The Astronomical Rise of B2B Digital Marketplaces
The B2B buying journey follows a complex, nonlinear path and often involves a chain of decision-makers. Marketplaces have become a key avenue for buyers to research their options and connect with multiple brands and products at once.
“Opening up the business to comparison is one of the biggest push backs from B2B sellers when it comes to marketplaces, but we’re way past the era where a comparison is restricted,” says Jonathan Whiteside, Principal Technology Consultant at Dept. “Even before marketplaces, your customers were accessing multiple supplier websites to create their own comparisons. By participating in the process, rather than resisting, you’re making it easier for them. When it comes to customer experience, you have to give an inch to get their attention and prove value.”
A customer previously unknown to your brand may now be discovering your products. “If a builder is looking for a home appliance, they’re searching for options that match specific criteria; whether that’s related to size or energy consumption, they’re able to easily compare a Bosch product vs a Samsung vs models from a new manufacturer. Being considered alongside premium vendors adds credibility and gives your brand a chance to win new business. Use marketplaces as an inbound channel.”
How Wholesalers Embrace E-marketplaces
Take advantage of marketplaces’ strengths in fulfilment, standardised delivery, immediate visibility, and compliance can help maximise your overall sales and distribution strategy. The opportunities are fairly straightforward for manufacturers to optimise warehouse space: combine several low margin products into a high margin bundle and offload slow-moving inventory, surplus or overstock items, as well as discontinued product ranges.
It’s a lot more complicated for distributors since a lot of their value is tied to their ability to fulfil orders in a unique way that often involves their own delivery fleet. “If you’re sending a big pipe for a water supply company, you know how to deliver that product in a special way, so keep that on your delivery system, but maybe let go of the nuts and bolts that fit into standard boxes. The brand awareness benefits and efficiencies of the marketplaces are worth it if you’re sending standard items. Work with them sometimes, but preserve your value.”
Opportunities for Marketplace Creation
The demand for niche B2B marketplace keeps growing, providing fertile grounds for sector-specific and tightly seller-focused marketplaces to rise.“If you’re already a leading manufacturer or distributor in a particular area such as bus parts or chemical components, launching a vertical-specific marketplace is a logical next step to reaffirm your market position, open up new revenue streams and attract serious buyers. Having a well-established company domain will boost the launch, while your industry knowledge will ensure satisfaction and longevity, simplifying the buyer journey and creating new sales opportunities for sellers tailored to the unique needs of their sector,” Whiteside added.
Vertical leaders who have established their own B2B marketplaces include , and in aviation and aerospace; Siemens in trains; Toyota Material Handling in forklifts; CheMondis for chemicals; in electronics; HP Enterprise for IT supplies; and Tetra Pak for food and beverage.
Just Eat Launches a B2B Marketplace
Following the merger between Just Eat and Takeaway.com in spring 2020, the company transformed into a global platform that operates in eleven countries, serving over fourteen million customers annually. to accelerate its digital transformation with the launch of a new B2B marketplace that caters to the needs of restaurateurs by leveraging the wealth of data the company has at its disposal.
“In addition to its customer-facing marketplace facilitating food delivery, the company also enables restaurant owners to purchase both food and non-food items from third-party sellers. Powered by , the Just Eat B2B marketplace provides regional insights into consumer demand to help local restaurants better tailor their menus based on local supply and demand.”
B2B marketplaces are still very much in their infancy, and there are a lot of opportunities for advancement through tech innovation and customer activation. Whiteside predicts: “the evolution of B2B marketplaces will more be more focused, offering less commoditised, more unique goods or services sourced for a particular industry. These marketplaces will have more complex workflows and may be tougher to set up as opposed to traditional marketplaces due to their inherent complexity though, for this reason, they will also be more defensible.”
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”