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B2B

How To Build a Profitable


E-Commerce Strategy
MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM is the founder and CEO of Harvard Computing Group, an international business
and technology consulting firm. He is a sought after speaker for international events and a regular author of
articles about Web business and e-commerce. Mr. Cunningham is also the author of Smart Things to Know
About e-Commerce.

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B2B - Page 1

MAIN IDEA
The advantages of business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce are so compelling and the potential rewards so obvious that this literally
may become the last frontier in the business world. At stake will be the trillions of dollars of business which will be transacted by
businesses over the Internet in the next few years.
The imperative, therefore, is to get involved in B2B commerce. In such a dynamic and fluid marketplace, best practices are evolving
rapidly. The business organization that waits until a clear path becomes clear will find by that stage, its competitors will already be
firmly entrenched. In other words, since everyone is learning how to do B2B successfully in real time as they go along, it’s getting
actively involved in the game that counts rather than waiting until things settle down.
In the final analysis, B2B isn’t anything new. What is new is the speed at which better and more effective communication links are
being built between firms. That empowers B2B to reduce transactional expenses, aggregate buying power and exploit the
efficiencies of digital marketplaces. In short, B2B is the greatest opportunity yet in online business.

1. The Fundamentals of B2B E-Commerce . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 2


At its very heart, B2B is all about staying competitive while the dynamics of large industries and traditional
ways of doing business are undergoing rapid and dramatic change. The emergence of the Internet as a
common platform for the conducting of business worldwide creates a new set of rules and an entirely
different set of players to those who existed before.
2. The New B2B Focus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 3
Business-to-business e-commerce focuses on delivering everything that’s needed to close a deal via the
Internet – information, negotiation and order processing. The actual delivery of the product or service may
take place in the real world, but every other aspect of the transaction is negotiated and finalized via the
Internet in a B2B market.
3. B2B Best Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 3
The B2B market is extraordinary – it has so many available opportunities, so many companies moving into
the field and numerous successes and inevitable failures. Yet despite the headlong rush, several best
practice factors are now starting to emerge which characterize the high-quality B2B markets.
4. Building B2B Alliances . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 4
In an electronic marketplace, no single company is likely to have the time or resources to do everything
themselves. Instead, there will be a reliance on forming partnerships and strategic alliances to access the
necessary capabilities and skills. In fact, building and maintaining effective alliances is becoming one of
the key skills of the B2B era.
5. The Three B2B Building Blocks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 5
The three key building blocks of any new B2B business will be:
1. Applications
2. Services
3. Software
Successful B2B business builders have generally adopted a customer-centric perspective on each of
these elements and focus on how to create and deliver the customized experience the client wants.
6. How To Design a B2B Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 6
To successfully put together a B2B project, the correct infrastructure must be developed. A robust and
viable B2B infrastructure will have these key elements:

A Viable 1 Corporate Culture


B2B
2 Go-to-Market Plan
Infrastructure
3 Sales & Distribution Plan
4 Marketing Strategy
5 Service & Support Plan
6 Content Plan
7 Integrating Technology Plan

7. Building a B2B Business In Real Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 8


At some point, planning the B2B business must cease and making it happen must commence. While that’s
happening, the marketplace itself will also be constantly changing. Therefore, the key management
challenge in implementing any B2B business plan is retaining the planning flexibility to make changes on
the run and the nerve to act quickly enough.
B2B - Page 2

