Small-business buyers and sellers are about to get big-business tools as marketplace site BizBuyer.com Inc. completes a major overhaul of its e-commerce site this month.
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company, now slightly more than a year old, is centered on a sophisticated request for proposal (RFP) process that lets small-business buyers define their needs and receive bids from a variety of vendors.
Yet as it received feedback from customers, BizBuyer.com realized that its business-to-business RFP tools had some room for improvement.
"We needed to provide better tools and functionality and support to help both parties create and close deals," said BizBuyer.com CEO Bernard Louvat.
"For the buyer, this means allowing them to better manage the process so they're getting quotes that meet their needs. And for the vendor, it involves providing them better insight into the buyer's process so they can better serve up competitive quotes."
Too often, vendors would submit a quote and not only lose the business to a competitor but also not hear back from the buyer at all, Louvat said. The vendors would say, " 'Hey, it's not so much that we mind not getting the business, it's just that if we don't get the business we'd like to know why,'|" he said.
Specifically, buyers now have tools to better compare complex RFP responses in a side-by-side fashion, as well as the ability to more easily drop bids they aren't interested in to open up slots for incoming proposals. Finally, personalized message boards let buyers communicate privately with would-be suppliers.
Meanwhile, sellers get better tools for managing their bids, including the ability to view bids against which they're competing. Most important, the sellers also now get feedback from buyers on why their bids were rejected.
"With a more transparent system for buyers and vendors, vendors can see the details of competitive quotes and see what they're up against," said Lisa Smith, VP-Web site for BizBuyer.com. "They learn from this and better provide good quotes to the buyer." All of the changes came in response to months of feedback from users, including weekly focus groups at which the company could watch how buyers and sellers interacted with the site.
The end goal, of course, "is to move requests to closed deals" as quickly and painlessly as possible, Smith said.
Kiwitel Inc., a Garden Grove, Calif.-based reseller of communications equipment, has closed a few deals on BizBuyer.com. In the past, the vendor felt the bidding process "was a little bit blind, quite frankly," said Kiwitel President Ken Dever.
"Nine times out of 10, buyers are looking only at price," he said."For us, they don't realize that price shouldn't always be the determining factor in buying a large telecommunications system."
Dever hopes the site's new tools will let him have more interactions with potential buyers. For instance, he'd like to alert buyers when a competitor's bid is simply unrealistic, he said.
Analyst Vernan Keenan of Keenan Vision Inc., San Francisco, said he's not surprised sellers might find fault with the site.
"One criticism I have is that they don't provide much in the way of value-added services for suppliers," Keenan said. "No order management, no way to automate the business process of the seller."
Overall, though, Keenan rates BizBuyer.com's prospects in an increasingly crowded small-business market as "better than average." "I approve of the basic business model," he said. "In many of the industries they've targeted, there's no generally agreed upon way for buyers and sellers to meet."
Indeed, in addition to the new site functionality, BizBuyer.com has been tweaking its business strategy and target markets, in part to respond to an influx of competitors such as Onvia.com, DigitalWork.com and many others.
Rather than target very small companies of 10 employees or fewer, BizBuyer.com is focusing on the next swath of companies, with 10 to 1,000 employees. And while it still does the majority of its business at the BizBuyer.com domain, it has cut a number of high-profile deals to essentially re-sell its RFP service through Web sites, including Office.com, Work.Com and Staples.com.