Build a B2B marketplace
business. Fast.

Get a head start into one of the biggest marketplace trends in 2020. Sharetribe’s marketplace software lets you start testing your idea with real users immediately.

Last updated on Feb 20, 2020
Author: Juho Makkonen
Juho Makkonen
CEO & Co-founder

Leverage the B2B
marketplace opportunities

Business-to-business markets have enormous opportunities for the marketplace model.

The success of the marketplace model shows no sign of slowing down. Thanks to unicorns like Airbnb, Etsy, and Thumbtack, new business-to-consumer (B2C) and peer-to-peer (P2P or C2C) marketplaces have emerged in almost any field and industry.

In business-to-business, the marketplace trend is only starting to gain momentum.

B2B markets are massive, and their transactions are usually more frequent and higher in value,than C2C or B2C transactions. This is excellent news for marketplaces with a commissions-based revenue model.


Great news for commissions-based marketplaces: transactions in B2B are large and frequent.

The best way to leverage opportunities in business-to-business markets is to start testing your idea with real users as soon as possible. Then, you can start developing and growing your business based on your learnings. (In fact, Sharetribe’s two marketplace products have been designed with this iterative, lean process in mind.)

Below, we explain the lean approach to building a marketplace in more detail. We also discuss the pros and cons of different business models and list essential features for B2B platforms.

Build your B2B platform the lean way

Here’s how to take your marketplace idea from idea to launch and to growth the lean way.

Step 1: Find and solve a real problem

Marketplaces like Airbnb, Etsy, and Fiverr succeed, ultimately, because of three things:

  1. They allow customers to save money and providers to make more money.
  2. They are more convenient to use than the alternative.
  3. They bring transparency and trust by making it easier to compare offerings

The logic is the same for business-to-business marketplaces. What is more, a huge amount of valuable B2B transactions are still done very inefficiently.

You might be familiar with something like this from your job. To buy a service or rent a tool, for example, you might first need to use Google and word-of-mouth to find candidates. Then you contact them with a brief and engage in a lot of back-and-forths to communicate your needs to them. Then come the formal offers, verification and certification checks, NDA’s, and the like.

If only there were a marketplace to find vetted, certified providers, right? That would save hours of efficient work time!

If you spot a process like this, chances are you have a great business idea on your hands.

Step 2: Launch your Minimum Viable Product

You have spotted an excellent B2B marketplace opportunity. But building a platform takes time and money. How can you be sure you’re spending them on the right idea, the right audience, and the right features.

The best thing you can do at this stage is to find the fastest and most cost-effective way to launch the first version of your website. The version should have everything you need to test your core idea. Nothing more.

This version is called your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Your MVP still needs to provide a great user experience. Consumers have gotten used to a certain kind of marketplace functionality, which they will likely expect also when they transact on a B2B platform. That means they should be able to find what they’re looking for and pay for it in a way that is smooth, easy, and secure. Providers, too, should get real value from using your platform from day one.


But many things you came up with in the first phase – like vetting for certifications or offering tools to manage the NDA process – don’t have to be there yet. Or you can do them manually for your first, most important customers. The point is to test whether your audience is willing to adopt the marketplace model in the first place.

Developing a platform that manages all this isn’t fast – nor cheap if you need to outsource development work. In by far the most cases, the best option is to choose a SaaS tool that works for your idea to launch the MVP version.


Find the fastest and most cost-effective way to launch the first version of your marketplace.

For example, Sharetribe Go lets you launch a fully functional marketplace website in one day. It offers a complete feature set for a B2B rentals or a B2B services (and comprehensive product marketplace features).

You can try Sharetribe Go for free for 30 days here.

Step 3: Find product-market fit

Launching your MVP is where the learning process begins.

Your first test is whether you will be able to build initial supply and find sufficient demand. On most B2C marketplaces, it usually makes sense to start from a curated, high-quality supply. Getting them on a platform usually draws in demand as well.

On a B2B platform, the right side to start with is the one that is harder to get. For example, for a website focusing web developers, that would be the supply. If your platform manages to aggregate skilled, reliable developers, the quality of your supply alone works to build demand.

