BTB Gets Hot on the Net"Welcome to the wonderful world of the Internet." That line sounds so mundane that any story starting with it probably has some interesting twist.
The Websters have recently discovered business-to-business and have even adopted our BTB monocle for the area of commerce. The Forresters and Jupiters are all making their predictions that the Web will bring forth the greatest expansion of BTB since we all first ate white bread.
On a serious note, there is a true emergence of BTB marketing beginning to take shape throughout the Web. Two unique techniques, first used in the BTC marketplace, are driving the marketing push.
The first is the concept of a shared marketplace for multiple vendors to showcase their BTB products and services. I'm not talking about a shopping mall. The vendors for business I'm referring to are competitive, and they are all going after the same targets. Auctions, name-your-price aggregated buying groups and vertical commerce hubs are the newest entries to the Web market.
Some of these market hubs are general for all types of business product and services. Examples of this type are Mondus.com or AOL's Purchasepro.com BTB area. Here's how Mondus describes what they do: "...mondus.com is the leading e-marketplace for small to mid-size businesses. Utilizing mondus.com, small to mid-size businesses streamline the purchasing of everything from fax machines and computers to hospitality and legal services on one Web site."
It doesn't sound revolutionary at first, but let me put some meat to it; the site organizes the bidding and creates RFP's for the customer. The key isn't just the lower prices that any vendor would need to compete, it's the organization, scheduling and efficiencies that come with the process and the technologies.
Basically, it's the experience of the service and products that are being marketed. In all of these sites, the concept is a radical departure for both small and larger sized organizations.
A closely related part of the direct mail equation is print services. An extremely interesting site is named Noosh.com. Noosh.com is a service for companies that buy, sell and manage print. If you think that this concept is for only small start-ups and kitchen table entrepreneurs looking for the cheapest price in town, think again. The following companies are listed on the Noosh's site as clients: Aetna Services, Bank of America, E*Trade and Levi Strauss & Co., certainly not the smallest users of print or the Internet.
All of the above mentioned sites have competition. Tradeout.com, rfpMarket.com and works.com are just a few. Each has a unique selling proposition. All of them are forging a new environment that direct marketers cannot ignore. The concepts that are being tried can have relevance to many service sectors that affect interactive and direct marketing.
I mentioned earlier there were two aspects to this Internet BTB emergence. The second is variable pricing. Auction sites have had this for as long as the Net has been around, it is new for BTB.
Couple the above mentioned marketplace sites and variable pricing and you have a clean, organized, efficient model for doing business. A model that not only saves money but also saves time and personnel. Soon you will even have human interaction vis-a-vis live audio or video. Interestingly, it currently is a direct interactive channel, unfortunately without many of the "usual suspects."
We will all have to learn from these innovators and add to the mix they are beginning to present. I have no doubt that there is still time, innovation and experience that will allow most of us to survive as the Internet continues to reinvent itself and our business environment.
Direct marketers, especially catalogers, will have to study these new sites. It won't be the price alone that will win the buyer, someone will always have the cheaper price. Databasing the client's needs, responding in a convenient format and communicating will add to an experience that can keep and build relationships -- in other words, using the tools of a direct marketer.