BtoB

March 27, 2000: 'BtoB' debuts as marketers' expectations for e-commerce seem boundless

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In BtoB 's debut issue, which appeared March 27, 2000, MarchFirst CEO Robert Bernard uttered a phrase that captures the feeling of that moment in time, just weeks before the dot-com bubble burst.

"Market cap heroin."

Bernard used those words to describe how executives at dot-com companies consoled themselves with their high market capitalization even when, deep down, they suspected that their business model might be lacking.

The pursuit of "market cap heroin" also applied to bricks-and-mortar companies joining together to form e-marketplaces and other Web-oriented efforts to get themselves a bit of Wall Street riches. In those days, everybody was angling to go public; everybody was going to get rich with an Internet scheme.

That is the striking thing about perusing the stories that make up BtoB' s inaugural issue: The lion's share of moves companies made at the time were, in hindsight, clearly motivated by get-rich-quick schemes and not by sustainable business strategy.

Despite his prescient turn of phrase, even Bernard and his e-services consultancy became one of many spectacular dot-com flameouts.

In addition to an article on MarchFirst, BtoB's first issue contained stories on a number of eventual Internet casualties, ranging from Enron to PurchasePro.

But even though the issue covered many companies that are either long gone or just shadows of their former selves, it doesn't feel like a museum piece. Overall, it is a remarkably current document that chronicled companies looking for answers to the question still being asked today: How can the Internet make b-to-b marketing more effective?

This magazine has a heritage dating back to 1916, when it was launched as Class. Over the years, it was renamed Industrial Marketing and later Business Marketing. When it was relaunched as BtoB five years ago, its charter was to cover the impact of the Internet on b-to-b marketing.

At the time of BtoB' s launch, a fascination with e-commerce between companies made the b-to-b sector an unlikely darling on Wall Street. The first issue testifies to this phenomenon with a story exploring how Lands' End was promoting its b-to-b bonafides-and getting large stock gains from it.

The lead story on the front page was the announcement by Daimler Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. that they jointly planned to launch an e-marketplace for the automotive industry. Even though this particular e-marketplace, which would eventually be called Covisint, never became the world-changing Web site many thought it would be, the story remains important.

Why? Because the announcement sent a clear signal regarding the future that would come to pass: Smokestack companies had no plans to cede the brave new world of the Internet to dot-com startups. The headline on the story was "The Empire Strikes Back."

Even if e-marketplaces never dominated e-commerce as some pundits predicted, the fact is e-commerce has come to play a huge part in b-to-b transactions. But the real benefit is not realized in third-party portals as much as it is in streamlined electronic supply chain systems implemented by a single company, such as Dell Computer Corp., with its suppliers.

Many of the advertisers in BtoB's debut issue are still thriving. There was a fractional ad from The Wall Street Journal, using a headline that reflected the Zeitgeist: "THE WALL hurry, someone else is about to come up with that idea STREET JOURNAL." HSR Business to Business, a Cincinnati-based advertising agency, bought five ad pages. Other advertisers have vanished, most notably The Industry Standard , a once high-flying new-media publication.

Amid the preoccupation with the Web's transformative powers, there were some clearheaded words of caution. Marc Teren, who was then the new CEO of Cahners (now known as Reed Business Information), said in a profile that media companies should focus on content rather than leaping headlong into e-commerce. "The Internet," he said, "is a medium regardless of its e-commerce potential." He added: "The goal of owning marketplaces versus facilitating marketplaces is something we need to think long and hard about."

Perhaps the best window on the dot-com era in BtoB 's debut issue is the list of 25 "e-champions," the people who were "the business elite behind the e-commerce revolution." On that list are some who are still rising stars. L. Gordon Crovitz was on the list for his involvement in Dow Jones & Co.'s Internet strategy. He is now president of the company's electronic publishing group. Five years ago, he predicted, "Content will be the ultimate source of value on the Internet, especially when it's combined with top-quality functionality."

Similarly, J. Erik Fyrwald was on the list as CEO of CapSpan, an Internet affiliate of DuPont. He is now group VP of DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition.

Among the list of e-champions are some who have since fallen from grace, most notably Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay from Enron Corp. Skilling is quoted as saying, "Innovation is listening to people even when you think they are crazy, not hanging people when they make mistakes or fail."

Also on the list was Charles E. Johnson Jr., former chairman-CEO of PurchasePro.com, who was indicted in January for allegedly inflating revenue after the dot-com bust to prop up the company's stock price. In a Washington Post story earlier this year, Johnson's lawyer was quoted as saying, "Junior is a corporate American hero," because he "put every dime" he had into PurchasePro and "walked away with nothing."

Sadly, another of BtoB 's e-champions was Michael Packer, managing director at Merrill Lynch & Co., who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the post 9/11 world, it's hard to remember that there was a time when b-to-b e-commerce was one of the biggest stories on earth.

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