Many traditional business-to-business (B2B) distributors are investigating whether a company owned marketplace is a viable option for them. For savvy distributors already operating a company owned marketplace, the benefits are mounting, including:
So what should B2B distributors be thinking about, and what questions should they be asking as they consider how a company owned B2B marketplace might fit in their overall business?
A major concern for distributors regarding the decision to adopt a company owned marketplace is the lack of marketplace technologies geared specifically toward B2B distributors. Most marketplace technology providers have targeted the B2C markets and lack key features that are important to B2B distributors. For B2B distribution, pay attention to:
Quoting - Giving buyers the opportunity to request quotes for products can be a major revenue driver in a B2B marketplace. B2B marketplace technologies should always provide the capability for customers to request quotes on marketplace products. Quotes transmit via the marketplace, notifying the seller and allowing two-way communication to finalize the offer.
Procurement and Purchase Orders - Traditional B2B distributors want to be able to handle the needs and process the requests of their customers in a way that is simple, easy to maintain, and pre-built into the marketplace technology. Competitive B2B marketplaces integrate with third-party applications that service the procurement and purchase order life cycles, enabling seamless product purchase while adhering to corporate standards.
Payment Integration - One of the major concerns of B2B distributors around marketplaces is whether they will have to build out a whole new set of processes to launch a marketplace. B2B marketplaces should seamlessly integrate with existing payment software to ensure there is no disruption to how distributors are currently managing payments and fulfillment in their existing e-commerce business.
Enhanced Finding Tools - Helping buyers find exactly the right product as quickly and easily as possible is a core goal of most distributors. More advanced B2B marketplace players allow for advanced finding tools like advanced site search, configurators, product builders, quoting tools and product wizards. These types of “finding” capabilities can make all the difference in getting a buyer to the right product and hitting the buy button.
Data Wizards - Managing the categorization of products across your company and the marketplace suppliers that need to map their products to your product categories can be a massive undertaking. B2B focused marketplace technologies provide wizards that let companies easily configure the shopping categories on their websites, and then let sellers create and classify products they would like to sell.
New Marketplace Models: When distributors think of marketplaces, they often think of product marketplaces, but many companies are contemplating adding service marketplaces to their product offerings. Imagine being able to provide design, development, insurance, and legal services to a product in the same technology and with the same processes that manage your marketplace suppliers and products. Distributors realize the ability to sell additional services at no cost, providing solution based packages to their customers and adding new revenue streams.
Building out a marketplace takes more than just technology. Making sure that you have the suppliers and SKUs to populate the marketplace is just as important. Choosing a marketplace solution that has supplier recruiting and onboarding built into the technology is a major differentiator for your marketplace. Areas to consider include:
Supplier Recruitment: Recruiting suppliers is critical to the success of your marketplace. A successful marketplace is built on a large product catalog, so you need a large supply of sellers to thrive. This can be difficult, but it is a vital component. These sellers bring the breadth and depth of products to your marketplace. Making sure you can identify the right suppliers, reach them with compelling reasons to join the marketplace, and get them to submit their application is key. Building recruitment into the marketplace technology provides for easier management of potential suppliers, and keeps them engaged and moving towards marketplace approval and onboarding.
Onboarding: Once you have suppliers applying and approved, you need to consider how to onboard those suppliers in the most efficient and effective way possible. Lengthy and complex onboarding processes are one of areas where marketplaces can struggle. Building key onboarding features and functionality into the marketplace technology allows for easy self-service of key onboarding processes like product and offer onboarding, shipping calculation and configuration, submitting and storing required documentation, and managing shipping from delivery locations.
Marketplace technologies should be designed with user experience in mind, as well as with the B2B functionality necessary for running a successful marketplace. The ease of use and relevant settings allow both client and seller to quickly and easily configure their portals.
Supplier Management: Just like managing your traditional e-commerce suppliers, you will need to manage your approved marketplace suppliers. Marketplace technologies need to provide a comprehensive capability to manage individual suppliers and their SKUs. Look for marketplace technologies that are built with enhanced reporting and alerts that allow you more visibility into seller performance. These reports will help you keep your sellers on track and empower you to plan for the future.