On a site for a more competitive niche – say, business consultants – it might work the other way round. If you manage to build a pool of enterprise customers that have expressed interest in buying consultancy services, chances are demand will find your platform quite easily.

However, getting people to sign up to your platform isn’t enough. You might have a large user base and already get some transactions, the real proof that you have found product-market fit is reaching liquidity. Liquidity means both sides of your marketplace get their problem solved. The businesses that form your supply should be likely to make enough money to justify using your platform, and the businesses on the customer side should reliably find what they are looking for.

The best way to reach liquidity fast is to start with a very narrow focus, either on a vertical or on a geographic location. This will make it easier to find the right supply and the right demand. For example, on B2B marketplace for excavators, it's important that you build your initial supply and demand roughly in the same location. Someone using your website in Sacramento will not be interested if they can only find excavators from Boston. If your focus or your geographic reach is very broad in the beginning, it will be very difficult to acquire enough users to reach liquidity.

If you can prove this works on your MVP platform, you know for sure that your business is built on a solid foundation. Then you can start expanding your platform to serve your audience even better.

Step 4: Build your speciality features

Throughout the first three steps, you should prioritize getting as much feedback from your users as possible. Talking to your customers and providers at every stage of their experience helps you understand what they expect to get from your marketplace. And how you can meet and exceed those expectations.

After you have built initial supply and reached liquidity, you can be confident your business idea has traction. You’re also probably already turning a nice revenue.



Now is the time to start planning those extra features that make your marketplace stand out and offer the best possible experience for your users. Combine your ideas with the data you have gotten from your actual users and make a plan for expanding your feature set. Start from the one feature that will make the biggest impact for your users.

Usually, it's a good idea to prioritize features that will help your customers run their businesses and save even more time and money. In the long run, these features will key in increasing your marketplace customer lifetime, preventing platform leakage, and building defensibility against competitors.


Prioritize features that help you increase customer lifetime, prevent platform leakage, and build defensibility.

Sharetribe Flex is developed to that end. Its API-based architecture offers the essential features out of the box while allowing you to customize and expand your UX and your feature set for your specific audience. For example, Flex allows you to integrate third-party software to your marketplace. That means you can integrate third-party marketing or CRM tools for your own use, and also offer your providers valuable tools manage their business.

You can create your free Flex account here– the development phase is free for an unlimited time.

About the B2B marketplace business model

Choosing the right marketplace revenue model is a critical decision for the success of your B2B startup.

The monetization strategy you choose will depend on many factors. What is important is that your users feel they get enough benefit to justify your fees and that you choose a strategy that guarantees a reliable, sustainable revenue stream. Here are the most common marketplace business models.

Commission

Commission means the marketplace charges a percentage or a flat fee (or both) out of each transaction that takes place on the platform. Commission is by far the most common revenue model for B2C and C2C marketplace because it’s typically the easiest to justify to users. Often, it also offers the biggest revenue opportunity for the entrepreneur.

Commission is a common monetization strategy for many B2B marketplaces as well. Fiverr, for example, makes money through commissions.

There are some specifics B2B marketplaces need to consider. Business-to-business transactions may vary between a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. If this is the case in your market, charging a fixed commission from all transactions might not work. Commission is challenging also if you’re mostly dealing with very large but relatively infrequent transactions. In this case, it might make sense to consider an alternative or additional revenue stream.

Membership or listing fee

Some marketplaces charge users to join the platform or to post listings, either as a sole business model or an additional revenue stream to listing fees. The usefulness of this business model depends on how much value your website provides the businesses you’re targeting.

For example, if you have managed to aggregate a pool of high-profile enterprise customers and the transaction sizes on your marketplace are large, the businesses on the supply side might very well agree to pay to get access to these customers.

Ads

Because B2B transactions are so valuable, chances are you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find companies that are willing to pay for visibility to your user base.

Ads can provide a great additional revenue stream, and if the advertised offering is interesting to a large part of your audience, it can be quite the win-win. However, it’s critical that ads don’t bring down your marketplace user experience or annoy customers. If the perceived quality of your platform deteriorates because of the ads, that might end up hurting your brand more than the additional income would justify.

