Why B2B marketplace sits at the heart of a thriving ecosystem

B2B Marketplaces: A key enabler for new growth

What is a B2B marketplace?

At its core, a marketplace is an entity through which buyers and sellers can effectively and efficiently transact. It provides a platform to reduce friction for the provisioning of products, services, and solutions: connecting a distributed ecosystem of suppliers with an equally distributed ecosystem of customers.

Think of Amazon, which orchestrates a B2C retail marketplace – Amazon’s marketplace has created a site in which a host of different vendors, whether regional or global, major corporate or small/medium enterprise (SME), can compete directly with one another (and in some cases directly with Amazon’s own products) to reach and serve a wide scale customer base. Using the example of Amazon, we can therefore describe four key actors within the marketplace:

Key actors in a marketplace

B2B marketplace

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  • Customers: Amazon’s marketplace creates a simple tool through which users can seamlessly identify, evaluate, and purchase products from a wider range of sellers. These suppliers, due to competition, must continuously innovate to create value for customers or risk competing solely on price. This provides a strong proposition combining ease, choice, and value for the customer. For smaller enterprises and for more simple services (e.g. cybersecurity, productivity software) a B2C-style marketplace works well. Amazon provides a good example of a B2C marketplace – however, for larger enterprises requiring more complex, verticalised solutions, the Amazon “one click purchasing” capability may be less appropriate.
    The marketplace still acts as an entity within which enterprises can identify new, innovative, solution providers and evaluate different components/vendors but may act more as a discovery mechanism – it generates a customer lead for suppliers and a vendor lead for customers. The customer will go on to engage directly with a sales team or representative within the vendor, rather than purchasing and spinning up the service directly through the marketplace. This is because the solution sales cycle is complex and requires a deep knowledge of the end customer and vertical specific expertise. To generate revenue, the orchestrator in this situation would have to create a comparative tool pricing for the use of these larger players.
    Particularly for more fragmented industries with a significant number of SMEs, offering pre-integrated, out-of-the-box solutions still offers the orchestrator a strong revenue opportunity.
  • Suppliers: In the context of B2B, suppliers in the marketplace may offer holistic vertical solutions including end devices, connectivity, applications, infrastructure etc. or sell those capabilities as individual components. Through participation in the marketplace, these vendors gain a strong distribution channel to sell their solution. Furthermore, they can get to market with solutions much faster than a more traditional, vertically integrated route, which would require longer cycles of integration and testing between partners, more investment in marketing & sales engines, and the need to repeat the process with each channel/solution partner identified.
    It also acts as a platform through which to learn more about competitors, identify or even engage potential partners, and understand more about their end customer needs and drivers. The marketplace can therefore act as a tangible entity around which the supply side ecosystem can innovate. This is through varying levels of data and insights, collected through the marketplace, which the orchestrator may allow certain suppliers to access.
  • Orchestrators: Orchestrators help coordinate the underlying community of suppliers and customers, defining the dimensions of the marketplace (which we will discuss further in a later section of the report). They set the parameters and objectives of the marketplace (e.g. which suppliers to onboard to the marketplace and how, which customers to target), and bring additional value to suppliers and customers through insights, supplier and customer experience, and marketing and sales engines to build scale.
    As the orchestrator of the ecosystem, Amazon has leveraged these supply and demand side benefits to grow into the retail giant that we know today. It has successfully driven a flywheel to build scale with suppliers and customers, and subsequently monetised this scale through a variety of different revenue streams – we will discuss these further later in the report.

The Amazon flywheel for marketplace success

B2B marketplace

  • Enablers: For a marketplace to function smoothly, a flexible but resilient backbone of support systems is required. This includes everything from billing, to authentication, onboarding, fulfilment, delivery, settlement, etc. A digital marketplace can automate many of these functions, diminishing the friction of interaction between partners, vendors, and customers.
    Oftentimes, these enablement services will be managed by an orchestrator who has complete oversight of the marketplace. Going back to the example of Amazon, Amazon not only orchestrates the marketplace but provides enablement services to capture additional value and revenue streams. This is in slight contrast, for example, to Ebay, which orchestrates the marketplace between different sellers, but is less involved in the delivery and fulfilment of the order. There is, therefore, nuance around how much of a role the orchestrator may take in the marketplace, and whether they partner to deliver enabling capabilities or completely outsource them to others. Enablers are, however, essential for a functioning marketplace and drive simplicity and stickiness for all actors. 

