Sunday, March 27, 2022

[Deep Dive] Online Marketplaces Reshape B2B Commerce and Prompt New Marketing Tactics

Source:  Shutterstock

Key Takeaways

Online B2B marketplaces are changing the landscape of business-to-business commerce. In 2019, only about 7.5% of total global online B2B sales were made via online marketplaces, but they are forecast to account for 30% of all online B2B sales by 2024.

In this article, we'll explore the shift to online B2B buying and the meteoric growth of online B2B marketplaces. We'll explain how online B2B marketplaces work, and we'll discuss what the proliferation of marketplaces means for B2B marketing.

The Rise of B2B E-Commerce

It's well documented that online B2B buying has been growing rapidly for several years. eMarketer predicts that B2B e-commerce will total $1.77 trillion this year, up from $1.58 trillion in 2021, and will reach $2.44 trillion in 2025. In 2020, B2B e-commerce sales in the US represented only 14% of total US B2B sales, so B2B e-commerce has plenty of room to grow.

The growth of B2B e-commerce is due to several factors. Because of the popularity of consumer-oriented e-commerce sites, most business buyers are accustomed to making online purchases in their personal lives, and many have become comfortable with making business purchases online.

A generational "changing of the guard" in B2B buying is also boosting the growth of B2B e-commerce. In a 2020 survey of 17,000 business professionals by The B2B Institute and GWI, 40% or more of the millennial respondents (ages 21-40) said they have influence at every stage of the buying process used in their company. Millennial business buyers have been using digital technologies for most of their lives, and they are particularly comfortable using e-commerce for business purchases.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to online buying by consumers and business buyers. In the November 2021 edition of McKinsey's B2B Pulse Survey, 32% of the respondents ranked e-commerce as their company's most effective selling channel, up from 22% in the February 2021 survey. For the first time, e-commerce ranked higher than in-person as the most effective selling channel.

Clearly, e-commerce is already a major feature of the go-to-market operations of many B2B companies, and it's likely to become even more important in the future. As a result, e-commerce has become a hot topic among B2B company leaders, and it's been widely discussed in the business literature.

However, online B2B marketplaces have received considerably less attention, particularly in B2B marketing circles. Because of their popularity with business buyers, online marketplaces are likely to become a significant selling channel for many B2B companies. So, it's important that B2B marketers understand how they work and how to market effectively to marketplace buyers.

The Basics of Online B2B Marketplaces

Source:  Public Domain

An online B2B marketplace is an e-commerce environment where multiple vendors offer products or services to business customers. The distinguishing characteristic of an online marketplace is the role played by the marketplace operator. In a "pure" marketplace, the operator provides the e-commerce capabilities that enable transactions between buyers and sellers but doesn't sell its products or services in the marketplace.

Of course, many marketplace businesses are not "pure" marketplaces by this definition. For example, Amazon's consumer business is a "hybrid" because the company:

