Being successful at B2B e-Commerce is hard for both buyers and suppliers! Unfortunately, despite the hype, there are more stories of failure than success out there. Why haven’t we made more progress? Who’s to blame? These are valid questions, but there is one question that, if we can answer it, might hold the key to success.
Why has Consumer e-Commerce adoption blown past B2B e-Commerce?
Speaking as someone who has been in B2B e-Commerce since the days EDI was considered a “killer app“, and acknowledging that are some “complexities” in B2B that don’t exist in the consumer world, I am going to try to answer this question by noting three things that consumer e-Commerce does better than B2B e-Commerce:
- Usability – How many clicks and screens does it take to search for an item and place an order in SAP SRM? I don’t know exactly, but I do know it’s a lot more than ordering from Amazon! For years, B2B was all about how much functionality can we jam into a screen … the problem being you use 10% of the functionality 90% of the time. Consumer sites rightly focus on that 10%.
- Content – In the consumer world, all the content is available right on the web. You don’t have to join a supplier network or get a catalog file loaded to place an order. Although many B2B suppliers have invested heavily in their web sites, the majority have not, at least when you take into account the total number of suppliers. There are many reasons for this, some valid (e-Procurement system integration issues), some not so valid (don’t see the ROI).
- Technology – Ever hear the terms mash-up, widgets, AJAX, intelligent agents, REST, meta-search, RSS and JSON in the context of B2B technology? You probably hear terms like database, SQL, JDBC and HTML more often. The previously mentioned terms (e.g. mash-up, widgets, etc.) are all commonly used Web 2.0 technologies and protocols that make up the consumer e-Commerce “stack”. Note that they don’t replace the B2B technologies (e.g. database, SQL, etc.), but enhance their capabilities by providing an abstraction layer on top of them to make them more “web sensitive”, which makes it easier to do things like federated search and secure content syndication, without dedicated connections, using only the Web “as is”.
So, at the end of the day, consumer e-Commerce has simplified the online buying process by combining great usability with robust, easily available content; easily accessed via “web sensitive” technologies.
Now here’s the good news. B2B now gets it! You’ve been hearing for years about B2B providers who are “consumerizing” the B2B user experience (e.g. #1). Every day, more and more suppliers make their content available on the Web, and there are now providers out there who can build and even host B2B websites for as little as $5,000 a year (e.g. #2).
And what is enabling these changes is the technology (#3). As more and more B2B providers innovate and adapt consumer e-Commerce technologies to their B2B problems, B2B e-Commerce adoption will ultimately take off just like consumer e-Commerce did in the early 2000’s! To ensure this happens, it is important for users to engage these innovative providers, versus signing up for the same old solution from the same old provider (a wise man once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“).
I guess the question now becomes, which of these innovative providers is going to be the eBay / Amazon / Google / etc. of the B2B world?