Built Differently

Laufer Group International

New York City based Laufer Group International provides complete end to end logistics solutions. With support from a global network of partners, the team offers a diverse range of customized services including PO management, customs brokerage, import services, export services, air freight services, ocean services, and logistics.

“We offer many different solutions,” Laufer Group International President & CEO Mark Laufer explains. Furthermore, the team approaches these diverse solutions in a significantly different way from most competitors. In fact, innovation and industry-leading ideas are a hallmark of the company, and are foundational to its success. As the company motto states, Laufer Group International is simply “Built Different”.

“We are trying to approach our business in a very different way than most of our traditional competitors in the industry,” Mr. Laufer explains. “We have looked around and we have learned from cutting edge industries like the tech field.” Perhaps the most important concept that the team has introduced to Laufer Group International is that of collaboration. “We have put a tremendous amount of emphasis on building those collaborative tools inside our company,” Mr. Laufer reports. In a traditionally non collaborative industry like freight forwarding, this is a remarkable first.

The team has worked hard to revamp the company’s communication systems and strategies to encourage collaboration and teamwork. “We have undertaken a three year process where we have redefined our sales and our operations so that traditional metrics that are usually on an individual level have all been put into a collaborative format,” Mr. Laufer explains. A key goal has been to promote communication among a wide group of people whenever possible, rather than limiting it to just two individuals. “This provides a much more stimulating environment, which translates into customer satisfaction. There is a direct relationship between the way that we handle ourselves internally and the way customers view us. And it has been an incredible distinguishing feature compared to the traditional way of doing business in the freight forwarding world.”

Many standard forms of communication have gone out the window, replaced by new, more effective forms. For instance, the company is working to eliminate email. “We look at email as something that is quite archaic,” Mr. Laufer explains. Email creates a one-to-one relationship, he says, cutting the group out of the loop and preventing collaboration. And, when communications are limited to an email format, “there is nobody else who can pick up the slack. There is nobody else who can really be aware that that customer needs anything. When you replace [email] with systems that don’t rely on individuals, but rely on processes of groups of teams, you just create a much more seamless environment both for the operator and for the customer.”

The team prefers Playbook or Wiki communication platforms, which allow people to exchange and tweak ideas as a group, rather than on a one to one level. Unlike email, in which all communication is “filtered through the individual,” Playbook or Wiki are collaborative platforms that allow large groups of people to share and critique ideas together. “You end up getting a sense of teamwork and a lot more ideas,” Mr. Laufer says. “It’s amazing.”

Even the sales team is getting involved – and benefiting – from this collaborative communication. “Sales people are traditionally commissioned,” Mr. Laufer points out. “They are traditionally driven by ‘you eat what you kill.’ So in a lot of companies, they actually compete with each other; they hoard sales leads, they hoard information, they focus on their individual performance. All that seems like it might drive the company forward, but as everybody is now aware, teams always outperform individuals.”

Laufer Group is working hard to create a sales environment that is driven by teamwork and collaboration, rather than individual goals and quotas. “We take the team concept and use it to push individuals forward,” Mr. Laufer explains. “People are still eating what they kill, but [now] we get them talking about how they kill. Now they are all sharing. They share wins, they share problems, they share customer issues and we all learn from one other. And it makes a huge difference.”

Moving salespeople out of the silos in which they’ve traditionally operated has been key. “[We want] transparent information flowing from the sales person up to management and back, so it is a two way information stream.” The company has created a CRM that does just that, allowing individuals to work together on sales projects within the system. “And that is pretty revolutionary,” Mr. Laufer points out. “Most CRMs are very individualistic – it’s me, my clients, my customers, and my contacts, and that’s it. Here we have taken our philosophy, and we have actually built it into the software so that we can get four people working on a campaign.” As a result, multiple people across multiple locations can collaborate on a single project with a single goal. “It has been a fantastic success so far.”

Being “Built Different” also means offering customers solutions that stand out from the rest. And again, effective communication is core. For instance, Laufer Group International’s PeerPlus visibility platform provides customers with an invaluable management tool that gives complete shipping visibility from booking conception to delivery confirmation. The system was designed based on extensive customer feedback, so that it delivers exactly what the customer wants in an easy to understand format. “Our web based information portal is clean, simple, and minimalist,” Mr. Laufer says. “We have found that our customers don’t want us to bombard them with information. They want basic information with the ability to get detail.”

Indeed, the number one complaint that customers have had before switching to Laufer Group International was that competitor solutions were too complex to easily comprehend. “Most [competitor solutions] involve TMI,” Mr. Laufer explains. Laufer Group International offers a refreshing alternative by providing all the information that the customer needs in a straightforward and simple format. “We give the information that is important to the customer without throwing reams of data at them… we do it in a very clean way.”

Leading the freight forwarding industry in a new direction hasn’t been easy. “It has been very difficult trying to teach people to think differently,” Mr. Laufer admits. Most people in the industry have been trained to be silo oriented, and freight forwarding and transportation is traditionally an industry which is slow to change. “People hold onto their ideas for a long time. So everything I’m talking about is quite accepted now at Google, and Amazon, and Microsoft, and Apple – these are not revolutionary concepts. But in the freight forwarding industry, in transportation, these are still very ground breaking concepts.”

Fortunately, once exposed to Laufer Group International’s culture of collaboration, employees are soon won over. Indeed, when teamwork and effective communication help a sales person close a deal, even the most competitive thinker can see the benefit. Getting the staff on board with the company philosophy is important, Mr. Laufer adds, because they play a key role in the company’s ongoing success. “None of this would be possible without our employees. That is what we keep in mind all the time. They are the ones who drive us forward.”

As a result, Laufer Group International believes in giving its employees the leeway they need to succeed. “If we trust our employees to think and work with our customers and do it independently, we get a much better result,” Mr. Laufer explains. “We don’t dictate to them how they need to find a solution, we empower them to find solutions. And you’d be surprised how rare that is in our industry. Most people are given a checklist – this is how you do things, this is who you go to, and these are the limits of what you can accomplish. And we don’t do that.” The strategy has been tremendously effective, and has increased customer satisfaction. “If you have employees who are empowered to think out of the box, if you have employees who are empowered to think on behalf of the customer, the customer is going to be happy. If you focus on your staff and you focus on your culture, the customer will benefit automatically.”

And of course, benefiting the customer is a foundational goal of Laufer Group International. It is why the company has worked so hard to be Built Different. “We have a different approach,” Mr. Laufer emphasizes. “And it has worked very well.” The company’s underlying culture and philosophy has worked so well, in fact, that the team is committed to maintaining its direction in the years to come. “We want to be bigger, better, and more collaborative.”

May 25, 2020, 3:53 PM EDT