One of the key elements that set online marketplaces apart from other businesses is that they involve two types of audiences – buyers and suppliers.
To build a thriving marketplace platform, not only you have to attract, but also manage, retain, and convince both of these groups that the best way to transact is through you.
We’ll be first to say it – achieving this is challenging.
But some have managed to make it through. Including these SaaS enabled marketplaces, we’ve
previously talked about on our blog.
None of them would last if they weren't able to promote their business and attract their target audiences successfully.
Achieving traction is key. It’s motivating, reassuring, and helps you build the right solution for the right target audience.
That’s why today we’ll focus on how you can get the first 100 buyers for your online marketplace.
Not to say that suppliers are any less important. We’ll talk about them some other time.
Now, let’s focus on those who’ll be using your platform to find a solution to their needs, i.e., the marketplace buyers.
Often, entrepreneurs don’t start building a business because they want to make money.
Instead, they do it because they’ve found a problem; something that annoys either them or someone else they often interact with, e.g., their customers.
When dealing with this problem, they realize that there isn’t a right solution available and that there probably are other people like them, who’re getting annoyed by the very same issue.
If your case is similar to at least some extent, all you have to do, to identify your first batch of potential buyers, is to look around you.
We tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us – similar characteristics, background, and often interests.
Even if not all of your friends or colleagues share the same interests and challenges as you, the chances are that some of them do.
And given that you’ve already got a personal relationship with them, it won’t hurt if you ask them to give your platform a try.
Perhaps you’ve even already started talking to them when you were validating the idea for your marketplace platform.
If that’s the case, you definitely should talk to them first.
Pro tip: At this point, if you want to speed up the commercial launch of your platform, it’d be better if you didn’t charge for the use of your platform. Give it away for free or offer it in exchange for a review or a testimonial.
According to the data from Statista, 78% of consumers tend to trust online reviews just as much as they trust personal recommendations.
We call that ‘social proof.’
When you see that a product has already been bought and reviewed by thousands of people like you, you’re more likely to trust it. Especially if the reviews are leaning towards the positive side.
Having said this, getting reviews and testimonials could become one of the key strategies that’ll help you attract more buyers in the future. Many SaaS and other technology companies are already doing this by partnering up with review sites like G2Crowd or Clutch.
Take a look at this example of how Deskbookers are using customer testimonials on their website to convert more buyers for their online platform.
The elaborate opinion of Deskbookers’ customers helps their target audience understand whether this service is the right solution to their problems.
When you were brainstorming ideas and launching an MVP version of your marketplace, you probably also talked to some of your potential suppliers.
I know I'm making an assumption, but it’s a critical one. After all, if you want to jumpstart a successful platform, you need to keep your suppliers in mind, at all times.
Assuming that you did talk to them, I highly suggest that you should reach out to them once again.
Since they already own a business, they also must have customers who’re using their services.
Instead of dealing with them directly, your suppliers could invite their customers to start using your platform and manage the relationship through you instead.
I know what you’re thinking.
Why on earth would a supplier want to help you out in this process? There surely will be other competitors advertising themselves on the same marketplace who could potentially steal off their customers.
Good point. But there are a few reasons for this.
First of all, your marketplace platform’s probably going to save them money, time, or improve their business in some other way long-term.
Let’s use an example of an online marketplace we’ve talked about in our previous post – Booksy.
Booksy’s not only meant to help customers book appointments at their favourite hairdresser.
It’s also meant to help manage the bookings, payments, and communication between the hair salon and the customer.
Here’s a direct screenshot from their website:
Now if Booksy offered these services, and perhaps some additional promotional tools to help promote their first batch of suppliers, they’d likely find an ally who’d be happy to use their platform and bring along some of their current customers.
The same could apply to your marketplace platform.
For it to work, however, you’ll need to sell the offer right. Provide an additional incentive for your suppliers to outweigh the potential costs.
Then, they’ll recommend your platform and help you attract more customers to it.
There are groups, forums, and communities, probably for all existing niches out there.
The chances are that there’s one for yours, too.
It may not be an online one, like a Facebook or LinkedIn group that you can join right away. But even an offline one that’s relative closeby is worth your attention.
If you haven’t yet, join these communities right away. They’ll be a great source of information and inspiration that’ll help you build and market your platform better.
But joining them and listening to the conversations isn’t all you should do with these communities.
You should genuinely become part of them. Connect with people, take part in the discussions, exchange ideas, and learn from each other.
