Profiting from The Business to Business Frenzy

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Feb 10, 2000

(Originally published when Trivera was named “Websight Solutions)

When we started Websight Solutions four years ago, life was simple.

We’d meet with a client, ask them what their business did, and put up a Web site that described what that business did. That was about all you could do.

Things changed quickly.

As time went on, we began to ask what a business did, and we put up a Web site that actually DID what their business did. But at the time, it was pretty much limited to e-commerce. If they sold stuff, the site would be built to sell stuff online.

These days, the ‘Net has changed everything. Today, we meet with a client and don’t just ask them what their business does. We also ask them about all the intimate details of how their business works. We find out how information flows from person to person, department to department, division to division, location to location, state to state, and country to country. We find out about all their interactions, internally and externally. We learn how they deal with vendors, suppliers, distributors, retailers, and reps.

Then we tell them how the ‘Net can improve it all, and, if they’re visionaries, they have us work with them to put up a Web site that changes their business.

It’s the evolution of the ‘Net from brochureware to business-to-consumer (B2C) to business-to-business (B2B). It’s been both exciting and frustrating for those of us who have watched the trends and have helped scores of companies revolutionize their businesses by taking advantage of the current state of the technology. Exciting to work with those who have firmly positioned themselves to reap the windfall from the digital economy. But frustrating for us to watch those who still see no value in the Internet.

Case in point: I saw an ad for a local floor covering company on TV this week that left me speechless. The ad looks just like a Web site…It has a row of buttons down one side, and a block of content in the middle. Down the other side are two head shots. The top talking head is the owner of the company and the bottom talking head is his son. The gist of the commercial is that the son is trying to convince the father to build a Web site for the company. The son builds his case by telling dad that people can click and see what they carry. Dad’s argument is that “they can just come in.” The ad performs a “click” and shows samples of the carpeting they carry, but dad reiterates “They can just come in.” Another click shows hardwood floors, another plea from the son, and another lame “make ’em eat cake” response from pops. Fifty seconds of inadequate pleas from the son apparently fall on deaf ears, as the tagline comes up at the end… “Three stores… NO Web site!”

This is frustrating partly because it demonstrates the same kind of head-in-the-sand mentality that led to the self-imposed death of a lot of horse and buggy companies following the introduction of the automobile. They thought they were in the horse and buggy business, when actually they were in the transportation business, and refused to adapt to the change in paradigm. They had two clear choices, stay in the buggy biz and die, or become part of the transportation business, adapt and flourish. The guys in that commercial think they’re in the carpeting business. But the Internet has changed the landscape entirely and put us all in the information-driven solutions business.

And they just don’t get it.

This is born out by the son’s misguided arguments to convince Dad to put up a brochure ware Web site with a couple pictures. If that’s all he thinks that a Web site does is show some pictures, then there is no reason to even spend the money on a site. Absent were the recommendations to put directions and store hours on that site. Missing were his logical argument that putting the answers to the most frequently asked questions that people ask when they call could prevent the interruption of a salesman who is trying to take care of customer that actually has come in to the store. Absent were any recommendations by the son to include helpful tips on selecting the correct floor covering, thus positioning them as the experts, suggestions that they establish a quality/cost/value relationship for their product (and their company’s service), or testimonials by happy customers, or even a module to calculate a potential customer’s square footage and provide a cost comparison between choices of floor covering.

It was amazingly coincidental that, while I was writing this post, I received an email promoting a company that had established a beachhead on the Internet in the floor covering business. The site is, and using a strategy of auctions of surplus hardwood floor materials (their own, as well that of participating and competing floor covering companies), this site is expecting to move over a half-million dollars worth of flooring on their next “Flooring Friday.” While our local carpet guys have been arguing over whether to even be on the ‘Net, the folks at are already light years ahead, planning strategies and building back-end infrastructures to get ready to cash in on the B2B business explosion.

So the ultimate question for the local guys is this. If they are willingly choosing to ignore even the basics of what a Web site can do, how can they ever hope to catch up on where the Web is ultimately headed…online inventory management, vendor communications, self-serve customer order status and subcontractor scheduling. By this time three years from now, business to consumer will be generating revenue measured by hundreds of billions, and Forrester Research estimates that business to business revenues and savings will be measured by the TRILLIONS. The National Retail Federation this week at their annual convention went as far as to say that if you’re not online yet, it may already be too late.

So what’s a company to do?

Take a look at your business. Every aspect. Not only what you do, but how you do it. Look at look at your processes, your systems, and your relationships. Look at how your products or services are produced…both the ones you provide, as well as those that are provided to you by others. Look at your customer service operations. Examine your relationships with vendors, both upstream and down. Look at every process that requires paper, phone calls, faxes and even full-time employees whose jobs are simply to be a conduit of information.

Then think about how the Internet can improve, streamline, replace any of them.

Think outside of your company’s business model, too. Explore other ways to use your knowledge, reputation, inventory and contacts to expand your business on the Web. Look at online auctions, portals, new B2B ideas.

If you need any help, a Web developer that has experience helping companies take maximum advantage of the internet can help you plan your strategy and its implementation. You don’t need to do it all right now, but you need to at least get started. It’s human nature for people to take a wait and see attitude about anything new, but this ain’t new any more. The stakes are already too high, and things are moving too quickly for anyone to wait any longer.

And if your dad is the guy who’ll be making the final decisions, make sure you have a company like Websight Solutions to help you ask the right questions!

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