8 must have features for a professional services marketplace

Professional services marketplace refers to a marketplace where a customer can search for and find a service providers from whom they can either purchase a service at a fixed price, request a quote, make an online booking or perform some other call to action that results in an exchange of services.

Service marketplaces are one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of online marketplaces with marketplace players focussing on three key sectors of service delivery based on type of service task – Asset sharing marketplaces, marketplaces for basic, trial tasks and finally highly skilled professional services marketplaces. The below image from Deloitte’s article on how online marketplaces are transforming service models illustrates the different marketplace sub-sector types and the business models that are emerging in the delivery of these services through online marketplaces.

Marketplaces that focus on High-skill tasks are set to boom. Globally the professional services market is growing rapidly, according to the recently published report Professional Services Market Global Report 2017 by The Business Research Company. The market is forecast to register a 5.4% growth rate from 2016 to 2020, reaching almost $5 trillion. The majority of these services involve design, research, promotional or consultancy services. Accounting services alone are slated to grow by 6.2% from 2016 to 2020, due to the increasing demand for tax-filing, payroll processing and auditing.

For businesses looking to establish a startup marketplace, or for professional services businesses wanting to create opportunities that expand their offering or establishing a leadership position in the market, these eight features should feature at the top of your marketplace feature checklist.

Find and Compare

At the core of any marketplace is the ability for customers to easily find and drill down to a few service provider options who meet their needs and criteria. Establishing a robust find and compare capability is absolutely vital. Here are a few key features that key to establishing a strong Find and Compare functionality for your marketplace platform.

  • Intuitive search logic including spell-check, synonyms, similar search and common search term references
  • Faceted search with the ability to filter and drill-down to service providers that match a range of search criteria
  • Sorting by any number of different criteria based on the specifics of your marketplace
  • Location based search – Location based search for services is crucial as more often than not, service providers will only service a specified geography or region
  • The ability to create and save complex search queries and run it regularly to receive daily or weekly notifications of matched results

The next step in finding the right provider is comparing or shortlisting a few potential candidates before issuing the requests for quote or further enquiries. Comparison should be simple and enable users to compare a minimum of 5 different providers simultaneously.

Once a user has compared their providers, the next step is a seamless call-to-action.

Streamline quotation process

Most service marketplaces will have a combination of fixed price and estimate based services. To encourage customers to act, your service marketplace should support a seamless process to request quotes. This process requires features from both sides – the customer side and the marketplace side to deliver the best experience.

On the marketplace side:

  • The ability to create custom questionnaires based on specific service categories
  • The ability to display or hide the service price, to draw customers into an enquiry (. e.g. From $188.00)
  • The ability to manage, review and respond to quotations
  • The ability to modify prices, upload proposals and review documents submitted by customers
  • The ability to communicate with customers and maintain an auditable history of communications

On the customer’s side:

  • Customers need the ability to complete simple questionnaires for specific service type needs and provide enough information for vendors to be able to provide a quotation
  • The ability to request quotes from multiple vendors using a single quote request or job form
  • The ability to upload documents for review by vendors
  • The ability to communicate with vendors and maintain a chat history
  • The ability to accept or decline a proposal and quote
  • The ability to pay for a quote in multiple stages

The quotation process should also ensure that adequate notifications are delivered to all parties within the marketplace to monitor and track the quote process.

Compare quotes

Following on from requesting quotes, customers need the ability to compare quotes to ensure that they’re making the right choice by comparing “apples-to-apples”. Quote comparison can be achieved if the “quote attributes” are defined upfront as part of the service definition process. This way, when a vendor responds with a quotation, they’re compelled to include responses for each attribute.

For example: If a customer is requesting a quote for an end-of-year tax filing service from an accounting marketplace, the quote request can be defined with attributes such as “Years of experience, Specialisation, Qualifications etc.”

Other important factors when considering a service provider include:

  • Number of successful jobs completed on the platform
  • Service provider ratings
  • Past reviews

Personnel Profiles

When selecting a service provider, the service provider’s personnel, or their own profile if it is a single provider, is crucial in facilitating the decision-making process. A Personnel Profile should include the following:

  • An image of the service provider
  • A short profile that explains to their customers who they are, their past experience and their expertise. Profiles are very important and must be quality controlled and, in some cases, even edited by the marketplace owner to enable their vendors to put their best foot-forward.
  • Their qualifications
  • Their specialisations
  • Recent jobs that they have completed with a portfolio of works and completed job examples
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Their service area

Online booking

An important development in the services marketplace sector is the rise of online-bookings. What began with online transport ticket booking, now spans almost every business or service vertical from hair-cuts and health practitioners through to software technology firms.

