B2B marketplace platforms are everywhere these days. Beginning with the appearance of Uber, the phrase, “gig economy,” has been thrown around for years, and it’s spawned thousands of companies looking to capitalize on providing on-demand services via an app or cloud-based software.
In general, a B2B marketplace platform functions much like an e-commerce website by connecting buyers and suppliers. However, the suppliers may be independent contractors or vendors offering their services in an online marketplace. Customers in today’s economy prioritize convenience, and B2B marketplace platforms offer a variety of choices from myriad suppliers on one platform. The flexibility of having goods or services delivered directly to a customer at any time has created a market for platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers.
While many of these platforms may appear to be primarily B2C, behind the scenes the platform is providing businesses (often small businesses) with a means to reach more customers and market their services in a new way. Some platforms, such as merchant marketing software, don’t require businesses to alter their day-to-day operations other than redeeming vouchers at checkout like a gift card. Other platforms, such as on-demand wellness software, may require a business to create a mobile service, sending employees to the customer’s location to perform a service. The advantages of using a B2B marketplace platform are the increased number of potential customers and the ability to create an online offering without needing to create an e-commerce site.
B2B marketplace platforms are primarily used by small businesses and single-person businesses. While large retailers may use B2B marketplace platforms as a way to move excess inventory, the main focus is often providing a service to customers via small businesses seeking to increase their customer bases. B2B marketplace platforms also provide a means for business customers (i.e., customers who are also a business) to purchase services from business sellers. On-demand catering software, for instance, primarily provides businesses with catered lunches for employees or meals for events or special meetings.
In general, the goal of B2B marketplace platforms is to improve the customer experience by providing services on demand that are typically scheduled days or weeks in advance or by making it faster and easier to reserve those services in advance. By providing e-commerce platforms for businesses to advertise their services, small businesses can adjust their business model to accommodate customers who are increasingly purchasing more online.
B2B marketplace platforms are primarily built to bring services to customers. However, all of them contain a B2B aspect by providing businesses with a means to either offer their services or purchase services to be used by their employees.
Independent contractors, such as stylists and makeup artists, can offer their services online without being tied to a studio space, and brick and mortar stores, such as grocery stores and convenience stores, can sell products via an online platform. While a multi-vendor marketplace creates competition for the featured businesses, it also provides a marketing opportunity. By using social media in conjunction with a B2B marketplace platform, small businesses can generate buzz and reach more customers without breaking their budgets. Many B2B marketplace platforms allow businesses to control their own content, so a business can ensure their branding is consistent across all channels.
For businesses looking to provide services (such as catering or massages) to their employees in the office, B2B marketplace platforms provide a means to find and book these services on a one-time or ongoing basis. HR professionals and those in charge of a company’s finances can use B2B marketplace platforms to find services within their company’s budget and book them directly on the platform.
In general, B2B marketplace platforms provide a space for businesses to offer or purchase services. Those services may be ongoing, a subscription, or a one-time event. By connecting sellers and buyers, B2B marketplace platforms provide an option for a business to expand their sales channels.
There are two basic kinds of B2B marketplaces: business marketplaces and independent contractor marketplaces
Business marketplaces provide businesses a platform to advertise their services online among similar businesses. They may market their offerings to either consumers or other businesses, but anyone (provided they live in or are visiting the same area as the business) can purchase and redeem services through the platform. These platforms are often thought of as a marketing tool, since they connect businesses with a new customer base. The platform may focus on offering exclusive deals or traveling to the customer to provide their services as a means of differentiating themselves from a general marketplace business model.
Independent contractor marketplaces will appear to be a single service rather than a marketplace, but they do provide businesses with an opportunity to either sell their services or provide services for their employees. Good examples of this model are ride sharing software and grocery delivery software.
Ride sharing platforms provide a service that is fulfilled by drivers who work for the platform. An individual cannot choose their driver, but businesses can subscribe to the service in order to provide discounted or reimbursable rides to their employees. Similarly, grocery delivery software provides grocery and convenience stores a means to sell their inventory online, but individuals who work for the platform are the ones picking up and purchasing the items to be delivered. A customer can choose which store they would like items from, but they cannot choose who delivers their items.
Marketplace site – The main feature of a B2B marketplace platform is the marketplace itself. Businesses make their services available side-by-side with other businesses offering the same or similar services, and customers can choose the option that best fits their needs. By providing the framework, B2B marketplace platforms often do the heavy lifting of getting businesses set up on the site and making their offerings live. Businesses are often notified via email, calendar, or their vendor dashboard that they have booked or sold a service.
Appointment scheduling – Many B2B marketplace platforms offer services that customers or businesses can book. Often this is done directly through the marketplace at the time of purchase. Sellers either have a calendar on their side of the platform, or the platform can integrate with existing software such as Google Calendar, iCal, or other online appointment scheduling software. By integrating calendars, buyers can only book available services so there are no double bookings or other conflicts.
Customer profiles – For many B2B marketplace platforms, potential customers must create some kind of profile to begin buying goods or services. Often that consists of little more than an email address initially, but over time, more details may be filled in. Data on what kind of purchases a customer has made on the site is also likely collected, so a seller may have a better idea of the kind of buyer (such as basic age and gender demographics) that is purchasing their services. This information can help businesses better tailor their services in that marketplace to attract similar customers. This information can also help businesses in general make better marketing choices and provide more tailored goods and services. Since B2B marketplace platforms are usually a marketplace for small business, this information can be extremely valuable and difficult to get without spending a lot of money on marketing analytics.
Analytics – Many B2B marketplace platforms will have a vendor-facing section primarily for vendors to create offerings, monitor the success of their live offerings, and generally make adjustments to their public-facing information. Often these sections will include a dashboard so vendors can easily see important information about their performance on the site. This may include data such as the amount of services they have sold, the amount of money they have made, and basic customer data. By closely monitoring this data, sellers can make adjustments to their offerings to capture more of their desired demographic or simply sell more.
Subscriptions – For B2B marketplace platforms that offer a single service fulfilled by independent contractors, the availability to purchase a subscription may be available. Businesses who purchase a subscription to a ride sharing platform, for instance, may then pay a flat fee to receive a certain number of rides a month at a discounted rate for their employees. Subscribers to a delivery service may receive one free delivery a month or after paying for a certain number of deliveries. The goal of subscriptions is to secure guaranteed business and reward frequent customers or secure customers who use the service for their business.
Marketing tools – In this day and age, digital B2B marketing is a key factor of any marketing strategy. With B2B marketplace platforms, businesses can market their services to new customers, gain insights into their customer base, and integrate their presence on the platform with their current digital marketing efforts. Many B2B marketplace platforms offer some kind of social media integration or special links to embed into a website. B2B marketplace platforms also gather data from their customers, so businesses offering services can see marketing information, such as basic customer demographics or purchasing habits. This helps vendors better tailor their offerings to reach their desired demographic or see how they need to adjust their strategy to capture different demographics.