Additional services

Even more than private consumers, business customers appreciate convenience and quick service. This might give you a chance to earn extra revenue through additional services. For instance, you could post listings on your enterprise customers’ behalf, collect the necessary certifications and other documents from the providers, or offer other relevant services such as insurance or shipping.



B2B marketplace features

The essential marketplace features you need will depend on your marketplace type and the requirements and wishes of your target audience.

At the core of most marketplace websites – be it Airbnb, Fiverr, or eBay – a lot of the functionality is identical. That makes perfect sense. 

When a user has adopted one marketplace UX, you don’t want to force them to learn a completely different user flow if you can offer them something familiar.


It's rarely a sensible investment to build essential marketplace features from scratch.

This is precisely why it’s rarely a sensible investment for an early-stage marketplace entrepreneur to build the essential features from scratch. Using a SaaS tool frees up months and several thousands of dollars to be spent on things that offer much higher returns: marketing, user retention, and brand-building.

Here are the lists of essential features your B2B marketplace will need. 

B2B services marketplace

A B2B services marketplace is where businesses or individual professionals can offer their services to other businesses. Fiverr is an example of such a business.

A services marketplace will need at least the following features already in the MVP stage:

  • User profiles

  • Listings
  • Search tools
  • Availability and booking management
  • Online payment (with support for commissions)
  • Holding funds and delaying payouts
  • Reviews
  • Admin tools

  • Depending on your niche, possibly map and locations

You can read more about building a service marketplace in this guide.

Both Sharetribe Go and Sharetribe Flex offer all these essential service marketplace features out of the box.

B2B rentals marketplace

A B2B rentals marketplace is where businesses can rent items to other businesses: equipment, spaces, vehicles, or the like. Storefront, a platform for popup and retail space, is an example of a business rentals marketplace.

A rental marketplace MVP will need a largely similar feature set to a service marketplace:

  • User profiles

  • Listings
  • Search tools
  • Availability and booking management
  • Online payment (with support for commissions)
  • Holding funds and delaying payouts
  • Reviews
  • Admin tools

  • Map and locations

You can read more about building a rental marketplace in this guide.

Both Sharetribe Go and Sharetribe Flex offer the essential rental marketplace features out of the box.

B2B products marketplace

A B2B products marketplace like Amazon Business lets businesses buy and sell products.

The core feature set is similar to service and rental marketplaces, but depending on your niche, you might need some additional features. The essential features are:

  • User profiles

  • Listings
  • Search tools
  • Availability and booking management
  • Online payment (with support for commissions)
  • Holding funds and delaying payouts
  • Reviews
  • Admin tools

  • Map and locations

Depending on your specific market and audience, you might also need:

  • Inventory management

  • Integration to a shipping service provider
  • Shopping cart feature

Though Sharetribe Go and Sharetribe Flex are developed specifically to power rental and services marketplaces, successful products marketplaces have been built using both products. You can contact our support team to ask if the features needed for your idea are available with Sharetribe.

B2B-specific marketplace features

After you have validated your B2B marketplace idea with the essential feature set, you probably want to start thinking about additional features that make your platform even better for your users. Depending on your business idea, that might mean:

  • Price negotiation

  • User identity verification 

  • Tools to collect and verify industry-specific certifications
  • Contract or NDA forms

  • CRM tools for your providers
  • and so on.

It’s quite typical that the payment flow on a B2B marketplace is more complex than on P2P marketplaces and traditional e-commerce sites. B2B deals, particularly in the case of services, are usually the result of price negotiation, which requires complicated booking flow functionality from a marketplace. Very often, this is also the step in a business purchasing process that takes the most time, so offering tools to improve the process can be a powerful value proposition for you.

Sharetribe Flex allows you to build additional features to your marketplace, integrate third-party software, and build your website exactly the way you like. As the essential features come out of the box, you can build your ideal platform at a fraction of the time and cost needed to build from scratch.

Flex’s powerful transaction engine allows you to build exactly the kind of payment and booking flow you need. This makes it an ideal software tool for the most complex B2B marketplace concepts.

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