Since its inception, business among professionals has been based on a relationship of trust between buyers and suppliers. There are two main reasons for this: the first is that customer relationships are virtually always personalised (sole-source negotiations and contracts); and the second is that the products are complex and require a particular level of expertise. However, so-called "commercial" B2B marketplaces are shaking up the sector, with experts predicting a growth rate of 10% by 2020. "B2B Marketplaces are blossoming", a report published by Roland Berger, in partnership with Webhelp and Mirakl, addresses the future challenges for these booming platforms.
The main challenge that marketplaces are facing is a technological one. Five specific areas of improvement are key:
- Marketplaces should be seamlessly integrated for suppliers and buyers, both in terms of front-office design and back-office structure.
- The user experience should take inspiration from B2C practices to be more user-friendly.
- Search engines should be more efficient and product descriptions should be more detailed, with relevant keywords being used to make searching easier.
- Special attention should be paid to legal regulations regarding documentation.
- Buying processes and pricing should be clearly explained.
2. Payment services
Not only do payments play a prominent role in the customer experience, but they also need to comply with international legal and financial regulations.
Compared to B2C marketplaces, the average order value and the purchase frequency on B2B marketplaces can be very high. There are other distinctive features of this, such as the various payment methods used in each country, variations in pricing based on the number of items, and different payment terms per supplier. This often leads to a delay of several weeks between purchase and payment.
Invoicing is also a major issue for buyers who want to receive smaller numbers of invoices and to process them more easily.
3. Driving change
Senior management of businesses still need to be convinced and shown the added value of these platforms, as do all stakeholders involved, as they will be directly affected by such a strategic shift.
4. Need for new skills
B2B marketplaces are involving more and more suppliers in their processes due to the indispensable product skills and expertise that they bring. Because it's business to business, buyers need a specific selection of products and detailed information.
There has also been a boom in searches for digital profiles, especially in subjects such as data analysis and online marketing.
5. Supplier maturity
As well as potential business clients, B2B marketplaces also need to convince suppliers to adopt their platform and invest in this new channel.
Marketplaces still have some major challenges to overcome in order to convince procurement departments. One thing is certain and is sure to fuel growth in the market: the digitalisation of B2B commerce is now in full swing. The statistics speak for themselves: 74% of B2B buyers said that they had searched online for at least half of their purchases, with 61% of them doing so on a mobile phone.
However, despite their power, B2B marketplaces are not always the best solution. This is especially true for indirect purchases, where product advice and information, which are essential for buyers, are somewhat lacking on these platforms.
Nowadays, it is more useful to buy these types of products from somewhere where the quality and homogeneity of the content are guaranteed: on so-called "technical" marketplaces or e-commerce sites of distributors with extremely broad product ranges, hence covering all business needs in this product category. As well as ensuring that the right products are chosen, and which meet the needs of users, this strategic choice also makes it possible to go further in indirect sales management by implementing optimisation projects.