Once you’ve become a regular member, you’ll be able to start mentioning your platform. That isn’t to say you should go out and start pitching everyone. In most cases, groups don’t appreciate it when people are too promotional.
Community members will eventually start asking about existing solutions, and you’ll be able to tap into the conversation quickly.
You may have heard of the phrase ‘social selling’ – that’s precisely it; tapping into the online conversations on Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Quora, and other places where people are asking questions or looking for help.
If you’re finding it hard to grasp, consider the following story:
A few years back, I’ve injured my knee and torn my ACL during a football match.
I’ve joined a Facebook group where other people like me were asking questions and exchanging ideas about treatments, recommended clinics, and physiotherapists too.
Every single week, I see comments and questions about good doctors and physiotherapists.
Now imagine if someone would just come in there and recommend a platform that lets you search for either of those specialists, see their reviews, and book an appointment no matter what city you’re at?
The same would likely work for your niche, too.
Let’s see how much opportunity there is if you’re building a marketplace platform for content writers.
Here’s a quick list of active groups I’ve found on Facebook. See how many posts their community is publishing every day? That’s a lot of potential right there.
So why not take this opportunity and attract your buyers with this cost-free tactic?
If you’ve managed to tap into your chosen communities, it’s time to hang out with them in person.
Your future marketplace buyers probably visit different types of events, some of which may be relevant to your business.
It could be a martech conference or a local meetup if your marketplace business aims to help marketers in one way or another.
Or it could even be an online conference for remote workers if you’re offering desk spaces around the country.
Whether offline or online, you should visit these events and talk to people.
If you’ve got the budget, you can even sponsor one of those, do a keynote presentation, or do what good salespeople do – talk to potential customers where they’re hanging out.
These kinds of events are an excellent opportunity to network and get to know your potential buyers (and suppliers) in person.
Unlike other methods of acquiring new customers I’m describing in this article, content marketing isn’t aimed to help you deliver results, quickly.
Instead, it’s meant to generate results long-term, especially when it’s combined with SEO.
If you’re unfamiliar with what content marketing is, check out this article by Content Marketing Institute.
In essence, it’s about creating valuable content – educational, entertaining, useful – that people are actively looking for so that they can read it on your website.
When users enter your site and consume your content, they can also learn a few things about your company or the fact that it solves the problem they’ve been researching.
Take this blog post, for example.
We’re talking about building and growing online marketplaces, and it just turns out that Braincode specializes in marketplace platform development and can help you build one – if you don’t have an in-house team that could do it.
As you can see, this approach is different from other customer acquisition methods.
It’s not about chasing clients. Instead, it’s about driving them to your site and only offering them help, when they’re interested and ready for it.
There’s also a reason why I’ve mentioned SEO (search engine optimization). It’s because these days if you want your content to perform well without having to keep paying for traffic, you need to keep SEO in mind.
In short, this means that you need to create content that’ll please your audience and search engine robots, at the same time. This way, it can appear high on the search engine results pages and drive you free organic traffic, long-term.
Achieving this isn’t often easy, but the more you experiment, observe top websites in your niche, and learn from articles like this one from Backlinko, the more you’ll understand what Google and other search engines choose to serve their users.
If you’re not sure whether this process is worth your time, then analyze the traffic sources for some of the most popular websites or maybe even your competitors.
As you can see from the image below, brands that are looking to build a successful strategy in the long-term, bet on the organic search, and direct traffic.
So what kind of content should you create?
Articles, blog posts, whitepapers, videos, infographics – whatever your audience finds valuable.
It may take some time before you figure it out, so why not test a few approaches or ask the communities you’ve already joined after reading the #3.
When you decide on the ideal format of your content, consider how you can convince your website visitors to keep coming back for more content.
One of the most effective ways is to build an email list and send newsletters to your audience whenever you publish something new.
Even though this is a more traditional marketing channel, it’s also one with one of the highest ROIs. According to DMA, the average return for every dollar invested in email marketing is as high as $32.
The best of all, this channel’s not owned by anyone, unlike Facebook or Google, so you don’t have to worry about decreasing organic reach.
If you’d like to explore this topic more, this guide to email marketing takes you through the basics of building an email list, creating newsletters, measuring the results, and generating ideas for your newsletter content.
Influencer marketing has become a popular topic over the last five years or so.
Even though marketers have often varying opinions about it, you can find plenty of examples where it’s worked incredibly well.
And not only in B2C, where professional and wannabe models wear different brands’ clothes on Instagram.
As you can see from this article by Shane Barker, B2B companies are also able to drive results with influencer marketing campaigns.