1. The Fundamentals of B2B E-Commerce So what will be the practical benefits of B2B e-Commerce?
Main Idea n Reduced costs for goods and services.
At its very heart, B2B is all about staying competitive while the n Access to a broader range of products.
dynamics of large industries and traditional ways of doing n A reduction in the need to carry inventory.
business are undergoing rapid and dramatic change. The
n The ability to control procurement costs.
emergence of the Internet as a common platform for the
conducting of business worldwide creates a new set of rules and n More effective quality control systems.
an entirely different set of players to those who existed before. n Enhanced control over suppliers.
Supporting Ideas n Elimination of intermediaries who do not add value.
While the business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce n Reduced manufacturing cycle times.
applications have tended to grab the media spotlight, B2B will be n Shortened sales and delivery cycles.
many times larger. For example, some research companies
forecast that by 2004, B2C sales will be $184 billion while B2B’s n The ability to interact with companies based anywhere in the
revenues will top the $2.7 trillion mark – and may be as high as world cost effectively and efficiently.
$7.3 trillion. n Increased revenues.
The B2B marketplace will be made up of: n Improved cash management systems and processes.
n The sale and transfer of goods before they reach the Key Thoughts
consumer – through exchanges, auctions and other activities.
“If you own, operate or participate in any business, B2B
n Joint ventures and outsourced business activities. e-commerce is going to be very important to you in the next two
n Financial transfers and transactions. years. Don’t relax – we’re talking two Internet years, or about fifty
n The establishment and operation of subcontractor networks. to sixty calendar days. This is a market so important that no one
can afford to be left out. Business-to-business e-commerce is
n New product development services.
the largest gold rush international commerce has seen for
n Supply chain activities and related transactions. decades. It may be the largest ever.”
n Delivery of support services. – Michael Cunningham
n Negotiation of contractual arrangements. “These are new times with new rules and new players.
Obviously the Internet is the foundation or the enabling Business-to-business e-commerce will become a main
technology which makes B2B feasible. The other prerequisite underpinning of the strategy, operation and technology systems
for the B2B marketplace to grow is the availability of online tools of companies. No other way of doing business has had such far
and processes by which business can be conducted more reaching effects, so many dimensions that influence the
efficiently. business process, the marketplace and how businesses work
The key tools and processes of the B2B marketplace are: together with their business partners.”
– Michael Cunningham
n Business rules – a common set of acceptable practices by
which transactions can be completed. “Why does B2B make so much sense? Simply, it is the only way
n Processes – the technical standards, protocols and support for businesses to use technology in a strategic manner to
systems everyone uses in common. improve their operations. B2B is particularly useful in
streamlining interactions with new and existing partnerships.
n Technology – a shared system and infrastructure (including
The emergence of B2B e-commerce will have a far-reaching
security systems) which everyone has access to.
effect on everyday business.”
The B2B marketplace will have a wide variety of participants, – Michael Cunningham
including:
“Before the Internet, the benefits of supply-chain management
n Portals – gateways that will serve as the starting point for
many B2B transactions. were considered significant enough for companies to invest in
specialized networks and infrastructure to link members of the
n Exchanges – digital marketplaces arranged around common chain together. The Internet now connects these groups in a
themes or area of focus, like a specific supply chain. common system at a much reduced cost and sophisticated and
n Infomediaries – creators and resellers of content for targeted expensive communication systems are no longer necessary. As
industries and user groups. many firms have already made the investment to create these
n Procurement marketplaces – where vendors and suppliers interdependent relationships with suppliers and business
can exchange information and do business. partners, the Web offers a unique opportunity to extend and
improve these systems.”
n Auction sites – where available business can be offered to the
– Michael Cunningham
highest bidder.
n Companies with Web enabled supply chains. “All the disintermediation worries that existed in the early days of
the Internet are back. The difference this time is that they are
n Businesses acting sometimes as vendors and other times as
real. Companies and organizations are gearing up not merely for
buyers.
incremental change, but for a completely new set of rules. This is
In short, B2B marketplaces will be sufficiently large and not simple automation of a supply-chain process, purchase of
attractive that participation will be broad and deep. Over time, office supplies on the Web or electronic travel. It’s far bigger.”
virtually all business entities will become active participants in – Michael Cunningham
one or more B2B marketplaces.
B2B - Page 3

