Online consumer marketing has long been a high-profile discussion
topic. But how much of the experience gained in that market applies to
business-to-business (b2b)? Should business marketers consider the web
as a medium to increase customer loyalty and reduce customer acquisition
B2b marketers face different challenges to their business-to-consumer
(b2c) counterparts. The most notable of these is that the purchasing
decision between businesses is a longer, more involved process than
consumer purchasing. It requires input from people in both the vendor's
and the customer's organisations. It also needs frequent post-sales
interaction between vendors and customers, to support the sale and cut
customer acquisition costs through repeat buys.
Until recently, the focus of b2b has been almost exclusively on trade
exchanges - web sites with real-time trading capabilities between
customers and suppliers. These might be high-profile, but the excesses
of the internet boom mean that many have failed to deliver.
Increasingly, businesses are building the services provided by exchanges
into their intranets and extranets.
Firms are also moving beyond static brochure web sites and are building
interactive, personalisable sites for their suppliers and customers
(extranets) and for their staff (intranets). This approach is based on
the concept of a personalisable web portal like My Yahoo!.
Firms in industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals (Merck Sharp & Dohme)
to facilities management (Honeywell) are using portal software to change
the way they market to customers. Portals enable vendors to provide
customer access to internal and external content sources, as well as
interactive tools - all in a personalisable user interface. Customers
can interact at multiple levels in the vendor's organisation. In turn,
vendors are rewarded with a higher frequency of interaction - helping
them to differentiate from rivals.
The use of portals might hold the key to fulfilling the internet's
promise as an interactive, value-added medium. The marketers' Holy Grail
is building close customer relationships. Personalised, interactive
portals can equip firms with the tools to do just that.