B2B Marketplaces Offer Opportunities for Marketers

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Marketers who haven’t already turned their attention to the intriguing opportunities presented by business-to-business marketplaces should do so soon, according to a new report from Lori Wizdo, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst for B2B marketing professionals.

“Both business buyers and B2B sellers are increasing their participation in marketplaces,” Wizdo says. “As the shift continues, companies that have experience with and actual success in marketing on marketplaces will reap the benefits of early adoption.”

There is a wide variety of B2B marketplaces, from software and life sciences to chemicals, electronics, and business services, Wizdo points out.

To take advantage of increasing B2B market activity, organizations will need to quickly figure out which ones will influence conversions and purchases, then calibrate their marketplace strategies to their customers’ preferences and behaviors, Wizdo advises.

B2B marketers also need to recognize that businesses have embraced the digital marketplace much like consumers have, Wizdo adds. This year B2B e-commerce sales are expected to grow to $1.2 trillion, up more than 36 percent from the $889 billion in 2017. Just as with consumers, Amazon is driving much of the growth in B2B e-commerce.

Since they are increasingly opting for digital purchases, B2B buyers are relying less on enterprise account reps, according to Wizdo, who cited an earlier Forrester survey indicating that only slightly more than one-third (38 percent) of B2B purchase influencers make their purchases through account reps.

To serve customers shifting to digital transactions, marketplaces offer cost-effective ways to reach new customers and service existing ones, Wizdo says.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to e-commerce, much as it has in the consumer market, Wizdo says. “During the pandemic, the overall U.S. e-commerce penetration saw 10 years of growth in three months.” While the pandemic is starting to wane, the shift to e-commerce is expected to remain.

“By 2024, worldwide B2B e-commerce marketplace sales could reach $3.6 billion, up from an estimated $680 billion in 2018,” she adds.

But for B2B businesses to thrive in the online marketplaces, marketers need to create value, Wizdo maintains. To do so, they first need to think about digital experiences holistically, she recommends. She points out that marketplaces are connected to the wider marketing ecosystem, quoting George Chang, executive marketplace analyst at VTEX: “‘Email marketing, remarketing, retargeting are still important aspects of the marketing mix for the marketplace buyer. Once you acquire a customer, you want to use a multichannel engagement strategy to maintain that relationship and get longer lifetime value.’”

Even if a product is better than competitors’ offerings, it’s up to the marketer to create value by pointing out those differences, according to Wizdo. “Complete pricing transparency won’t be the deciding factor in B2B.

Andy Hoar, CEO of Paradigm B2B, explained it this way: ‘If I’m buying Logitech cameras as a spec in the purchase of laptops—even if I’m buying several thousand—price might be a big factor in my decision. But if I’m buying nearly the same camera for remote inspection on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the price of the camera, while not irrelevant, takes a back seat to the value associated with the use case.’”

Wizdo offers the following recommendations for marketers seeking to capitalize on the growing B2B marketplace environment:

  • Develop a unique strategy: Each B2B marketplace has different platform requirements and promotional opportunities. Many marketers offer fixed or standardized options, leaving opportunities for marketers who offer attention-grabbing, differentiating promotions. “B2B marketers must ensure that they supercharge all of the components of their marketplace ecosystem and online presences to deliver an optimized buying experience,” Wizdo says.
  • Recognize that you’re on someone else’s turf: Successful marketers will work within the features and structures of particular marketplaces. They might need to market differently in a high-end retail environment than in one that is akin to a flea market, for example.
  • Understand the relationship between the marketplace and the customer’s buying journey: Marketers using a marketplace will need to know their role in the buyer’s journey to provide the best content and experience.
  • Consider the holistic digital experience: Marketplaces are part of a wider marketing ecosystem that includes email marketing, remarketing, retargeting, etc.

It’s also important for marketers to know that their brand promise is more important than ever in a wholly digital transaction. As Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at brand consulting and design firm Landor Associates, says, “B2B buyers are making decisions every day that can change their careers.”

Business buyers also want dependable sellers. “I have to believe that when I click that submit button, you are actually going to be able to fulfill for me with quality product on the committed date,” says Mike Rabbior, chief commerce strategist at Perficient.

And then, marketers must bring trust and consistency to each interaction, experts say.

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