2. The New B2B Focus 3. B2B Best Practices


Main Idea Main Idea
Business-to-business e-commerce focuses on delivering The B2B market is extraordinary – it has so many available
everything that’s needed to close a deal via the Internet – opportunities, so many companies moving into the field and
information, negotiation and order processing. The actual numerous successes and inevitable failures. Yet despite the
delivery of the product or service may take place in the real headlong rush, several best practice factors are now starting to
world, but every other aspect of the transaction is negotiated and emerge which characterize the high-quality B2B markets.
finalized via the Internet in a B2B market. Supporting Ideas
Supporting Ideas Good B2B markets:
The basics of developing a B2C e-commerce marketplace are n Are agile – the participants remain paranoid and therefore
actually quite straightforward: think and respond to new developments rapidly.
1. Build and attract a community of visitors. n Rely on partnerships – so that participants can get assistance
2. Give everyone relevant information about their area of in the marketing, strategy, industrial development, sales and
interest. distribution areas.
3. Present products or link to online marketplaces with ranges n Leverage existing business relationships to create new
of products that will be of interest to consumers. business opportunities around original and creative ideas.
4. Allow visitors to make comparisons on price and delivery n Are international rather than U.S. focused.
options. n Understand supply chains intimately, and align all the
5. Take the order and provide the requisite fulfillment resources of the network behind getting to target markets
processes. quickly and efficiently.
The growth and development of B2B online marketplaces will be n Allow companies to leverage their brands – using brand
different, if for no other reason than because market behavior awareness as a way to limit new entrants.
and consumer behavior are so different. For example, many n Offer multi-dimensional business models – embracing
consumers like to comparison shop using the Internet but business exchanges, sponsorship arrangements,
finalize the transaction in a traditional store. This is much less subscriptions, sponsorships, advertising arrangements,
desirable behavior for a business. content relicensing, online stores and application services.
Specifically, B2B e-commerce markets: n Build a client base first and then seek opportunities to
n Are long-term relationship based – with many critical leverage that asset later.
business-to-business relationships outlasting the respective n Enhance customer loyalty by continuing to add more value on
careers of the people involved. an ongoing basis.
n Focus on seamless systems – which move transactions n Have sufficient resources to be able to withstand the
intelligently through all the stages of the sales-to-delivery competitive enticements and give-aways which other B2B
cycle. markets may be willing to offer in the future.
n Use branding not to create awareness but to create the right n Carry out market research, testing, prototyping and
impression for the business – so other businesses will feel introduction of new services continually.
confident about the reputation and past performance
n Learn new techniques and evolve over time to meet the
standards of the other company.
changing needs of market participants.
n Attract new entrants who already know how the market
Examples of B2B companies that exemplify many of these best
operates – and who have something to offer which will
practices include:
improve the status quo dramatically.
• Staples.com – office supplies
n Feature more complex marketing – because the needs of the • HardDollar.com – construction industry
business customer will often be more complex than a simple • GlobalSupplyNet.com – janitorial supplies, affinity programs
purchase decision. • Travelocity.com – travel services
n Put a premium on collaboration – allowing market participants • ebay.com/business_exchange/ – business online trading
to share information efficiently through common databases, • MeetChina.com – facilitation of trade with China
link external and internal networks and generally manage • VerticalNet.com – more than 50 vertical markets
knowledge as efficiently as possible. • ProSavvy.com – consulting services
Key Thoughts Key Thoughts
“Anyone familiar with B2C technologies can see that there is “Many firms moving into B2B fall under the category of an
much that B2B firms can leverage from the consumer sector, but existing business that has the vision and determination to
understanding the target industry and how it works remains the change the way things are done in its industry. These
nub of any real opportunity for business-to-business operations. organizations are changing existing operations and focusing on
In B2B, less is more. Fewer processes, fewer actions, smaller moving to a new space in the marketplace. They are moving new
numbers of participants taking value out where none is added.” products to a new sector. Even with industry-specific knowledge
– Michael Cunningham and an established product line, these transformations are
demanding and fraught with risk.”
– Michael Cunningham
B2B - Page 4