  • Sells Amazon-branded products (e.g. "Amazon Basics")
  • Purchases products from other companies and resells those products, thus acting like a conventional retailer
  • Provides a marketplace that enables third-party vendors to sell on the Amazon platform
Marketplace operators can earn revenue in a variety of ways, such as by:
  • Charging sellers or buyers, or both, a fee to join the marketplace
  • Charging a transaction fee for each sale made in the marketplace
  • Providing fulfillment services (e.g. "Fulfillment By Amazon"}
  • Selling advertising on the marketplace site
B2B Marketplaces Are Growing Rapidly
Online B2B marketplaces are a relatively new feature of the B2B commerce landscape, but the number of marketplaces has been rapidly increasing. Last year, Digital Commerce 360 listed 250 "leading" marketplaces, and that list isn't comprehensive.
The volume of business conducted on B2B marketplaces is also growing rapidly. Digital Commerce 360 recently predicted that sales on B2B marketplaces grew 130% in 2021 and totaled $56.0 billion. The firm also estimated that in 2021, B2B marketplace sales grew 7.3 times faster than overall B2B e-commerce sales and 8.5 times faster than total manufacturer and distributor sales.
B2B marketplaces are growing because they are increasingly popular with business buyers. According to Statista, about a third (34%) of global B2B buyers surveyed last September said they made 50% or more of their business purchases on marketplaces.
The Two "Flavors" of B2B Marketplaces
Online B2B marketplaces are classified as horizontal or vertical. A horizontal marketplace will typically offer a wide assortment of products or services that can be used by many types of businesses. Amazon Business and Alibaba are good examples of horizontal B2B marketplaces.
In contrast, vertical B2B marketplaces are designed for buyers working in specific industry verticals, and they offer products or services that are primarily used in those industries. Farmers Business Network (agricultural products used by farmers), ChemNet (agricultural and industrial chemicals) and GoDirect Trade (aviation products) are good examples of vertical B2B marketplaces.
How Marketplaces Benefit Buyers
B2B marketplaces can provide business buyers and their companies several valuable benefits.
Easy supplier discovery - A marketplace makes it easy for business buyers to discover new suppliers.
Greater choice - By including products and services from multiple suppliers, marketplaces offer business buyers a wider assortment of goods and services than they can typically find with a single vendor.
Lower cost - When a marketplace focuses on standard products or services, it will typically include product/service pricing. This pricing information is visible to both buyers and sellers, and the price transparency can increase competition among sellers, which often results in lower prices for buying organizations.
One-stop shopping - A marketplace can enable business buyers to purchase multiple products or services across a range of categories in a single transaction, which can reduce the time buyers must spend finding and buying the products or services they need.
Reduced supplier management - Buying through a marketplace can significantly reduce the number of suppliers a buying organization must onboard and manage. Buyers are able to deal only with the marketplace for most purchase-related issues rather than dealing with multiple suppliers.
Marketplaces Help "Tame the Tail"
In addition to the specific benefits discussed above, online B2B marketplaces can help B2B companies address a larger business issue - how to better manage their "tail spend."
External purchases in most companies have a Pareto-like distribution. The largest 20% of outside suppliers (by dollar volume) typically account for about 80% of the total external spend, while the remaining 20% (or so) of spend is spread across the smallest 80% of suppliers. Sourcing and procurement professionals call this 20% "tail spend."
Tail spend is difficult to manage using conventional procurement practices because it involves a large volume of relatively low-value purchases made from many suppliers. Therefore, tail spend is not "professionally managed" in many companies, and the result can be overspending and missed opportunities for cost savings.
By using one or more B2B marketplaces for these types of purchases, companies can gain greater visibility of their tail spend. B2B marketplaces typically provide buying organizations detailed data regarding their purchases in the marketplace, and some marketplaces enable buying organizations to control the purchases made by their individual buyers.
For example, Amazon Business enables companies that enroll in the Amazon Business Prime program to designate some vendors or products as "Preferred" and others as "Restricted." Large enterprises can also completely block buyers from purchasing certain products.
How Marketplaces Benefit Sellers
The benefits of online B2B marketplaces for buying organizations and individual buyers are clear. But B2B marketplaces can also provide valuable benefits to selling companies.