In summary, the marketplace brings opportunities to each of the actors within it and helps galvanise a diverse and fragmented ecosystem around a tangible construct. It enables customers to reach new suppliers, suppliers to reach new customers as well as engage new partners, and the orchestrators and enablers to drive new streams of revenue growth.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • B2B Marketplaces: A key enabler for new growth
    • What is a B2B marketplace?
  • Marketplaces as a B2B growth driver
  • The dimensions of a successful B2B marketplace in healthcare
    • Due to the need for solution certification, a healthcare marketplace will remain more closed and centrally controlled
    • The healthcare marketplace will encourage participants to collaborate while excluding competitors…at first
    • Telcos should create value in the marketplace by driving biodiversity
    • Telcos have the capacity to collect valuable customer data insights but must first develop their capabilities
  • The guiding principles for building a marketplace: Where telcos should start
  • Index

Related Research

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Telco ecosystems: How to make them work

The ecosystem business framework

The success of large businesses such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google as well as digital disrupters like Airbnb and Uber is attributed to their adoption of platform-enabled ecosystem business frameworks. Microsoft, Amazon and Google know how to make ecosystems work. It is their ecosystem approach that helped them to scale quickly, innovate and unlock value in opportunity areas where businesses that are vertically integrated, or have a linear value chain, would have struggled. Internet-enabled digital opportunity areas tend to be unsuited to the traditional business frameworks. These depend on having the time and the ability to anticipate needs, plan and execute accordingly.

As businesses in the telecommunications sector and beyond try to emulate the success of these companies and their ecosystem approach, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by the term “ecosystem” and how it can provide a framework for organising business.

The word “ecosystem” is borrowed from biology. It refers to a community of organisms – of any number of species – living within a defined physical environment.

A biological ecosystem

The components of a biological ecosystem

Source: STL Partners

A business ecosystem can therefore be thought of as a community of stakeholders (of different types) that exist within a defined business environment. The environment of a business ecosystem can be small or large.  This is also true in biology, where both a tree and a rainforest can equally be considered ecosystem environments.

The number of organisms within a biological community is dynamic. They coexist with others and are interdependent within the community and the environment. Environmental resources (i.e. energy and matter) flow through the system efficiently. This is how the ecosystem works.

Companies that adopt an ecosystem business framework identify a community of stakeholders to help them address an opportunity area, or drive business in that space. They then create a business environment (e.g. platforms, rules) to organise economic activity among those communities.  The environment integrates community activities in a complementary way. This model is consistent with STL Partners’ vision for a Coordination Age, where desired outcomes are delivered to customers by multiple parties acting together.

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Characteristics of business ecosystems that work

In the case of Google, it adopted an ecosystem approach to tackle the search opportunity. Its search engine platform provides the environment for an external stakeholder community of businesses to reach consumers as they navigate the internet, based on what consumers are looking for.

  • Google does not directly participate in the business-consumer transaction, but its platform reduces friction for participants (providing a good customer experience) and captures information on the exchange.

While Google leverages a technical platform, this is not a requirement for an ecosystem framework. Nespresso built an ecosystem around its patented coffee pod. It needed to establish a user-base for the pods, so it developed a business environment that included licensing arrangements for coffee machine manufacturers.  In addition, it provided support for high-end homeware retailers to supply these machines to end-users. It also created the online Nespresso Club for coffee aficionados to maintain demand for its product (a previous vertically integrated strategy to address this premium coffee-drinking niche had failed).

Ecosystem relevance for telcos

Telcos are exploring new opportunities for revenue. In many of these opportunities, the needs of the customer are evolving or changeable, budgets are tight, and time-to-market is critical. Planning and executing traditional business frameworks can be difficult under these circumstances, so ecosystem business frameworks are understandably of interest.

Traditional business frameworks require companies to match their internal strengths and capabilities to those required to address an opportunity. An ecosystem framework requires companies to consider where those strengths and capabilities are (i.e. external stakeholder communities). An ecosystem orchestrator then creates an environment in which the stakeholders contribute their respective value to meet that end. Additional end-user value may also be derived by supporting stakeholder communities whose products and services use, or are used with, the end-product or service of the ecosystem (e.g. the availability of third party App Store apps add value for end customers and drives demand for high end Apple iPhones). It requires “outside-in” strategic thinking that goes beyond the bounds of the company – or even the industry (i.e. who has the assets and capabilities, who/what will support demand from end-users).

Many companies have rushed to implement ecosystem business frameworks, but have not attained the success of Microsoft, Amazon or Google, or in the telco arena, M-Pesa. Telcos require an understanding of the rationale behind ecosystem business frameworks, what makes them work and how this has played out in other telco ecosystem implementations. As a result, they should be better able to determine whether to leverage this approach more widely.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • The ecosystem business framework
  • Why ecosystem business frameworks?
    • Benefits of ecosystem business frameworks
  • Identifying ecosystem business frameworks
  • Telco experience with ecosystem frameworks
    • AT&T Community
    • Deutsche Telekom Qivicon
    • Telecom Infra Project (TIP)
    • GSMA Mobile Connect
    • Android
    • Lessons from telco experience
  • Criteria for successful ecosystem businesses
    • “Destination” status
    • Strong assets and capabilities to share
    • Dynamic strategy
    • Deep end-user knowledge
    • Participant stakeholder experience excellence
    • Continuous innovation
    • Conclusions
  • Next steps
    • Index

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