How do I find and onboard vendors to my marketplace?

You’re ready to launch your marketplace… but (and it’s a big one) you don’t have any vendors or customers. It’s a good idea to concern yourself with onboarding vendors first, as pointing customers to a site that doesn’t have a solution to their problem would be counterproductive and may mean they don’t return.

Vendors want to generate revenue so they are going to be keen to be a part of your marketplace at the very beginning, so concentrate on vendor onboarding and getting products and/or services listed. Here we’re going to take a look at where you find those first vendors, how to approach them and ensure they list with you.

Let’s start by looking at the tactics you can employ to find your initial vendors.  

Business directories, Google and online directories

If your marketplace is unique to  your area you are going to have to target your ideal vendors. For example, if you are wanting professional services on your marketplace, that is relatively straight-forward, most of them will have their own website or be listed in a business directory. Compile a list and then make contact with each of them until you have the quantity of vendors that you are happy with. Similarly, depending on your market, you can approach people in their shops, markets or at specialist events. 

Vendors who are already active

Chances are the vendors you want to onboard to your marketplace are already active elsewhere. Approach them all, and explain why working with you will give them added value that they are not currently getting. 

Online forums and groups

If your marketplace is a bit of a niche market, the people you want to attract as vendors are bound to already ‘chat’ to like-minded people, be that on a Facebook group or other online forum. Once you identify the groups you can approach multiple people at once. 

Contacting potential vendors is one thing, convincing them to list on your marketplace is quite another! Bearing in mind, at this point you won’t have any customers, it could be a hard sell. To give yourself the best opportunity, try and meet the first group of potential vendors, say 100, in person so they can buy into your idea, and you can fully explain what value they will be getting. Of course, this takes time, but it will be time well spent as you’ll get feedback, build business relationships, and be able to keep a check on quality. All invaluable when in these stages of validating your marketplace concept

Given that there won’t be customers to entice the vendors (not yet anyway) there are other things you can use to entice vendors.

Make sure your marketplace is the best 

You’ll need to make it clear to prospective vendors that what you are proposing is better than anything that already exists. If you want a reminder of the sort of value you can add, take another look at ways to add value to your marketplace and avoid leakage.

Learn how to onboard your first vendors

Make exclusivity work in your favour

As you’re starting to onboard vendors, turn the fact that there aren’t lots of them to their (and your) advantage by giving the feel of an exclusive club. This will allow you to come across as very choosy about which vendors you deem suitable for your marketplace, making vendors more eager to join! Anything exclusive is more highly sought after, and vendors will want to prove they are good enough for you. And quality is exactly what you want to offer your initial customers so the first impression is the right one and will give you a good reputation. Once you set the bar high for the customer experience, ensure it stays there no matter how many vendors you end up with.

Sell your potential customers

At this stage you won’t have any yet, so you need to tell vendors about what great customers you WILL have! Ideally, you would know that you have customers ready and waiting. Indeed, some marketplaces will make sure they have this ‘community’ built up ready first. If you don’t have direct access to the community that will be your buyers, consider partnering with someone who could give you instant access. Communication is key, talk to potential vendors and customers alike, convincing everyone that you have a marketplace that they will want to be a part of.

Provide value, even with no customers

If your value proposition includes software that vendors can use to make their life easier, for example a booking, or an invoicing and accounting system, they will be keen to use it, even if there aren’t currently any customers. As soon as you have an adequate number of vendors you can start approaching customers.

Be your own vendor

If possible, it makes sense in this early stage to be your own vendor. It will allow you to get some feedback before having to make a large investment. You may be able to persuade friends and family to list as vendors too if appropriate.

Buy your initial supply

This can be an expensive route but it would mean that you have no problems with initial supply while getting feedback and enlisting customers. Once you have a good customer base you can switch to approaching individual vendors.

Utilise supplies that already exist

Consider whether there’s a network you could affiliate with to fill your site. You could reach a massive scale immediately without having to spend a lot of money. This does mean, however, that what is on your marketplace isn’t unique, why would people buy from you rather than those other places? In addition, you are in danger of becoming a cross-platform utility, rather than a unique marketplace. So don’t consider this unless you can still offer added value. 

Now you’ve worked out how to go about getting vendors on your site, it’s time to turn your attention to customers.