One of the most important benefits is expanded reach. By joining a marketplace, selling companies gain exposure to a large pool of potential customers, some of which they would not have otherwise reached. For example, a marketplace will often provide exposure to potential customers located outside a seller's current geographic market area.
A B2B marketplace may also enable a company to sell to customers that the company cannot profitably serve through its existing sales/distribution channels. For example, the systems and processes used by some B2B companies make it difficult for them to earn a reasonable profit on "small" sales. The technologies and services offered by B2B marketplaces can make such sales profitable. Therefore, by joining a B2B marketplace, a company may gain the ability to serve new customer segments.
Implications for Marketing
Source:  Limelight Leads
As B2B marketplaces become increasingly popular with business buyers, more B2B companies are likely to make marketplace selling an integral part of their go-to-market strategy. The issue for marketers in such companies is whether successful marketplace selling will require some new marketing techniques.
Most B2B marketing techniques and practices are designed for "high consideration" purchases that involve expensive and/or complex products or services, multiple decision makers and long buying cycles. But high consideration purchases have never represented all or even most B2B commerce, and most purchases made on B2B marketplaces don't fit the high consideration stereotype.
Therefore, to drive sales via marketplaces, marketers will need to use a different approach to marketing. More specifically, they need to think like marketers at a consumer packaged goods company and focus on two areas that don't receive much attention in B2B marketing - brand building and merchandising.
Build Brand Awareness and Mental Availability
In a marketplace environment, when a buyer searches for a particular type of product, the marketplace software will likely display multiple options from multiple sellers. Under these circumstances, brand awareness/familiarity and mental availability will greatly influence the buyer's purchase decision.
Brand awareness is self-explanatory, but the concept of mental availability may be less familiar to some B2B marketers. Mental availability refers to the likelihood that a particular brand or company will come into the mind of a buyer when he or she is in a buying situation. When a brand or a company achieves a high level of mental availability with potential buyers, the odds of winning sales increase substantially.
Many of the advertising and marketing programs run by CPG marketers are designed to increase brand awareness and mental availability, and B2B marketers need to focus more attention on these objectives to drive marketplace sales.
Focus on Effective Merchandising
Successful selling on a B2B marketplace also requires good merchandising. Merchandising is usually associated with brick-and-mortar retailing. It encompasses things like store design, layout and decoration, product display and product packaging. The goal of merchandising is to create an in-store experience that will entice shoppers to buy.
When selling via an e-commerce channel - including a marketplace - the website is the "store" and merchandising is mostly about the functionality of the e-commerce platform and the content the website contains.
In a marketplace setting, the marketplace operator obviously controls the functionality of the e-commerce platform and also exercises some control over what types of product information can be used and how that information can be displayed.
However, individual sellers in a marketplace also have some control over the quality and completeness of the information appearing on their product pages. Therefore, B2B marketers need to make their product pages as appealing as possible to marketplace buyers.
For example, marketers should use high-quality product images and possibly include videos if they're allowed by the marketplace platform. Marketers should also focus on providing product information that is tailored to meet the needs and expectations of the types of buyers who are most likely to be using the marketplace.
As with merchandising in the brick-and-mortar world, the objective of merchandising in a marketplace setting is to create a shopping experience that will encourage business shoppers to buy.
Final Thoughts
Online B2B marketplaces are poised to become an important selling channel for a significant number of B2B companies. The volume of business conducted on marketplaces is growing because they provide business buyers a convenient, user-friendly and efficient way to find and buy a wide range of products and services.
They also benefit buying organizations by providing an effective way to gain greater visibility and control of external spending that is difficult and costly to manage using conventional sourcing and procurement methods.
These benefits will lead a growing number of business buyers and their companies to gravitate to online B2B marketplaces, and B2B suppliers must be prepared to sell on marketplaces if they want to be where their potential customers are.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Why Brand Loyalty Is a Rare Commodity

