Does it really take a whole village to market b-to-b?

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In a week when the future of our country hinges on ballot counting in a small Florida county, it seems fitting to assert that to a large degree all e-commerce, like all politics, is essentially local.

This seems a contrary statement indeed. Aren't we moving to a single global market, where e-business transactions and marketing messages seamlessly cross borders like never before? Yes we are.

Yet at the same time the world gets smaller, our minds-and our marketing and e-business strategies-need to get larger. The global b-to-b economy is not a one-size-fits-all world.

Consider the case of electronics e-marketplace Inc., discussed in this issue's e-commerce section. The company is forging local partnerships in Germany and Japan to fuel its globalization. Says company President-COO Andy Wilson, "A bunch of entrepreneurs from the U.S. probably aren't going to get the warmest reception showing up on doorsteps in Asia."

The rest of the world may still be about 12 to 18 months behind the U.S. in deploying b-to-b e-commerce solutions, as most analysts contend. But the globe is ripe with opportunity. Forrester Research Inc., for instance, predicts 6% of all European trade will flow through b-to-b e-marketplaces by 2005. A recent International Data Corp. study found "ample opportunity" in Latin America, with the caveat that b-to-b marketplaces there must provide localized services.

There's no doubt the vision of a single global e-commerce marketplace is appealing. Ever see the IBM Corp. TV commercial in which a small supplier in Texas wins an Internet auction being held in a typical Japanese, keiretsu-style boardroom?

A marketer's dream

What's missing from this pipe dream is all the before-the-fact work required to land such a deal: the global marketing strategy, the grueling pre-auction qualification sessions, the massive preparation required to overcome global tax and customs issues. It's never as simple as it looks on television.

B-to-b marketers must help their companies overcome this challenging big world-small world problem. E-business opportunities may arise at all the ends of the earth. But the companies and individuals representing those opportunities want to be treated on their own terms, according to local or regional custom and practice. A global village? More precisely, a globe of villages.

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