Spend Matters is running a series on Marketplaces (Part 1 and Part II) because, sadly, they are making a comeback. Why does the doctor say sadly? Because Marketplaces were designed by (specific) point-of-sale sellers to serve end buyers. They were never designed as full-fledged solutions for Procurement Professionals.
And to understand that, we have to step back and understand what a marketplace is. Traditionally, a marketplace has been a physical area where a number of individuals with goods to sell gather together to present those goods to whatever buyers happen to wander through. And these goods can range from food items and bobbles through clothing and accessories to high end electronics and even personal transportation devices or animals and, literally, everything in between. And payment can be cash, credit, promissory notes, or other goods in trade. And it has been like this for thousands of years. All over the world. Persistent, temporary (one day a week), and transient markets still exist in every county to this day (although my American friends like to call them swap-meets and flea markets, for reasons that perplex those of us with more British and French sensibilities).
Now think about translating this to the online world. You’d essentially be putting together an e-Bay where anyone can sell anything to anyone, but in addition to having to support payment in every online currency imaginable, you’d also have to support promissory notes or offline trading of merchandise, and, of course, implement mechanisms to track that. Does any marketplace support this? No. But this is not the real problem you need to be wary of Marketplaces as a Procurement professional.
The real reason is that they are NOT designed as Procurement solutions. A Procurement solution controls the universe of what’s available, at what price, to who, and when. This is essentially an integrated managed catalog solution. Now it’s true that modern Marketplaces are beginning to support this capability and allowing Procurement organizations who license an instance of the marketplace to restrict the catalogs, items, and have approval over the items and prices before they go into the catalog, but this isn’t really a marketplace, as sellers have limited control, no ability to negotiate, and no ability to provide better offers dynamically. So while it is more of a Procurement solution, it’s not really a marketplace.
Then there’s the issue that Procurement strives to use existing inventory and buy off of contracts, not from marketplace items, so you need a solution that will not allow a non-contract item to be bought when a contract one will do. Furthermore, you also need to buy non-catalog items and services and track those too, and will the marketplace do that?
And then you probably have the issue that you need to make different catalogs and items available in different locations if you are global, and restrict them to those specific solutions — so in addition to buying rules (no off contract items when there is an on-contract one and budget enforcement), you also need multiple view restrictions (or virtual marketplaces) in that single instance.
And then there’s the fact that you don’t typically pay item by item, you typically pay in bulk or monthly, as per a contract, or pay through another system. So you need more advanced accounting and payment tracking than will be found in a typical marketplace. And so on.
So, dear Procurement, be wary of a vendor that offers you a Marketplace solution for your maverick-spend or related Spend Management woes. Most of the solutions, which were really built for B2C, are not yet where you need them to be for B2B.