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Specialization is Key in B2B

There’s A B2B Marketplace For That (Or There Soon Will Be)

One B2B marketplace trend that is gaining momentum is specialization. Niche players are creating more and better platforms to put buyers and sellers together, and receiving a small piece of each transaction in the process. I recently came across a niche marketplace platform that exemplifies this trend, and provides insights into how entrepreneurs with expertise in a given industry segment can succeed.

In sharp contrast to primarily B2C marketplaces, Thumbtack, TaskRabbit, and HomeAdvisor (all of which give customers access to a wide range of providers who can do just about anything), imagine, as an example, a B2B marketplace designed to connect telecom engineers with businesses needing telecom services. That’s a niche play, and it’s indicative of numerous specialized marketplaces that either exist already, or will be coming soon.

According to Malik Zakaria, Founder and CEO of Field Engineer, “In today’s economy it’s all about providing a scalable workforce.” While Field Engineer is an online marketplace that deals with one narrow segment (telecom engineers on demand), the success factors Zakaria describes could easily apply to any industry. Here are five points he talked about in a recent interview:

1. Minimize labor costs. There isn’t a business owner alive who wouldn’t be interested in the prospect of permanently driving down personnel-related expenditures. But minimizing labor costs often means relying on a skeleton crew, which could push current employees to burnout or make customers wait. And trying to hire the cheapest permanent staff possible can lead to subpar results and costly rework, not to mention severe customer dissatisfaction. Relying on a scalable, flexible workforce of prequalified providers through a marketplace can amount to significant savings for a company and its customers, while keeping quality high.

2. Reduce risk. Although hiring talent on a per-project basis is not new, for many companies, working with an unknown entity is simply not worth the risk. Traditional recruitment agencies can be costly, but they often justify the cost by qualifying and filtering candidates. How can a marketplace serve the same vetting function as a temp agency, while at the same time taking the cost of an intermediary out of the equation? “We knew this was something we had to deal with right upfront,” remembers Zakaria. “So we built into our process background checks, in-depth work history disclosures, and an online rating system. We also verify certifications that technicians claim to have received.”

3. Help customers rapidly scale up (or down). When you have access to prequalified candidates at any location, they can hit the ground running and tackle problems without the need for lengthy training periods. Zakaria explains, “A specialized contractor can help your organization ramp up productivity by bringing with them the necessary skill set for the job. A full-time hire on the other hand, may take longer to become fully productive. And if your workload tapers off, you will avoid the dreadful experience of laying off employees.”

4. Offer the right expertise for each contract. Making use of a scalable workforce allows companies in all industries the luxury of picking and choosing the skill sets they need for any given project. If there isn’t yet a marketplace where you can find the experienced providers you are looking for, there soon will be, given the rate at which new online marketplaces are filling niche needs. If you see the need for such a marketplace, and have the needed expertise to create it, you could be the first mover in your specialty.

5. Do you bring providers onboard before customers, or vice versa? Here is the chicken-and-egg question: Should you get customers onboard to attract providers, or must you have providers before your marketplace can be a viable solution for customers? An excellent article describes how Uber, Airbnb, and Etsy attracted their first 1,000 customers. Field Engineer, now a couple of months into its launch, began by recruiting 1,000 providers, allowing it to transact its first $100,000 in customer contracts.

The marketplace trend of specialization is picking up steam. Entrepreneurs will be both consumers and creators of new niche marketplaces in the B2B space. Which role will you play?

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See original at Forbes by Larry Myler

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