Ex-execs scrutinize demise of BizBuyer

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These days, ex-marketer Paolo Consiglio is a Los Angeles-based venture capitalist who advises start-ups on the ins and outs of surviving the most perilous market in recent memory. His clients should heed his words, if for no other reason than to avoid the fate of Consiglio’s former company, now-defunct b-to-b small business hub Inc.

"We were blindsided by how hard it was to build a corporation," said Consiglio, who was senior VP-marketing and commerce at Santa Monica, Calif.-based BizBuyer, which shut down in January. "Without having the fundamentals in place, [companies] are not going to last."

In interviews with BtoB, Consiglio and other top BizBuyer marketers pointed to a lack of a coherent marketing strategy at the company, whose mission had been to connect small businesses and
vendors. Among their contentions:

•Marketing efforts should have been more niche-oriented.

•The marketing strategy was reactionary and shifted too often.

•The company’s perception that vendors wanted to sell to small businesses online may have been off the mark.

Cathy Finley, who was director-advertising and communications, said BizBuyer should have focused its efforts on targeted advertising.

"We went a little too mass marketing," said Finley, who was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble Co. before joining BizBuyer and is now director-marketing at b-to-b software vendor Guidance Solutions Inc.

In the go-go marketing environment of 1999, the company spent aggressively on outdoor and radio advertising, spending that might not have been very effective at reaching the company’s niche customer base, Finley said. "When you’re not trying to reach everyone, you can target more efficiently," she said.

BizBuyer didn’t make targeted print advertising a key part of its marketing until 2000 and perhaps should have done so earlier, Finley said.

Finley and other former BizBuyer marketers did not reveal marketing budgets. BizBuyer raised $70 million in venture capital, some of which was returned to investors after the company ceased operations.

Constant tweaking

BizBuyer should have chosen a single-minded marketing strategy and stuck to it, said Cynthia Hill, who was director-membership marketing. "We would constantly shift things based on what was going on in the marketplace," said Hill, now a customer relationship management executive in Los Angeles. "We probably should have stuck with a strategy, but that was the nature of an Internet company. We were constantly tweaking our business model."

BizBuyer’s marketers say the company might have had a better chance of succeeding if small businesses were ready to buy online. "We were early," Consiglio said.

Finley said BizBuyer may have overestimated the keenness vendors had for selling to small and midsize businesses. "They didn’t want to sell two telephones, they wanted to sell a lot of them," she said. "Then we attempted to upsell to midsized businesses, but that became more difficult."

Assessing BizBuyer’s brief existence, Hill said, "We all kind of look back and try to figure out what went wrong. We had a lot of smart people," she said.

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