Ecommerce is booming, but for manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers, the tremendous shift to digital brings challenges as well as opportunities. Even brands with well-established customer relationships and sales channels now have to move operations online to retain customers, reach new markets, and fend off digitally savvy rivals.
Fortunately, there’s one approach that’s guaranteed to make your brand stand out, even in the crowded digital ecosystem: launch not just a sales website but a fully-fledged online marketplace. While there are plenty of marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba where B2B players can buy and sell, there’s also growing demand for specialized marketplaces serving specific industries—and many, such as PartsBase, which sells aviation parts, or Zoro, which handles business supplies, are proving enormously successful.
These marketplaces—which might style themselves as procurement websites, sourcing portals, purchasing platforms, multi-vendor marketplaces, or even supply catalogs—all serve the same core purpose: enabling B2B buyers and sellers to transact on a single website. That streamlines the ecommerce process, opens up important new opportunities—and gives marketplace operators a way to develop new partnerships and dramatically elevate their profile.
Here are three key signs that you might be ready to unlock the power of partnerships and launch a niche B2B marketplace of your own:
1—You want to strengthen your community
Marketplaces only work if people actually use them—so your ability to launch a B2B marketplace depends on the community you’re part of. You’ll be using your B2B marketplace to strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones, so ask which of your existing customers would benefit from a marketplace, and which of your suppliers and peers in adjacent segments might join your mission. The aim is to use your marketplace to streamline and nurture connections, but you’ll need a baseline level of engagement in your sector to get started.
That doesn’t mean you need a mature community already in place, though. The best B2B marketplaces often emerge to address a gap in a given industry—a space where a community exists but is fragmented and lacks a single platform to connect and trade on. The aim is to leverage your existing connections to make your community better and establish yourself as a true leader in your industry.
2—You’re looking to burnish your brand
For operators, running a well-regarded marketplace can be a great way to strengthen your brand and position your company as a key player in your industry. After all, by stepping up to run a marketplace, you’re by definition establishing yourself as a leader who’s willing to take risks to push things forward. That can be daunting—but your industry peers and your existing and future customers will respect your courage.
This is also where partnerships play a key role. As a marketplace operator, it’s possible to curate a carefully selected range of other sellers to complement your company’s own B2B offerings. By delivering additional value for customers and creating a true one-stop solution, you can strengthen your own brand and help to win both lasting customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
3—You’re looking for new revenue streams
Running a marketplace can be a great way to boost your bottom line by selling your products to a wider pool of customers. With a streamlined purchasing process, and one-stop access to a wide range of brands, you may find some sourcing, procurement and vendor management (SPVM) professionals will use a single marketplace for all their company’s needs—so by running your own marketplace and putting your products alongside others that your customers need, you can win new business.
As the marketplace operator, meanwhile, you’ll also have the potential to generate revenue streams from other sellers’ efforts on your site. Many operators charge listing fees or commissions on sales, for instance, and while the sums involved might be negligible for individual sellers, when aggregated they can make a big difference to an operator’s bottom line.
How to get started
To realize the benefits of operating a B2B marketplace, it’s important to be clear about what you’re aiming to achieve. Start by thinking about your biggest and most important customers: are their digital buying needs currently being met, either by you or by your rivals? Are they already using marketplaces for procurement, or is there scope to onboard them to a new marketplace? Through this research and analysis, you’ll be able to figure out whether there’s a real demand for a new B2B marketplace.
When launching your own marketplace, don’t over-invest early on: start by creating a minimum viable product, or MVP, with bare-bones functionality and careful attention to user-friendliness and reliability. As you build out your marketplace, you’ll add discovery tools, checkout and quote-management tools, and a system for onboarding new buyers and sellers—and along the way, you’ll get a sense of what it takes to run a marketplace of your own.
By testing the marketplace within your organization, you’ll be able to see the value it delivers. Next, you can deploy it to a select group of buyers and sellers, and tweak the design based on their feedback. Don’t roll out the marketplace to a broader audience until you’ve ironed out any bugs—remember, your goal is to strengthen your brand, and you’ll need solid B2B-focused marketplace infrastructure in place to impress both buyers and sellers.
Time to take the plunge
B2B marketplaces are at the forefront of the current ecommerce boom, and there’s still plenty of room for new players. With today’s technologies, it’s easier than ever to launch a B2B marketplace of your own—and if you’re looking to strengthen your online presence, they’re a powerful and efficient tool with which to do so.
So don’t get left on the sidelines: step up, and start asking whether your brand could boost its profile and its bottom line by running a marketplace of its own.
Yoav Kutner is founder and CEO of Oro Inc., an open-source business technology company serving B2B merchants. Kutner is also the co-founder and former chief technology officer of the e-commerce platform Magento.