Technology weds strategic marketing

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I thought the two were dating, or just good friends. The marriage of Internet sales and Web-based supply chain management seemed forever on the horizon.

The Internet has been dominated by the business-to-consumer phenomenon. I have purchased everything from printer ribbons to appliances on the Web. On the business-to-business side, we’ve heard about trade portals developed for the auto, chemical, energy and aircraft industries.

GM’s TradeXchange and the Big 3 Covisint portals have begun to redefine how suppliers behave. EDI changed our business landscape for the last four decades. We are facing change again in light of Internet technology.

Your competitor, or a partner, will soon leverage its strength in an electronic way, causing you to conform to its rules. Be proactive. Embrace the Internet and make Web strategy an integral part of your corporate culture. Prudent planning still rules the day. The Internet can no longer be treated as an afterthought or something to address when you have time.

This became evident to me as I completed a strategic marketing program for an Internet benchmarking company in Boston. Until now, much of the material developed for strategic marketing and planning had not addressed the Internet as a competitive weapon, even in light of the fact that the Small Business Administration predicts that 85 percent of small businesses will be involved in e-commerce by 2002.

As a leader and strategic planner in your company, you must step up and embrace the inevitable outcome and build your business to integrate Internet planning. This means integrating business events, information and applications.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, 70 percent of small businesses have access to the Internet. So, why the slow adoption rate by small businesses? Cost can be prohibitive if the proper ROI and cost-benefit analyses are not performed.

I have a client who generates about $2 million per year in revenue; clearly, a small business. The company is designing a new Web site, a datamart for sales and marketing analysis and an inventory system. These will be integrated seamlessly, giving my client a true snapshot of how customers purchase and how markets should be segmented. It is not as costly as you might think.

The difference in this client’s behavior is the willingness to embrace technology, integrate systems to operate holistically and insert Internet planning in the strategic mentality. This business started by taking orders over the telephone.

It predicts business will grow three times in the next five years. The money saved by integrating its Web site with back office systems is significant.

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Make changes to your strategic planning. Look at business processes, marketing segmentation and partner relationships and consider how the Internet can help. Many initiatives can be undertaken for a modest investment. Learn to walk first.

2. Listen to IT and involve it in the process. IT professionals are more business savvy than they are given credit for.

3. Get out of the box. The Internet is the tool small business needs to level the playing field. If you want to play with the big kids, you have to get off the front porch swing.

4. Integrate your applications to support business processes, front to back. Tim Steele is the sales director for Idea Integration and president of ADI Consulting. A Cuyahoga Falls resident, Steele specializes in sales management, target marketing, account management and strategic planning. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]