If you build it, will they come?

It’s a question that weighs heavily on every manager launching a B2B e-commerce platform: If you build it, will they come? Though he may not be able to answer that question for you, Steve Easterbrook, manager of e-business at Grand & Toy, has some useful tips on building successful B2B platforms. And the good news is that it may be easier than you think.

Building and maintaining a profitable B2B e-commerce platform is an ambitious proposition.

But it is far more manageable and cost-effective than you might think if it’s implemented using a company’s existing assets and competencies. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; it’s just a matter of capitalizing on evolving technologies and systems to enhance well-established capabilities.

Consider the resources already available to most B2B providers, including a sales and distribution network, product, employees and customers. With these in place, the seeds of a viable e-commerce solution are already well planted.

The key to e-commerce success — and the truly ambitious part of the initiative — is how well a company manages the integration process; not just the integration of new systems and technologies, but the integration of departmental expertise — from IT to marketing to back-end logistics; and most importantly, the integration of the customer knowledge.

Leveraging existing knowledge

Grand & Toy’s current electronic ordering system, grandandtoy.com, leverages lessons learned from two earlier systems: the telephone-based ALEX system developed in1988, followed by the DOS-based OrderPoint in 1996. The organization relied on customer feedback at every stage of development to help it define strengths and weaknesses and ultimately to give it the concepts required to develop the current Internet-based system, grandandtoy.com.

“There were no best practices to follow in the early days, so it was a combination of ingenuity and trial and error with willing customers,” said Pete Vanexan, President, Grand & Toy. “And the fact is, to maintain an innovative edge, the same approach holds true today.”

Without sufficient integration at all levels, a company is either forced to look elsewhere for the expertise or fiddle with its core business, both of which ultimately limit the internal knowledge needed to innovate — to say nothing of the extra costs. For example, companies often outsource the building and maintenance of e-commerce platforms. Yet the outsourcing firms have little connection with the front- and back-end layers of the organization, nor do they fully relate to the customer service culture that is so critical to B2B success.

Most importantly, B2B e-commerce solutions require a certain leap of faith on behalf of customers vis-

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