Most B2B companies derive the majority of their revenue from continuing sales to existing customers. So it shouldn't be surprising that customer retention is an important business priority. Many companies are making substantial investments to improve the customer experiences they provide in the hope of enticing their customers to remain loyal.

Unfortunately, it appears that customer loyalty is more elusive than ever. Marketing and customer experience pundits have been proclaiming the demise of customer loyalty for the past several years, and two recent surveys lend support to their point of view.

Earlier this year, Edit and Kin + Carta published the results of a survey of 2,000 consumers in the US and the UK. Over a quarter of the survey respondents (27.4%) said they have no brand loyalty in any industry sector.

In this survey, a nearly equal percentage of men and women (28%/27%) reported having no brand loyalty, but there sere significant differences across generational cohorts. Somewhat surprisingly, Gen Z and millennials were less likely to report no brand loyalty (18% and 28% respectively) than Gen X and baby boomer respondents (34% and 39% respectively).

Research last year by Wunderman Thompson Commerce (a WPP agency) showed that low levels of customer loyalty aren't limited to consumers. The B2B Future Shopper Report 2021 was based on a survey of 604 B2B buyers in the US (202), the UK (201) and China (201).

Remarkably, 55% of the US-based respondents said they had switched suppliers for all business purchases in the 12 months preceding the survey. Another 41% said they had switched suppliers for some business purchases over the same time period. In the 2020 edition of the survey, the comparable percentages were 20% for all purchases and 43% for some purchases.

Why Has Customer Loyalty Declined?

Declining customer loyalty is not a new phenomenon, but a combination of factors have caused the pace of decline to accelerate in recent years.

For example, the abundance of online information enables customers to easily discover and learn about new products, services and suppliers. Pricing information is also widely available, which makes it easy for customers to comparison shop for the best available deal.

This widespread availability of information can reduce some of the risks that are usually associated with buying a product or service - or buying from a supplier - the customer isn't familiar with. In other words, easy access to information lowers the fear and uncertainty that often comes with trying a new product or supplier.

Customer expectations for convenient and frictionless experiences have also risen, and many companies haven't kept pace with these changing expectations. Keeping up is particularly challenging because customers tend to compare the experiences your company provides to the best experiences they've enjoyed with companies of any type. Therefore, your company is always competing against the "best-of-breed" customer experiences provided by all types of businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the decline of customer loyalty. During the pandemic, many consumers and business buyers were forced to adopt new shopping and buying behaviors, and in some cases, to change product/service brands or suppliers. Once customers have had good experiences with these new behaviors, products, services and suppliers, they become more willing to "shop around" in the future.

Time to Reset Expectations

In today's information-rich and competitive business environment, where customers are easily enticed to engage in promiscuous buying behaviors, company leaders need to reset their expectations relating to customer loyalty.

First of all, as marketing and business leaders, we need to recognize that exclusive brand/company loyalty by customers - at least over an extended period of time - is an unrealistic aspiration.

Raja Rajamannar, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Mastercard, addressed this issue in his book, Quantum Marketing:  Mastering the New Marketing Mindset for Tomorrow's Consumers (which I reviewed last month in this post). After citing statistics showing that 75% of men and 68% of women have admitted to cheating in some way, at some time in a relationship, he writes:

" . . . if people are not loyal in their committed relationships, are we as marketers and businesspeople realistic in expecting loyalty from our consumers? If they are not loyal in their personal lives, are we fantasizing that we will generate their loyalty to our brands? We are, after all, way down the food chain of attention, as far as people's lives are concerned."

The second necessary aspect of the reset is to recognize that customer loyalty is a fragile phenomenon that requires frequent reinforcement. In this sense, customer loyalty is a little like COVID-19 vaccines. The mRNA vaccines used here in the US are highly effective, but the protection against infection isn't exceptionally durable. As we now know, that protection begins to wane rather quickly. As a result, one "booster" dose has already been recommended, and my personal default assumption is that I'll be lining up for another "jab" sometime in the next few months.

Because customer loyalty is no longer very durable, it requires frequent "boosting" to maintain its potency. In fact, marketing and business leaders should view every interaction with a customer as an opportunity to re-energize that customer's loyalty and commitment.

To be clear, customer loyalty isn't likely to regain the durability it had 30 or 40 years ago, but it can still be a potent competitive advantage if companies focus on consistently delivering outstanding customer experiences.

Image courtesy of One Way Stock via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, March 13, 2022

[Research Round-Up] ABM, Marketing Spending and Next Generation Events

 (This month's Research Round-Up features the latest ABM benchmark study by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, Winterberry Group's latest forecast of marketing and advertising spending, and a survey examining the future of marketing events by the CMO Council and Cvent.)