4. Building B2B Alliances


Main Idea n Develop requirement budgets
In an electronic marketplace, no single company is likely to have n Testing of first generation systems
the time or resources to do everything themselves. Instead, Specifications
n Selection of developers with skill sets
there will be a reliance on forming partnerships and strategic
n Selection of suitable hosts
alliances to access the necessary capabilities and skills. In fact,
building and maintaining effective alliances is becoming one of
the key skills of the B2B era. n Integrator selection
Supporting Ideas Development n User testing
In B2B, time-to-market is of prime importance. There is most n Establishment of hosting alliances
often a substantial early premium or first-mover advantage.
Therefore, speed has a major impact on the way partnerships
are formed and run. n Press relations
Good and long lasting B2B partnerships: n e-Marketing
Launch n Print marketing
n Deliver win-win benefits for all the parties involved.
n Produce results quickly – thereby discouraging competitors n Advertising
and creating momentum.
n Often get doubled up or layered, so multiple business In short, the development of a successful B2B organization is
initiatives can be tried in parallel. complex and demanding. Bringing everything together in the
n Have varying control mechanisms and approaches. time frame available is a challenge, especially if experienced
B2B staff are not available. By involving partners in each stage
n Reduce risks for each of the partners involved. as required, the fundamentals can be put in place and the B2B
B2B partnerships and alliances also come in a variety of forms project placed on a strong foundation.
and involve both inside partners (who participate in developing Key Thoughts
the business plan) and outside partners (who assist solely in the
tactical implementation of the plan). For example: “There is a reason the very successful Internet firms are working
n Outsourcing arrangements – with partners who will take at a frenetic pace, both in terms of their decision making
responsibility for various parts of the supply chain. processes and in terms of the number of hours involved. The old
rule of thumb that time means money has a totally new meaning
n Sales partnerships and affiliate programs – which expand
in today’s valuation world.”
market share by teaming up with partners with established
– Michael Cunningham
consumer relationships.
n Financial partnerships – with people who become part of the “Anyone in business will tell you that good people, a great plan
ownership structure of the business. and a hot market can make a company a huge success. Next on
the list of important factors is the selection of excellent business
n Distributor arrangements – to extend the market and
partners. In the B2B world this is doubly important.”
geographic reach of the firm.
– Michael Cunningham
n Industry-specific partnerships – with others who bring specific
skills, know-how and experience to bear. “In the past organizations spent months and sometimes years
In B2B, finding and establishing the appropriate roster of building their partnership networks. A strong partnership
suitable partners and then getting the mix precisely right will be network used to be considered a strong barrier to the entry of
difficult. The B2B firms that get these factors exactly right, others into the marketplace. Although this may still hold true, the
however, then position themselves to move forward far more way companies go about forging these networks will be different
rapidly than competitors who attempt to do everything – that is, if they want to get there while the party is still going on.”
themselves. – Michael Cunningham
In addition, the ideal roster of partners will vary over time. For “New-age partnerships require enterprises to have a fluid way of
example, the activities which B2B partners may be providing will looking at the world. They have to be ready to change not only
vary according to the development phase of the overall B2B one thing, but many things simultaneously. Maintaining a fluid
project, in this way: view of the partnership approach will keep companies thinking
Project Phase Ideal Partner Activities about the real issues for success. An organization that can
regroup, reorganize and respond quickly has the edge. Although
n Funding
there is no substitute for good old fashioned planning, in a
n Market opportunity research volatile environment, different tools, behavior and partners will
Planning n Development of the e-Strategy provide necessary flexibility.”
n Business development planning – Michael Cunningham
“In today’s e-business world, most firms understand that the run
for market share, mindshare and customers is a sprint every day
of the week. Joining forces and leveraging the power of many
Research n Market testing becomes a foundation for most operation’s strategies.”
n Prototyping – Michael Cunningham
B2B - Page 5