So what is it that you can do with influencer marketing?
Consider partnering up with someone who your target audience knows and respects.
It could be a successful athlete, known business person, or some local hero – it all depends on your business idea and the niche you’re trying to serve.
These people don’t have to be world class celebrities. They don’t guarantee success, as we all have seen in the 2017 Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner.
Micro-influencers are often a better and more budget-friendly bet. They have smaller audiences, but their fans are engaged and loyal.
Once you become part of the community, you’re trying to build the marketplace platform for, you should be aware of who people in the group look up to.
Alternatively, you could use a professional tool to help you identify influencers in your chosen industry.
But if you prefer to do this manually, then make sure to observe hashtags(like #marketplaces on Linkedin), group conversations, or maybe even create a Google alert that’ll notify you if a relevant keyword gets posted.
Shortly, you’ll be able to find those whose public posts get a lot of engagement and meaningful conversations.
One couldn’t write an article about acquiring first customers, without mentioning paid ad campaigns.
There are plenty of platforms available, but your focus will probably be mainly Facebook, Google, and potentially LinkedIn.
They all offer various advertising options, which you can use to attract your first group of buyers.
The challenge here is to find something of value that’ll spark their interest and convince them to check out a new platform that might not even have a single review yet.
This could be free platform credit, additional services that typically would cost some money, or access to valuable content.
Work with your suppliers to figure out what it’d be best to offer those who’ll be the first to join so that they keep coming back for more and tell others about your platform.
Consider how Uber and other services like it, offer free credit for those who’re using the platform for the first time.
Sometimes they need to give away the incentive for a longer time, to make sure that the users aren’t switching between the platforms after they’ve used up their first free credit.
Once you’ve figured it out, you can start planning your first campaign.
Choose the target audience who you’d like to test the platform first.
Pick their characteristics, like interest or location, add content such as images or videos, and set the budget.
If you want to step it up a little, try adding tracking pixels from Facebook or Google to your website. With them, you'll be able to retarget the users who haven’t converted after visiting your website. For example, those who’ve read or interacted with your content, but then decided to abandon your site without filling out the contact form.
The good news is that you can follow the same approach with other services too, not only with Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn Ads. Platforms like Taboola or Outbrain can help you drive traffic to your content with their native advertising solutions. Then, once again, you can retarget those who were referred by their platforms but haven’t converted on your site.
These methods require testing and trying out different approaches. You’ll only be able to learn and see what works best for your audience after you’ve run several campaigns yourself.
So don’t start by investing too much into your ads. Only increase the budget once you’ve seen that particular method works well for you.
And if you want to gain an insight into what others in your industry are doing, you can always check out the Facebook Ads Library to view ads that are currently running, e.g., on your competitors’ pages.
You know how people are lining up for hours to get the latest iPhone even though Apple’s products haven’t been particularly spectacular, lately?
The reason for this is that people, in general, tend to like exclusivity.
They like the feeling of owning things that others don’t or owning them first.
Although most of the examples you could think of are related to popular physical products like phones or cars, the same approach could work for other businesses in various industries. The feeling of scarcity applies even if your product isn’t tangible, which means it could work for a marketplace platform like yours, too.
Take this example from an SEO agency called Detailed.
Instead of selling their products right away, they’ve decided to create a waiting list for them.
Even though these are higher-tier items, their perceived value is even higher – because people cannot access them right away.
Here’s a similar example from the company I’ve mentioned before, Backlinko.
Now imagine what would happen if they said that only 50 people could take on that offer at once?
The challenge in this approach is that you’ll have to have traffic for it to work.
In other words, you’ll need to apply all the strategies mentioned above to drive people onto your waiting list page.
Once you’ve done it, make sure to collect their email addresses and build anticipation with your newsletter updates.
I want to finish off this article by saying that sometimes it pays off to walk away from the beaten path and try something new.
That’s often the only way to growth hacking your business and generating buzz around your brand.
Consider how Dropbox increased their waiting list from 5,000 to 75,000 people overnight thanks to one viral video, which just showed what product they were working on.
Or how Uber successfully managed to draw attention to their services by delivering ice creams, donuts, and even Christmas trees in some of their markets.
Not to mention their other campaigns like the UberChopper.
The lesson here is that you should try out all these strategies – test, observe, and learn from them.
At the same time, you shouldn’t limit yourself to these nine methods to promote your marketplace platform.
The chances are you’ll come up with something more creative that’ll work for the audience that you want to serve with your solution.
So go out there, be creative, and attract your first 100 buyers.