Embedding ABM:  Next Steps for Market Leadership (2021 ABM Benchmark Study) by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance

Source:  ITSMA/ABM Leadership Alliance

  • An online survey of marketers with ITSMA member companies and ABM Leadership Alliance contacts
  • 313 respondents (91% affiliated with technology, finance and business services companies)
  • 70% of respondents from North America and the Caribbean
  • 24 interviews with leading ABM practitioners
  • Survey fielded in August 2021 - report published in December 2021
This is the fifth annual ABM benchmark study by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, and it includes several findings about the state of ABM in 2021.
For example, the research found that, on average, survey respondents were devoting 27% of their 2021 marketing budget to ABM, and 75% of the respondents expected their ABM budget to increase this year. Seventy-two percent reported that ABM delivers higher ROI than other types of marketing.
The latest survey also provides important insights about the attributes and practices of companies with high-performing ABM programs. The researchers divided the survey respondents into two cohorts - ABM Leaders and All Others. ABM Leaders were defined as the respondents who indicated their ABM efforts had produced a significant improvement in business results. By this definition, 33% of the survey respondents were classified as ABM Leaders.
The survey results showed that ABM Leaders:
  • Have broader objectives and greater stakeholder alignment (particularly with sales)
  • Are more proficient across a wide range of skills
  • Invest more in tools, templates and processes that enable knowledge/best practices sharing
  • Are more likely to be using data and analytics technologies
  • Are more likely to be using ABM-related technologies to their full potential
If you're involved in account-based marketing, this research will be a valuable resource.

Source:  Winterberry Group
  • Spending estimates and forecasts for twenty media/marketing channels
  • A review of trends that will shape the U.S. marketing and advertising industry in 2022
  • Report published in January 2022
This report includes estimates of marketing and advertising spending in the United States for 2021 and 2022. It covers twenty media/marketing channels - nine offline channels (e.g. linear TV, direct mail) and eleven online channels (e.g. display advertising, digital video).
Winterberry's estimates are similar to the projections made by other forecasters, including most of the major advertising agencies. The firm estimates that U.S. marketing and advertising spending rebounded sharply in 2021 and will increase again in 2022. More specifically, Winterberry projects that spending on online channels will increase 16.6% this year, while spending on offline channels will grow 5.9%.
Among online channels, Winterberry predicts that influencer marketing will experience the greatest percentage increase in spending this year - 51.3%. Among offline channels, the firm expects addressable TV to garner the greatest spending increase - 27.4%.
Aligning Strategy, Teams and Tech for Success in the New Era of Events by the CMO Council (in partnership with Cvent)

Source:  CMO Council
  • A survey of 150 global marketing leaders
  • In-depth interviews with executives from Equifax, GE Healthcare, HCL Software and GfK
  • Report published in February 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic decimated in-person conferences, trade shows and other marketing events for the better part of two years. In 2020, marketers and event sponsors and planners pivoted quickly to make many of their events virtual. Many marketers are now hoping for a return to normalcy in 2022, and they are thinking about what the future of events will look like.
This report by the CMO Council (in partnership with Cvent) provides several important insights about how marketers are thinking about the "new era" of events, and how what they learned during the pandemic will affect future event strategies.
Here are a few of the headline findings:
  • Sixty percent of the survey respondents said restarting in-person events is very important or critical, but the same percentage of respondents expect future in-person/hybrid events to be smaller than pre-pandemic in-person events.
  • Forty-four percent of the respondents said webinars and virtual events have slowed down but still deliver good value, and 20% said such events continue to deliver tremendous reach for their content.
  • Sixty-four percent of the respondents said they are not effective or only moderately effective and executing virtual events that deliver value to their organization.
When asked about how what they learned during the pandemic will change event management strategies, 65% of the respondents said that all types of events will be better aligned to specific marketing outcomes.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

[Book Review] Tools for Building Powerful Brands

Source:  Amazon

B2B marketers are under constant pressure to drive revenue growth, and a growing number of B2B marketers now recognize that a powerful brand will make it easier to achieve revenue growth objectives.

But building a strong brand is challenging because it requires marketers to possess and use a diverse set of skills, including the development of deep market and customer insights, analytical thinking and creativity.

In Positioning for Advantage:  Techniques and Strategies to Grow Brand Value, Kimberly A. Whitler, the Frank M. Sands Sr. Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, provides a set of pragmatic methods (which she calls "tools") that marketers can use to create and sustain high-performing brands. 

Before teaching, Whitler spent nearly 20 years in general management, strategy and marketing roles at several consumer products and retail companies, including Proctor & Gamble, David's Bridal and PetSmart.

