotiable in my best TMS system?

Compile a list of must-haves for your TMS, including order management, routing, rating, tendering, tracking, settlement, and billing, and the ability to integrate with external tools and data sources. These functionalities are crucial for efficient supply chain management.

4.What key features should my best transportation management software have?

Identify the essential features that your business cannot operate without, and distinguish them from the 'nice-to-haves.' Essential features could include real-time tracking, user-friendly interface, and comprehensive reporting capabilities.

5. How important is scalability in my best TMS system?

Scalability is a vital factor. A scalable TMS can adapt to changes in your business, such as increasing shipment volumes or expanding routes. It ensures that the system will grow with your business needs.

6. How complex is it to find the best transportation management software?

While there are many TMS options available, choosing the right one can be complex. Look for a TMS that offers the features you need, is scalable, and can integrate with your current systems. Consider factors like cost, customer support, and user reviews in your decision-making process.

7. How does a TMS focus on freight management?

A TMS focuses on optimizing the freight management process, including route planning, carrier selection, and freight audit and payment, to ensure efficient and cost-effective movement of goods.

8. What problems does TMS solve?

A TMS solves problems related to transportation efficiency, such as reducing freight costs, improving shipment visibility, and streamlining the shipping process.

9. What is the reliability of TMS?

The reliability of a TMS depends on the provider's technology infrastructure, customer support, and the system's ability to handle complex logistics tasks without downtime.

10. What factors affect TMS?

Factors that affect TMS performance include technological advancements, regulatory changes in transportation, evolving business needs, and integration capabilities with other supply chain systems.