An online booking feature for a services marketplace is a no-brainer. Allow your customers to book a meeting or an appointment with your vendors for free, or for a paid service.

Online bookings can range from a fixed fee service to a pay-by-the-hour model or anywhere in between.

Important features that enable online booking marketplaces include:

  • The ability for vendors to create, integrate and manage a work-calendar which also supports out-of-office and holiday hours that customers cannot book
  • The ability for vendors to view, manage, change or cancel bookings online
  • The ability for customers to easily make a booking with the least number of steps using an intuitive interface
  • The ability for customers to receive instant notifications and to confirm their contact details – such as SMS verifications or email verifications. This is necessary to verify the authenticity of the booking and reduce no-shows
  • The ability for the platform to accept full payment or partial payment for the bookings
  • The ability for the vendor to acknowledge or check-in a customer for their appointment.

Reviews and Ratings

Marketplaces that involve resource sharing of any kind have a significant dependency on open and honest reviews and ratings between users and suppliers to ensure that only high-quality suppliers and trusted buyers stay on the marketplace. Some of the basics required as part of this functionality include:

  • The ability for buyers and sellers / vendors to be able to review and rate each other once a transaction has been completed
  • The ability for all reviews to be qualified and assessed before being displayed on the marketplace
  • The ability to configure multiple rating scales based on different attributes (product quality, delivery, communication etc.)
  • A simple rating system that enables both buyers and sellers to be immediately assessed on their ratings (e.g. A star rating)
  • Highly rated sellers command a higher share of sales and are therefore featured higher up the search and filter rankings

It’s important that with any review or rating system that the platform provide complete transparency as to how the ratings are calculated and what stakeholders can do to improve their ratings.

Ratings and reviews should also be combined with notifications to ensure all marketplace members are made aware when a review has been posted or when they have been rated.

Milestone Payments

Milestone payments aren’t as common as most of the other features described here today, however there are multiple approaches to how this can be implemented.

  • For B2B or Service marketplaces, where the service is a booking or of large value, the seller and buyer may agree to have multiple payments such as a commencement payment and completion payment, or a pre-booking fee and post-booking fee.
  • For service marketplace, such as “freelancer” marketplaces or professional service marketplaces, the projects may be split into several milestones that are triggered based on the service provider completing specific tasks. The milestone is then triggered and paid for by the customer.
  • In addition to the above, BNPL payment types such as AfterPay or ZipPay are gaining important, allowing customers to purchase a product immediately but pay for the transaction over a 4-week period. Although this type of payment model isn’t specifically a milestone payment, it does allow the buyer to split the transaction into multiple payment and should be considered to improve cash-flow for marketplace vendors.

Checklist and document storage

Professional service marketplaces tend to be focussed on specific sectors such as finance, law, real-estate, trade etc. Customers who use these service marketplaces may be at different points in a service utilisation cycle and may require substantial assistance in understanding the various steps involved in completing a task (e.g. buying a house, buying a business, starting an export business etc).

Checklists are a great way of helping users organise themselves and understand the steps involved in completing a complex task. Incorporating a comprehensive checklist functionality into your service marketplace has the following benefits:

  • It enables your marketplace to leverage the power of content marketing, creating increased domain authority and driving traffic to your marketplace.
  • Your marketplace is positioned as a thought-leader in the minds of customer users, who may utilise your marketplace as both an education resource as well as a transactional resource.
  • By linking professional service categories and providers to your content articles, your marketplace can leverage engaged users to drive conversion through search for professional service providers who can assist them with their knowledge gaps or help complete a task that they are researching
  • In addition to showcasing content, Checklists can also house templates that a user can complete and upload back into their marketplace account, creating increased stickiness and driving return-visits to your marketplace. This process creates a secure data-store on your marketplace and enables customers to store documents that they can then share with vendors with whom they are engaging.