5. The Three B2B Building Blocks In addition to the hosting companies, a number of B2B
Main Idea application service providers have also come into existence.
These companies not only provide hosting capabilities but also
The three key building blocks of any new B2B business will be: packages of services B2B companies typically require. All these
1. Applications services and applications are available on an as-needed basis –
2. Services lowering the ingoing capital requirements for new B2B
3. Software participants.
Successful B2B business builders have generally adopted a 3. B2B Software
customer-centric perspective on each of these elements and
focus on how to create and deliver the customized experience Many B2B specific software packages are now available
the client wants to enjoy. off-the-shelf. For example, corporate portal system software has
recently been released. This provides an infrastructure which
Supporting Ideas links data resources, security and applications in a common
1. B2B Applications framework. That, in turn, allows many different applications to
The ideal B2B site will be compelling and keep the customer fully use the same desktop interface.
engaged. Accomplishing that usually requires the site to be: Similarly, many large software companies now offer full-service
n The first place the client thinks to look. B2B packages designed specifically for new B2B market
entrants. In addition to the software required, these packages
n Extremely relevant to the way the client does business.
often include strategic consulting and business plan
n Offering services or products that are precisely what’s development.
needed – increasing loyalty.
Systems integrators offer another viable option. Integrators are
n A highly customized experience. specialists in the development of new B2B systems. They have
n Scaled upwards or downwards to meet the client’s evolving expertise and technical know-how, combined with hands-on
needs and requirements. experience. Integrators should also be well positioned to advise
Achieving all this is the job of the application framework put in what elements can be purchased pre-built, and which parts of
place at the B2B site. Most likely, these applications will be the overall system will require a customized approach.
delivered in a number of discrete layers: Key Thoughts
n Layer 1 – Intranet or business-to-employee (B2E) systems. “Given that many market requirements are tied to client control
This will be the internal network, with e-mail capability, and creating the best possible experience for the end user, the
browser software, Internet access and so forth. Most word customization is used extensively by vendors and
companies tend to bundle all these applications together on suppliers. Customization means that the information and
an organization wide intranet. application tools delivered to the end user are tailored
n Layer 2 – Back-office systems. specifically to create the experience the client wants to enjoy.
These are the systems needed to run the business – financial Enjoy is a good word. People who are enjoying a site (are
accounting, inventory management, order entry, human provided with useful and relevant information for the job) are
resources, etc. Also included will be the enterprise resource likely to stay, and having people stay is what the B2B world is all
planning systems. B2B generally places a high premium on about. If people do leave, the second most important element in
the ability of any firm’s back-office systems to be compatible B2B comes into play – getting them to come back for more.
with those used by partners and other market participants. Accomplishing this goal means staying in the client’s face,
n Layer 3 – The B2B destinations themselves. keeping the client interested for long periods of time, which
The upper, most visible layer, will be the B2B portals, means making the site both relevant and compelling.”
exchanges, auction sites, vertical application marketplaces, – Michael Cunningham
etc. These destinations become the online place where “The Internet has changed everything for business, and B2B is a
clients do business together. valuable occupant of this new space. We now have a medium
Due to the fact many of these applications have already been that allows us to do so many things that we are limited literally
developed for the B2C markets, it is now possible to outsource only by imagination.”
many B2B applications as prebuilt components. By accessing – Michael Cunningham
and adopting these components rather than building from
scratch, significant amounts of development time can be saved. “The Internet as a business-to-business medium is boundless
That allows the B2B company to get to market sooner, although and allows us to make progress in seconds, not months, days or
it may require some trade-offs in the area of customization. hours. It serves not only for distribution, but also as an
infrastructure for communication and collaboration. In the past,
2. B2B Services
sales and marketing were based largely on sophisticated but fat
Most firms entering the B2B marketplace find it more cost distribution chains. These led from manufacturers to the end
effective to use a hosting provider rather than undertake customer, with most of the money and margin being absorbed in
themselves everything that’s involved in setting up a dedicated the process. But business-to-business e-commerce is fast
data center. becoming the new standard way of doing business. No other
B2B hosting companies: vehicle creates the value, opportunity and mechanisms made
• Offer packages of services and site hosting capabilities. available by B2B. Interestingly enough, until telepathy becomes
• Set up high performance servers and bandwidth. a common form of communication there is likely to be no faster
• Guarantee 24 hours a day 7 days a week uptime. way of establishing business relationships for the near term.”
• Offer an upgrade path and the ability to scale up later. – Michael Cunningham
B2B - Page 6

