Commercial and operational shipping agencies: understand the differences

  • 03/09/2019
  • 9 minutes

Do you know the differences between commercial and operational shipping agencies? Many professionals working in the sector have doubts about this matter, after all, each of the modalities has specific details that require attention in order to be understood.

In the context of foreign trade, both are very important, so we prepared this special article on the subject. Read it to the end to better understand the characteristics and particularities of the agency types.


Commercial shipping agencies

To address this matter with the expertise it requires, we interviewed specialist Lívia Silveira Moraes e Silva, who works as a commercial specialist at the Wilson Sons.

According to the professional, “a commercial shipping agency can be understood as the one that searches for new clients and appointments, and gathers notions about the different local economies in order to identify opportunities”. That is, it consists of analyzing the needs presented and proposing solutions that offer more business possibilities.

In a way, it’s closely related to port intelligence and market intelligence, using both to assess the cargo handled and the relationship they establish with the transport used for this purpose. In other words, a commercial agency, in the shipping context, has to do with the survey of several factors in order to make strategic and properly informed decisions.

“The agents who work with this modality have as their biggest challenge finding good conjunctures, especially considering the current scenario, which is a bit retracted from the economic point of view,” explains Silva.

“To overcome these obstacles, they can first build a solid networking to cultivate business contacts and keep up with the market,” she points out. It is also crucial to have regular dialogue with people from various fields and companies — this helps to create an information bank, which allows the agent to delve into specific topics.

Another vital point for Silva is to always stay informed, because the news can accelerate the process of finding business — many news involve different sectors of the economy, and these sectors have an important weight for the country. “This is why it is important to be aware of recent information and to connect it to your daily activities,” she concludes.

Operational shipping agencies

The operational agent, on the other hand, performs his or her activities at a later time than the work done by the commercial agent, that is, he or she is the one who serves the clientele raised by the other agency.

People who deal with the operations side provide complete advice on consulting local laws and alternatives to minimize varying costs. They are the ones who help to optimize any operation financially, supporting the productivity and practices that can be adopted to enable an activity.

“The area’s biggest challenge is being able to provide a truly differentiated service, because the competition is huge — most organizations already do the basics, and this is not enough,” says Silva. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that there is “an extra something” to build customer loyalty.

Since developing competitive differentials tends to yield results, the operational agent can partner up with the sales department to identify and create opportunities for customers — recurring updates are indispensable to achieve this purpose.

Because of the issues operational personnel have to deal with, frequent contact with a port intelligence service is also extremely welcome, as happens in the business area. When the condition and movement of ports are evaluated, for example, it’s possible to extract good insight into the cargo market and the fluctuations to which it is subjected.

Working with documentation is essential, as is the study of the characteristics of ports and port logistics as a whole. In addition, maritime agencies with intelligence services approach their customers and add value to the service.

The differences between commercial and operational shipping agencies

“As in any segment,” ponders Silva, “the commercial sector aims to prospect customers, while the operational should perform the service in the best way possible, aiming at the lowest cost.”

In the case of shipping agencies, the logic holds up, because these are two distinct stages of a single activity, which is complex and requires a good performance from both to achieve the desired objectives. “I can’t identify a separation as being two different processes — although they are separate sectors, they need to work together in order to serve the customer with excellence,” highlights the expert.

Therefore, the departments must join forces and establish permanent contact so that the service provided reaches a level of prominence, above the average offered by the market.

According to Silva, “there is little point in the commercial offering a solution that is not operationally viable; just as the operational cannot ignore the needs identified by the commercial”. Thus, the partnership is the secret between them so that the customer is satisfied.

The past and the future of shipping agencies

Shipping agencies are quite old. The activity came about when commercial relations between different nations began, because shipowners didn’t have offices in all the places they would dock at.

When a ship brought a cargo from Europe to Brazil, there was a need for shipowners (the proprietors of the vessels) to have representatives at the ports so they could unload, for example. It was up to these professionals to provide the procedures and documentation to be able to enter, dock, and leave in the shortest possible time.

According to Silva, “the perspective for the future is one of development: there are fields to be improved, of course, but with the evolution of the economy, the trend is that agents close more deals.”

“This is a time of opportunity for those who can expose the differentials and use them to build customer loyalty. As the sectors help each other, once an agency has a good business operation, it is likely that the operational side will also go well,” concludes.

Throughout the article, we pointed out that commercial and operational shipping agencies walk side by side. Therefore, it’s worth investing in a company capable of uniting the best of both sectors.

If you enjoyed the content and need specialized support for your operations, get in touch with the Wilson Sons!