Article: B2B? Watch your Mouth

by Rob Spiegel


There was a precious time then businesstobusiness (B2B) ecommerce was the
sweet darling of Internetbased business. Sure, Amazon.com has a great brand
name, but B2B was going to change the very nature of how business would be
conducted in the future. Proponents scoffed at consumer etailers while
pointing to the autoexchange, Covisint, which is projected to handle some
750 billion in goods annually at some nottodistant point in the future.
And if Covisint saves automakers just 10 percent on procurement, well
goodness, that adds up.

Yet the promise of B2B ecommerce is now considered bogus in many business
circles, actually in most business circles. B2B has been called a false
economy, the heart of irrational exuberance, a fool's gold that leads to
broken dreams and crushed dreamers. A surprising number of seemingly bright
and sincere executives hold B2B ecommerce responsible for the very downturn
itself.

Oddly, there is considerably less contempt for the area of ecommerce that
really has shown consistent signs of weakness, massmarket etailing. These
executives don't scoff at Expedia, eBay or Amazon.com with the same venom
they bring to online exchanges or supply chain management solutions. Yet if
you examine the list of 600 or so failed dot coms this year, the greater
number come from the world of consumerbased ecommerce.

The quiet secret not often discussed is that B2B ecommerce continues to show
remarkable signs of both present and future success far beyond consumer Net
sales. Consumer etailing has some success stories, but most fall into the
area of specialty sites that sell to consumer segments with intense special
interests such as hot foods, fly fishing, heirloom gardening or extreme
sports. These sites live stealthlike below the contempt radar. Most of these
special sites, when noticed, elicit admiration.

The bile of contempt is saved for B2B, the area of ecommerce that will almost
inevitably live up to its transformative promise in time. And the very
executives who look on B2B with such disdain are actively in the process of
implementing ebusiness systems in their companies to assist with logistics,
supply chain analytics, inventory management, design collaboration, Webbased
conferencing, reverse auctions, customer relationship management, indirect
procurement and spot purchases.

So why the heartfelt disdain? Part of the negativity is simply the result of
the audacity and arrogance of the young Internet entrepreneurs. The dot coms
showed up in virtually every business sector, announcing they had arrived to
turn the industry on its head, all without any depth of experience in the
industry. For all their audacity, they were rewarded with skyhigh IPO
results after just a few quick months. Suddenly these interlopers were valued
higher than the decadesold industry stalwarts. If the young dot com smarties
had half a brain, they would have purchased some of those traditional
dinosaurs. In their arrogance, they didn't see the value of the dinosaurs.
Steve Case of America Online was one of the few with the wits of nab a
traditional industry leader, Time Warner, while AOL's stock was soaring.
Executives of traditional companies had good reason to fear these upstarts.
There was a moment when an upstart could become your new boss.

Most of the dot com arrogance is gone, and with it went the swaggering
entrepreneurs. Now it falls to the dinosaur companies to implement the
transformation. And do it they will, even while they trash the concept of B2B
ecommerce.

I recently attended the annual executive conference of the National
Electronic Distributors Association. The dot coms that two years ago came to
disintermediate and destroy these distributors are now "dot gone." In their
place are humble software companies that sell ebusiness functionality to the
industry dinosaurs. The leaders of these software companies are former
distribution executives whose startups were funded by the very dinosaurs
they now serve. Better to buy B2B solutions from a former colleague than a
whizkid college dropout who knows nothing about your industry.

The executives in this industry won. They're eating their cake. They
vanquished the unscrubbed dot coms and are now happily hiring their former
colleagues to transform their companies. Yet the bitter disdain over B2B
persists. It likely stems from the quiet anger over the reality that the
young nonothings almost captured the ageold industries.




About the Author


Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring
Entrepreneur's Guide to Internet Startups (St. Martin's Press). You can
reach Rob at spiegelrob@aol.com


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