6. How To Design a B2B Business should be available in electronic format, so the achievement of
Main Idea various milestones and any amendments to be made along the
way can be updated and circulated immediately.
To successfully put together a B2B project, the correct
infrastructure must be developed. A robust and viable B2B
B2B 3 Sales & Distribution Plan
infrastructure will have these key elements:
Infrastructure
B2B 1 Corporate Culture
Infrastructure B2B requires that sales and marketing strategies be aligned far
2 Go-to-Market Plan more carefully than for traditional businesses or even in B2C
situations as the B2B sales cycle is usually longer and more
3 Sales & Distribution Plan
complex.
4 Marketing Strategy Generally speaking, companies will not be surfing the Net to find
5 Service & Support Plan places where they can do business. The key B2B sites for each
industry will attract the people who can use them meaningfully.
6 Content Plan Thus, in contrast to B2C sites, B2B sites concentrate on keeping
Integrating Technology Plan potential buyers engaged by offering:
7
n An online experience that resonates with participants in
specific industries.
Supporting Ideas n An expedited and efficient sales process – which is
self-service and completely automated if at all possible.
B2B
1 Corporate Culture n A complete framework of everything that supports the sales
Infrastructure
decision.
Designing a B2B business involves much more than simply The B2B sales and distribution plan should outline how, in fact,
putting up a new Web site. Properly done, a B2B business customers will be moved through the various stages of the B2B
initiative will permanently change numerous aspects of an sales cycle:
existing business. Therefore, an integrated approach is needed
rather than something ad hoc. n This is the initial marketing program
Before making the transformation to an Internet business, give Create demand which creates awareness of products
the company culture time to adjust and prepare. That usually within the target market segments.
requires consensus to exist amongst all the key internal parts of
the business organization. And consensus will only be possible if
everyone is in the loop – that is, if everyone is closely involved in
forming and shaping the B2B strategy right from the start. n The people who respond to the initial
Identify prospect marketing becomes prospects – and
Therefore, the first step in building a strong B2B infrastructure is
are provided with more detailed
to plan carefully with everyone in the business becoming
information.
involved in the details. Give your internal company culture the
time needed to mentally adjust to the proposed changes.
n Through interviews and
B2B 2 Go-to-Market Plan Qualify prospect demonstrations, genuine buyers are
Infrastructure separated from the “tire kickers”.

The Go-to-Market plan is the central coordination instrument. It


reduces risk, eases confusion and enhances teamwork.
n Specific purchase proposals are
A good Go-to-Market plan will cover these points:
Proposal generated which are tailored to the
• The B2B marketing strategy and anticipated tactics.
needs of the prospect.
• The public relations program, including media tours.
• How existing clients will be brought up to speed on B2B.
• How new clients will be secured for the B2B program.
• Pricing information. n A purchase contract is negotiated
• Packaging plans and options. individually and the transaction closed.
Negotiate
• The Web site traffic promotion strategy.
• Special introductory offers.
• Partner or affiliate programs.
• Internal promotion and educational programs.
• How the new B2B business model will be validated.
n After sales support is provided and the
• Internal communications programs. Support client becomes a prospect for
• New product development schedule.
additional products and services.
• Launch plans for new products.
Clearly the Go-to-Market plan is important because it provides
the framework around which the B2B business will take shape.
As such, the Go-to-Market plan is never static. Ideally, the plan
B2B - Page 7

