The April 30 issue of Fortune features an article by Gary Hamel that might be of interest to solutions providers: "Is This All You Can Build With the Net? Think Bigger!"
He argues that B2B systems will soon be ubiquitous and that the market will dry up. The next big thing, he predicts, will be the currently disgraced B2C market.
If hes right, solutions providers had better bone up on their B2C skills. And I dont mean the old shopping-cart/catalog stuff.
Hamel writes, "The vast majority of B2B efforts will yield no more than incremental productivity gains. … With virtually every large company already on board, the B2B thing will soon be as over as yesterdays mania for Internet stocks. And while B2B isnt going to make shareholders any poorer, its not going to make them a whole lot richer, either."
Unfortunately, to CEOs and bean counters "productivity gains" typically means that fewer people can do the same amount of work, enabling savings by laying off "redundant staff." That formula yields a company with no more customer-satisfaction capacity than before; there is no increase in its ability to earn money.
Instead of striving to boost profits by being leaner and meaner (and I do mean "meaner" to customers, as well as employees), Hamel argues that the Internet should be used to increase revenue through radically different, customer-centric e-commerce initiatives.
He cites the music industrys wake-up call, delivered by Napster. "Why, in a digital world, should a customer pay for plastic disks, packaging and inventory costs? It shouldnt take a near-death experience to get a company working customer-forward." Hes right. Any company that insists on preserving its old-fashioned business processes for comforts sake will lose customers to new, nothing-to-lose competitors.
Theres a huge backlog of remedial work to be done on existing B2C sites.
For a simple example, I wish someone would call on the folks at BilliardFanatic.com and explain that I do not want to click through all the big-ticket cue cases in its catalog to find one that holds one butt and two shafts. I want to specify the configuration and see a list of all such cases and their prices.
Government sites are no better. They are typically organized by agency and department—as if a citizen knows which obscure nest of bureaucroids issues licenses to collect road-killed animals.
Lets get all of those government requirements organized by private-sector functions, and index the search engines by common English phrases instead of legal-code section numbers. (While were at it, lets break Westlaws monopoly on the text of the law.)
Ive flamed Home Depot for its pathetic Web site in the past. Hamel outlines a brilliant B2C paradigm for the home-improvement industry. He asks, "Whats the orthodoxy at Home Depot? That its the customers problem to find and integrate the components of a big, do-it-yourself project. Whats the alternative? Selling solutions via the Internet."
Actually, a third alternative is to go out of business. Run that one past your prospects.