Expanded Commissions: Distributors want the ability to manage expanded commissions that allow for uniformity and flexibility. Commission models like absolute, flex, and category should be options in any B2B marketplace technology.
Often, the first concern of a CTO is how a marketplace technology will fit into their existing tech stack. Concerns around payment types, integration with existing payment systems, and how the marketplace interacts with existing e-commerce capability are all valid. B2B distributors should consider the following when considering an B2B marketplace:
Lean Technology Approach: Marketplace technology providers are notorious for providing overly complex solutions that are difficult to launch, integrate, maintain, and extend. Distributors should look for marketplace technologies that provide the features that deliver the most value, and avoid enterprise class marketplaces that are unnecessarily complex, difficult to support, and expensive.
Intuitive Interfaces: One of the first questions from distribution marketplace managers is how the marketplace fits within their own look and feel. The optimal model is that the marketplace fits seamlessly within the tech stack and the existing user interface. Marketplace SKUs present just like the traditional e-commerce SKUs, and can be highlighted in different ways depending on the preferences of the distributor.
ERP Integration: For most distributors, tying their marketplace into their existing ERP systems is mandatory. You want to look for marketplace technologies that allow for easy configuration or integration into your existing ERP system leveraging the same processes that your traditional e-commerce solution uses when communicating with the ERP.
APIs: Another differentiator of a true B2B marketplace solution is the scale and quality of its APIs. The marketplace technology should be easily configurable with the most important parts of your tech stack.
Mobile Friendly Front-End: Making sure that the marketplace can be managed and viewed on mobile devices is essential. Millennial buyers are more digitally savvy and have higher expectations of digital marketplaces.
Seller and Order Management Dashboards: Dashboards and reports are critical to understanding the performance of your marketplace. Tracking supplier and SKU growth, overall sales by marketplace suppliers, and the overall health of the marketplace via actionable dashboards in the technology is critical to making the required optimizations to the marketplace. Another consideration is the ability to extend the reporting into business intelligence tools where appropriate.
Providing your sellers and buyers with the best possible marketplace experience impacts brand loyalty, product findability, and revenue. Finding a marketplace technology that has great user interface and user experience capabilities right out of the box, while still allowing for updates and optimizations, will be important to hitting your marketplace goals. Every distribution site is different, buyer and seller expectations are different, industry expectations are different, and a flexible and nimble design capability builds confidence both in the brand and in the marketplace itself. Top considerations around experience include:
Headless E-commerce: Where appropriate, ensure that the marketplace technology is completely headless, allowing your marketplace team the ability to design the look and feel and overall interface design in a way that best supports your business. Getting locked into a set design by a marketplace technology can have impacts across the marketplace if buyers are experiencing negative buyer journey experiences.
Product Optimization: Being able to optimize the promotion and overall presentation of products is important to distributors and their marketplace suppliers. Being able to provide differentiated product optimization capabilities allows for the right level of customization to present products in the best pay possible.
Target and Convert: Leveraging your marketplace with marketing automation technologies, customer relationship management technologies, and paid and organic search tools enhances your ability to drive customers to your marketplace, converting them wherever they are in the buyer journey and/or the demand funnel. E-commerce and marketplace online selling is all about engaging with the buyer and moving them to the next step in the buyer journey by triggering an engagement that facilitates the next step in the journey.
Content Development: B2B distribution sites often are selling more sophisticated products to more sophisticated buyers. Having the right level of content available to engage and nurture buyers along the buyer journey is an important component of an online marketplace. Finding B2B marketplace providers who can provide guidance in how to best leverage demand content into the marketplace can be an important component for a successful marketplace.
Selecting the right vendor for your marketplace is a critical component of a successful B2B marketplace. Identifying a technology that is built from the ground up with a B2B marketplace in mind provides the capabilities B2B businesses need, preventing lost opportunities and making your marketplace as successful as possible.
Have more questions? Get in touch with a MarketPush expert to see a marketplace in action or discuss how to help your company embrace the future of e-commerce. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.