B2B The B2B content plan must address how up-to-date content will
4 Marketing Strategy
Infrastructure be sourced and integrated into the site. It must also address
issues like dynamic content – where different users are provided
with specific content based on their personal requirements and
In the B2B context, marketing is customer acquisition. Most preferences.
likely, a multifaceted approach will be taken to the challenge of
building a strong client base. The most common ways to capture B2B
7 Integrating Technology Plan
new clients are: Infrastructure
n The Infomediary approach – provide potential clients with
loads of free, useful information. Communications tools can vastly enhance the B2B experience.
n Specials – free offers of sample products or information Therefore, most B2B businesses provide a range of
packages at dramatically reduced prices. collaborative tools and systems, for example:
• Bulletin boards
n Applications – provide free use of applications which add
• Chat systems which allow collaboration to occur.
value for potential clients, encouraging them to visit again and
• E-mail systems in various flavors and options.
make further transactions in the future.
• Contact management tools like instant messaging.
n Acquisitions – purchase the client lists of competitors or • Document management applications.
companies already established in adjacent markets. • Calendar management and scheduling packages.
n Competitive pricing – price products and services at a level The B2B integrating technology plan will detail how these
that will increase market share, especially during the communications tools will be integrated into the site and the
developmental stages of the B2B marketplace. back-office systems. The more these various elements can be
n One-to-one marketing – provide customization of products integrated seamlessly, the better.
and services for specific potential clients. Key Thoughts
n Customer relationship management databases – use
“In the past, market share and brand position created a
information gathered about potential clients in other settings
dominance that could not easily be changed. In the B2B world,
to tailor marketing initiatives specifically to their known needs.
things can be very different. It is not a question of how much will
In practice, the B2B marketing strategy will identify which of change, but of how much change will stick. The network effect of
these marketing ideas will be used and how. the Internet – connecting so many individuals to one another and
to businesses – is what’s driving the change. E-mail, chat, video
B2B conferencing and data conferencing are the tools of today. What
5 Service & Support Plan
Infrastructure is business news in the morning can become a trend by the
afternoon. People need to think, execute and worry all at the
Service and support is especially important in the B2B context same time. Luckily, the channels exist for rapid feedback, from
because this delivers rich and effective interactions with the sales to marketing to manufacturing. The ability to change the
product sold. plan has to be built into the plan.”
Self-service is highly desirable. This simply means creating – Michael Cunningham
versions of internal databases and business practices which
“Creative review of current relationships is a great place to begin
allow clients to get the information they want whenever they
a B2B strategy. The idea is to cut the number of steps, reduce
need it. The normal B2B practice in this area is to allow clients to
the costs and improve the effectiveness (repeatability) of the
have external access to whichever sections of the company’s
process by taking a serious and surgical look at the current
internal systems contain the relevant information.
business model. After all, the competition will be looking at the
The B2B service and support plan will detail how information will market with similar goals, which will not include the welfare of
be captured, reused and reformatted to meet the specific needs another organization’s position in the marketplace.”
of individual clients. – Michael Cunningham

B2B “Modeling the business network the organization wants to build


6 Content Plan is time well spent. The model can be as simple as a relationship
Infrastructure
map of what happens as new marketing, sales and development
Content is an essential aspect of the Internet experience. processes progress. Building the ideal network is one of the
Therefore, a viable B2B infrastructure will address the issues of most important tasks that takes place at the beginning of any
how content will be acquired, updated and integrated into the B2B program or strategy. Without this vital ingredient, the
site on an ongoing basis. organization is apt to miss critical pieces, such as recognizing
the risk of competitive threats, identifying potential costs and
The cost of acquiring interesting and relevant content is usually developing a transition plan for existing relationships and
underestimated in B2B plans. Similarly, the lead time involved is distribution programs.”
often neglected entirely. So too is the need for editing, – Michael Cunningham
reformatting and freshening the material. All of these issues
need to be addressed. “This is not some new business methodology, but a whole new
The most common sources of content for B2B applications are: mind-set. For a variety of reasons, moving into Internet territory
• Magazines, especially trade magazines. requires thinking differently.”
• Industry specific journals or books. – Michael Cunningham
• Licensed material from third party sources.
B2B - Page 8