Tools to Fill the "Theory-Doing Gap"

In the introduction to Positioning for Advantage, Whitler writes that the fundamental job of marketers is to "create businesses - through brands - that win in the marketplace." The problem, she observes, is that "the marketing curriculum in schools is largely theory based, with little insight into the tools that marketers can employ to create brand advantage." 

Whitler argues that this creates a "theory-doing gap," and she says that Positioning for Advantage is designed to fill that gap by providing a set of tools for "aspiring C-level marketers."

Whitler discusses eight tools in Positioning for Advantage, which she places in three categories.

  • Marketing strategy tools
    • The positioning concept (Chapter 2)
    • The brand essence statement (Chapter 3)
    • Strategy maps (Chapter 4)
  • Bridging tools
    • The strategic marketing plan (Chapter 5)
    • The creative brief (Chapter 6)
  • Planning tools
    • The marketing technology blueprint (Chapter 7)
    • Key opinion leader and influencer maps (Chapter 8)
    • Brand measurement tools (Chapter 9)
The Power of Positioning
As the title suggests, Positioning for Advantage asserts that marketers create competitive advantage for their company through their decisions and actions regarding brand positioning. Whitler writes:
"Specifically, marketers create advantage by combining the firm's resources with insight-generating market intelligence (e.g. competitors and consumers) and direction from firm-level strategies in order to make strategic marketing choices about where the brand should play . . . The result leads to a 'desired positional advantage,' or the potential to occupy a place in the hearts and minds of the target consumers that gives the company the ability to achieve superior market share outcomes."
Once marketers have defined the brand positioning, their job becomes to develop and implement marketing activities and programs that will enable the brand positioning to be achieved.
All of the tools discussed in Positioning for Advantage are valuable, but two stand out in importance - the positioning concept and the brand essence statement.
The Positioning Concept
A positioning concept is a tool that marketing leaders use to summarize why a brand (or a product or service) exists. It usually contains three major components.
  1. Problem Statement -  A statement of the problem potential buyers are experiencing that the product or service will solve. It is written in the first person from the perspective of a potential buyer.
  2. Solution Statement - A statement describing how the product or service will solve the problem identified in the problem statement.
  3. Proof (Solution) Statements - Statements describing the proof the company will offer to demonstrate that the "promise" made in the solution statement will be kept.
Whitler argues that marketers should create several versions of these statements and test them with potential buyers to identify the version of each statement that is most appealing.
The Brand Essence Statement
Positioning for Advantage describes the brand essence statement (BES) as follows:
"A BES is a document, picture, video, or some other communication vehicle that captures . . . the intrinsic nature and indispensable quality that makes a brand unique, compelling, and meaningful to a target. It is essentially a blueprint that defines the pieces and parts of the brand and provides a guide against which to implement the brand."
The format of brand essence statements can vary, but most will include four key components.
  1. A foundation that describes the brand's values and personality
  2. A description of the rational and emotional benefits the brand will provide to the customer (the impact component)
  3. The proof that the brand will deliver on the rational benefits that are promised
  4. A summary statement of what the brand can do for the target customer (the brand essence)
Is Positioning for Advantage Useful for B2B Marketers?
Some readers may be questioning how useful Positioning for Advantage will be for B2B marketers. It's true that the book is written primarily from a B2C perspective. Professor Whitler writes that consumer package goods companies and retailers have the most advanced marketing capabilities, and most of the examples used in the book involve consumer products or services.
It's also true that some of the tools described in the book will need to be adapted to work well in B2B. For example, B2B companies that offer expensive and/or complex products or services must usually market to buying groups composed of several individuals whose perspectives and priorities can differ. Therefore, marketing leaders at such companies may need to develop a distinct positioning concept for each type of buyer in the buying group.
Even with these caveats, Positioning for Advantage is a valuable resource for B2B marketers. In my experience, brand positioning is not emphasized enough in the marketing planning process at most B2B companies. The customer-centric, market-centric approach to brand positioning described by Kimberly Whitler will help B2B marketers build powerful brands that will drive revenue growth.