Last updated: With the rise of B2B marketplaces, what happens to traditional sales?

With the rise of B2B marketplaces, what happens to traditional sales?


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The growth of B2B e-commerce has put steady pressure on B2B sellers to evolve, but the emergence of B2B marketplaces makes their transformation even more urgent.

Just as more consumers are buying online, an increasing number of B2B buyers are turning to e-commerce channels. This is shaking up the B2B space, where buyers have traditionally liked to speak to – if not physically meet with – sellers.

B2B marketplaces are the latest B2B e-commerce trend raising questions about the role of the traditional B2B seller and forcing sales reps to step up their game.

B2B marketplaces: What are they?

B2B buyers have quickly adopted e-commerce platforms that make it easier and faster to get detailed product information and to place orders. According to McKinsey, “Only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales” – even in industries like pharmaceuticals that have traditionally relied heavily on a face-to-face sales model.

One model that many forward-looking B2B companies are pursuing is participating in – or even creating – highly specialized marketplaces.

Think of Alibaba or Amazon Business, only with a specific focus on a segment like metals, chemicals, or healthcare. In this scenario, a site such as, which targets buyers and sellers of automotive components, aims to win in the market by creating a dominant platform.

Key features of the site include global sourcing and availability of overstock items. But there isn’t a sales component per se – it’s all about connecting the right buyers with the right sellers.

B2B marketplaces: 3 things to know

Given these types of benefits on the buyer side, it’s not surprising that B2B e-commerce marketplaces have rapidly proliferated. In fact, according to Digital Commerce 360, sales on these platforms will approach a whopping $3.6 trillion by 2024 – a five-fold increase over 2018.

Here’s what salespeople should know about B2B e-commerce marketplaces:

  1. They disrupt the bonds of existing B2B sales relationships by empowering buyers to seek the lowest cost from any number of global providers.
  2. They put a premium on the brokering of relationships between the right buyers and the right sellers.
  3. They create pressure on B2B sellers to deliver value to buyers in new and innovative ways.

Pressure’s on: Adapt and evolve NOW

B2B marketplaces clearly make sense for many buyers, who can more easily find the products and services they seek at the lowest price. But what about the B2B salespeople, who thrived on closing deals after cultivating customers with cocktail lunches and rounds of golf?

To flourish as e-commerce channels reshape the B2B landscape, B2B sellers need do more than simply sell a product or service. The emergence of B2B marketplaces is yet another indicator of the need for the B2B sales function to continue its evolution and prove its added value.

Instead of expounding on the myriad features of a product, sales reps need to help customers make better business decisions. By providing the right information at the right time, they can become trusted advisors on whom customers rely.

Sales reps can reinforce their value by aligning with customer service teams. If the sales team works together with the service team on a common platform, they can truly understand a customer’s needs and challenges.

This collaboration helps drive meaningful engagements for better customer outcomes and increased sales.

Finding the opportunity in B2B marketplaces 

The rise of B2B marketplaces presents a challenge, but perhaps also hints at the way forward for traditional B2B sales. Just as a marketplace thrives by serving as a trusted third-party that brokers relationships, a sales professional can carve out an important niche as an informal consultant who helps buyers navigate the multitude of potential providers.

Of course, doing so may mean handing off a few deals in the short term. But the long play – counting on buyers to return to sellers they trust – is likely to pay dividends.

In some ways this means we’ve come full circle, in that the buyer-seller relationship is what wins the day. Provided, of course, that individual sellers are open minded about the evolution of the model.

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