7. Building a B2B Business In Real Time In short, B2B implementation requires an integrated approach. A
Main Idea common framework must exist, around which all the various
elements can be placed:
At some point, planning the B2B business must cease and • Research.
making it happen must commence. While that’s happening, the • Planning.
marketplace itself will also be constantly changing. Therefore, • Marketing.
the key management challenge in implementing any B2B • Sales.
business plan is retaining the planning flexibility to make • Development.
changes on the run and the nerve to act quickly enough. • Deployment.
Supporting Ideas • Manufacturing.
Paradoxically, the success of B2B projects doesn’t lie in arriving In previous eras, a business had loads of time to carry out
at a predetermined destination. Instead, in B2B, flexibility is the detailed research and refine products through repeated test
key. There must be an ability to change the business plan in the marketing cycles. With the arrival of the Internet, however, the
middle of the transition to respond to new market conditions. new imperative has become to attract customers first and figure
The key elements in B2B implementation programs are: out precisely what product and services they want later on.
n Planning – start with clearly defined goals. They will need to By approaching B2B using an integrated framework,
be updated and changed regularly, but having one single organizations are far more likely to have the capability of
vision is important. modifying their strategy in real time based on real world input. In
B2B, that’s as good as it gets.
n Integration – the B2B plan should have all the new work
processes and technology embedded within it. Unless the Key Thoughts
B2B system does everything the old business used to do, it
“Being ready for change and making it happen are two distinctly
won’t be very effective.
different things. At some point, the raft has to be ready to go
n Education – staff need to be provided with the rationale down the river. If the river is the market the water can be smooth,
behind the new B2B strategy. That will instill a sense of wild or downright treacherous depending on the circumstances.
urgency in the program. If the company can control and steer the boat, this is as good as it
n Resources – the B2B business initiative must be sufficiently gets. Every organization has to make the choices, weigh the
resourced if it is to have any chance of succeeding. risks and rewards, decide how much to change and how quickly,
n Workflow – the new ways of doing business. By building and all the time keeping a careful eye on the moving marketplace.
defining new work practices, the B2B program will change The willingness of an operation to make the necessary
how business gets done. Everyone needs to be on the same commitment to embrace the current industry climate is an
page with these changes. ongoing management challenge. There is a reason e-commerce
strategists and managers are well compensated. This is a
n A balance of internal and external integration – to build unity challenging ride.”
and real world effectiveness. – Michael Cunningham
n A commitment to eliminating unnecessary work practices that
may now exist within the organization. “The B2B market is changing in real time. Such a lively
marketplace needs dynamic rules to keep it in check. Staying
n Inclusion – combining the efforts and resources of watchful and being ready to do things differently may be the
management and staff together cohesively. ultimate weapons in the arsenal required to do B2B in the new
n Information – providing feedback on progress-to-date and order of business. As organizations face something so different,
anticipated future milestones. the ability to plan, react, respond and deliver creates new
n Acknowledgment of the impact of the changes being made on dimensions and challenges for professionals everywhere.
various peer groups within the organization. Perhaps at last the worriers will prosper in a world in which the
greatest certainty for an enterprise is that a competitor wants its
n Alignment of reward systems – to ensure what contributes in
market share and wants it quickly. Stay alert: it is going to be a
meaningful ways to the B2B program is what’s rewarded.
wild ride.”
n A readiness for change. – Michael Cunningham
n A tolerance for genuine mistakes while new systems are
being learned. “Even if B2B is not the final frontier, it’s the biggest one I’ve ever
seen. Business-to-consumer e-commerce was exciting –
n Emulation of the best practices gleaned from other successful convenience, pricing, service. Actually, it was quite good when
B2B transitions. you think about it. However, compared with B2B, it’s the National
n The ability to prototype, develop, test and revise in real time. Enquirer versus the Times of London. A horse of a different
n A commitment to develop new core competencies. color.”
– Michael Cunningham
n Flexibility.

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