2001: An Ebusiness Odyssey?

While some regard the upcoming holiday as the true beginning of the new
millennium, Chinese folklore refers to 2001 as the year of the “Snake
Sleeping in Winter.”

“In this particular snake year, there is an association with potential
hardship and difficulties to overcome,” reports Chinatown Online. “Your
network of support may be a significant asset during these difficult times.”

Dire words or sage advice? If you are running an online business, listen
carefully. So far, this era has been tumultuous (at best). With a landslide
of virtual doors shutting, stock prices slumping and unemployment lines
increasing, many e-operators are making the New Year a time to reflect on
how to sustain their businesses in a difficult climate.

Dot-com resolutions being made for this coming year include re-evaluating
business models, streamlining Web site designs and getting busy with some
good, old-fashioned customer service.

“Simply put, 2001 is the year of the customer,” said Nick Cohen, CEO of
collegerecruiting.com, a Web site where college recruiters and high school
students are matched based on academics, arts and athletics. “This is not a
time to focus on crazy growth or outspending the competition. It is a time
to build relations.

“Our goal is profitability. We will obtain that by focusing on our
customers,” he said. “We are providing our clients — both the universities
and the students — with a quality experience through micromanagement. The
business that listens to its customers and has a high level of customer
satisfaction is the business that succeeds.”

Ditto, said David Gold, CEO of Prosavvy.com, which assists companies in
selecting professional and consulting service providers. “Among our New
Year’s resolutions is to improve trust management, customer relations
management and customer education.”

The strategy entails focusing on existing relationships. “This is key,”
said Gold. “We have implemented software that makes it easier for our
salespeople to stay in touch with their clients and help them to understand
how our e-procurement tools work.”

Communication also comes in the form of a weekly “tip” sheet that is
emailed to clients. “Instead of sending generic emails, we are now sending
electronic newsletters that are much more personalized via membership
profile account managers.

“Overall, the steps we have put in place are designed to reassure and
reaffirm that we are a successful business that is going to be around,” Gold
said. “Historically, when the economy goes soft, it is the customer service
positions that are the first to go. I think that is a mistake. We want our
clients to know that someone is always available to talk to them.”

Providing superior service is the only way to drive down customer
acquisition costs over time, points out Deslie Webb, CEO of eGulliver.com, a
recently launched travel company. “This is something we have watched other
Internet companies struggle with and get burned by in 2000,” she said.

“In 2001 our goal is to provide our customers with a superior travel
planning experience such that they will be inclined to tell everyone about
us and will return to eGulliver for their next vacation,” she said.

“Customer service is best established by building a database and
interacting with the audience through permission-based marketing,” noted
Brian Hoover, CEO of Touchscape, an ASP that helps clients to improve
customer service and online communications.

“Our point is that 2000 was a great year to build and learn. Now, in
2001, you need to create an interactive environment and clearly
communication your value proposition. That key lies in micromanagement and
mass customization,” he said. “You have to have customer personalization and
you need to have a site that is more than a static brochure. It is
imperative to track customers and be responsive to their needs.”

Managing the

Info

Success in the coming year all comes down to one thing: managing the
information that you already have, observed Peter Marino, an analyst with
Jupiter Research.

“Improving customer communications is a key factor achieving success in
the new year,” Marino says. “How companies respond to customer complaints
and keep them up to date on deliveries and point of contact is crucial.”

Most companies have the organizational abilities to accomplish this feat,
according to Marino, but many need to make an investment in technology to
help them do things better.

Web site redesign is a means of implementing new technologies to improve
the customer’s online experience, noted John Stanard, president, WebWorld
Studios Inc., a content management solutions provider.

“A Web site cannot be all things to all people,” he explained. “If you
try to make a site to serve all audiences, you end up with a home page and a
navigational scheme that underserves the key audience.”

As an example, Stanard describes a client who had an existing Web site
homepage with over 19 different buttons on it. “One button said
‘Products & Services’ and was nearly the same size as a button that said
‘Careers.’ The design falsely implicated that serving the audience of
potential recruit candidates was just as important to them as serving their
target audience: those who are interested in purchasing their products and
services.

“There were boxes all over the page with different content in them, lots
of different colors — it was very confusing,” he said. “As part of the
redesign, we made it very easy for their key audience, the prospects, to
find the section of the site they needed. Thus a non-functional site was
transformed into a location focused on serving the company’s key audience.”

A whole sector of companies are realizing they needed to migrate from
static web pages to become something more client-focused and more dynamic,
agreed Tom Ferrara, CEO of CareerEngine.com, an ASP that builds, hosts and
maintains customized career centers.

“Web companies are trying to do more and more and they are spreading
their product base far too wide,” said Ferrara. “To create brand awareness,
you need to realize that a Web site cannot be all things to all people.
Focusing on customer service and gaining referrals through satisfied clients
is what will keep you profitable.”

Partnering with other companies is also a means of staying strong, he
advised. “We have allies that provide complementary services,” he said. “For
example, we build career sites, so we have partnered with companies that
provide such services as online human resources and payroll. It is a lead
swap program.”

This is a time to trim fat, spend wisely and focus on results, he
concluded. “Your aim is to be profitable. Don’t try to be a $100 million
company in one year; aim to be a $10 million company in two years.”

Tips for Dot-com Success

Some organizations have ambitious ideas but flawed executions, observed
Jeff Rigsby, CEO of virtualceo.com, a provider of real time,
technology-based business diagnostic tools, management decision-making
models and industry specific research and analysis.

“Our business helps companies to figure out how to get to where they want
to be.” he said. “Companies need to be aware of what their technology,
hierarchy and culture can handle — too often these things get neglected.”

Rigsby shared several tips for being a successful dot-com business in
2001:

  • Have a clear sense of your primary business focus and make sure that
    focus is communicated throughout your organization, from top to bottom.

  • Have a strong sense of the direct relationship between action and
    reward.

  • Maintain a keen sense of your competition and how it is positioned in
    the marketplace.

  • Management needs to demonstrate that it has made a commitment to

    customer service at the highest level.

  • Put a method into place that so that your workforce is aware of its
    goals and responsibilities.

“We have also tracked the ‘fatal flaws’ of many companies,” added Rigsby.
“Companies that don’t measure their customers’ needs or the competitive
landscape are sure to fail. Much like those companies that ignore issues
that surround business cycles or economic times. A final flaw in
organizational structure is to make no communication efforts within a
business organization. Whether it is via formal or informal communication,
you need to maintain a high level of awareness.”

A pragmatic approach to business is being taken by Peter Bendor-Samuel,
CEO of The Outsourcing Center, which specializes in outsourcing strategies.

“We are choosing to limit growth during the coming year” he said. “We want
to double our revenue and want to validate our product offering during the
new year. You have to have patience and you have to be methodical.

“The key to achieving our goal is for us to establish more than 50
success stories. We hope to drive $1 billion worth of transactions through
our site in 2001 by building on our existing sales strategy and working
closely with our sales force based in North America.”

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