As-a-Service at Your Service—Citrix, Ingram Cloud Blue Executives Educate Summit Attendees on Market
Whether you have stopped to think about it lately or not, marketplaces are now a big part of our life. Most of us can’t go too many days without purchasing something from Amazon, Google, and Apple. Similarly, millions of businesses of all sizes have turned to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for any number of software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) subscriptions rather than hosting these IT solutions themselves.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of marketplaces are popping up all over the business landscape. Many other companies with a sizable customer bases and partner ecosystems are opening up their own virtual shopping malls for clients to browse and transact on their own terms, such as major carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile and enterprise tech bluebloods Oracle and Salesforce.
The growing trend toward marketplace shopping has confronted businesses with several questions. Should they build their own marketplaces for their customers and channel partners? Should they invest in campaigns around other ones? These are the issues that Glen Kuhne, director of major accounts at Ingram Cloud Blue, and Roger Williams, senior director of mobility and marketplace alliances at Citrix, wrestled with in the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “Marketplaces: The New Buying Centers in the Age of As-a-Service,” which is on demand now for those who have registered for the event.
More Than Just a Place to Purchase
Williams began the session by outlining some of the trends driving the rapid spread of marketplaces—according to research firm Gartner, they will be the dominant channel for infrastructure software by 2024. Consumers are getting more and more comfortable making purchases via mobile and voice, and millennials, who have grown up in the digital age and know no world where they can’t browse an app store, are expecting the B2B universe to offer similar options. The proclivity toward self-service browsing and purchasing is forcing companies to incorporate marketplaces as part of the organization’s broader omni-channel strategy or “holistic point of view,” as Williams put it.
Marketplaces aren’t just forums for purchasing; customers are conducting more and more research and holding dialogue about products and services of interest in these virtual shopping centers.
“You have more buyers essentially getting their information about prospective products from their marketplaces than their sales reps,” said Williams, who noted that more than one-third of buyers in Citrix’s market now gather background from a marketplace, compared to 27 percent who tap their sales reps for details about an offering of interest.
Cataloging Your Marketplace Strategy
Is a marketplace right for your company, or is it better to piggyback other established virtual bazaars? Do you make your marketplace offerings available to everyone in your ecosystem? Kuhne took the floor to go over these questions and other finer points of marketplace strategy.
First, marketplace activities are shaped in large part by whom you sell to and how you reach those audiences. Consumer companies generally make their entire catalog of products and services available to any marketplace browser. However, there are different routes to market in B2B. Ingram Micro, for example, sells largely through resellers and, thus, must ensure it doesn’t undercut these channel partners. There are other instances where it may only make sense to offer marketplace buying options to a limited subset of enterprise customers.
Another good question to address: who owns the company’s marketplace strategy? Is it the reseller division, alliance management, or product management? Perhaps it is the CEO? Someone has to take charge of the overall vision of for building your own marketplace and/or a platform that works with one or more other marketplace channels. Kuhne did warn viewers that executive changes can disrupt marketplace projects.
“They’ll make a strategic decision and then the efforts toward whatever project you were on might be curtailed or redirected,” he said.
Kuhne also cautioned listeners to be cognizant of potential new legal and accounting burdens that result from marketplace selling. If buyers in different regions are purchasing from your company directly through a marketplace, then the finance department may have to sort out the resultant tax implications.
“The states are getting aggressive in revenue collection,” chimed in Williams.
Are Your Buyers Ready?
Kuhne then urged listeners to ascertain how ready their buyers are. Although marketplace adoption is growing rapidly, there are many that aren’t going down this path willingly. Some are old school and would simply rather deal with a sales rep or order from an old-fashioned website. Others may prefer traditional transactions but understand that these online markets are the future. These businesses might be good candidates for beta testing, as they might want to make sure they are not getting left behind if the marketplace becomes the standard conduit for conducting business.
Kuhne then outlined a number of potential challenges companies could confront as they assemble their marketplace strategies, including:
- Product complexity – If your product portfolio contains many interdependent components, it may make sense to offer only prepackaged bundles. Maybe it is only economical to offer best-selling products. If your customers are savvy, perhaps you grant them more options and configuration control.
- Education – Marketplaces are places for self-service research as much as they are for shopping. Thus, it is critical that product specs, reviews, how-to videos, and forums are easy for your buyers and channel partners to find and understand. If a product is too complex for self-service, it may not be ready for a marketplace.
- Security – Customer verification, fraud protection, credit card verification, and payment authentication must be built into all marketplace transactions. In fact, there are many ready-made services available in these areas, so companies do not necessarily need to develop these capabilities from scratch.
- Data privacy – If you sell online to customers in the European Union (EU) or California, make sure your customer communication complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), respectively.
- Catalog management – In addition to deciding which products to sell via marketplaces and in which marketplaces to sell, businesses must support both one-time purchases and ongoing subscriptions. Some customers are accustomed to a mix of both. For example, many in IT buy hardware once but prefer to subscribe to software as a service.
- Channel management – Find a way to enable both selling to customers directly and through resellers and other channels.
- Standardization and maintenance – When companies sell through resellers, it is critical to make that process easier for them. Ingram Micro, for example, has an automated go-to-market tool that forces new vendors to fill out sales and product documents before they can resell Ingram Micro’s products.
- Demand generation – Promote your marketplace offerings every chance you get, and have your channel partners do the same. Again, an omni-channel strategy involving mobile, voice, AI, and web is critical.
Kuhne then concluded by laying out a series of best practices:
- It is not all or nothing. Businesses can test out a minimum viable marketplace option, then scale the operation by creating application programming interfaces (APIs) if the original proof of concept sparks optimism.
- Secure executive sponsorship. Again, whether it is product management, channel management, or IT, it is critical to appoint and empower a respected leader to see these initiatives through.
- Choose a technology platform that scales with your ecosystem. Whether your goal is to sell 200 units per month or 200,000, the technology underpinning your platform better support it without a hitch.
- Start with a customer segment and its buying journey. Make sure there are no bugs in the process of browsing, selecting, customizing, and paying for products and services. Involve customers in the design and testing phases to ensure that the marketplace fits their desires and buying habits.
- It’s not just a purchase. Customers expect their entire histories of interaction with your company to be accessible, including outstanding purchases, purchase history, past communication with support teams, and the like. “It’s more than the buying experience,” said Kuhne. “It can turn into a ‘My Account’ place if it’s your own marketplace.” If you sell through another marketplace, make sure the accounting, billing, purchasing, invoicing, and shipping processes—the entire “e-commerce cycle,” as Kuhne labeled it—are seamless.
- Don’t underestimate the investment needed to take a marketplace to market. Kuhne counseled viewers to set aside a “decent chunk of your budget against that.” Customers need to know where to find you, and what you are selling. Remember, you must enable resellers to sell your marketplace, too. “It is not a build-it-and-they-will-come endeavor,” read a bullet on Kuhne’s presentation slide to hammer home the point.
Kuhne and Williams delivered more great insights during their session. Remember, Summit registrants can view the full presentation, as well as close to two dozen other sessions chock full of information and advice that will help improve your career and the alliances you work on each day.