The keys to success in developing a successful e-commerce strategy

Before you start reading this, cast your mind back to November 1999. That was when I wrote this. When I gave my employer back then the following piece of advice w.r.t. implementing the eCommerce strategy , they did not heed it.

Don’t patronise, don’t try to sell – allow people to buy. Build trust and guarantee confidentiality, privacy and ultimately freedom.

I wonder why?

1.   Give up control

This is the first and most important shift that must be made and is probably the hardest for established, successful companies to make because it always has been such an integral part of their success until now. But it is vital.

The basis of power & wealth in previous era were first Land, then Resources from the Land, and most recently Capital. All of these resources could be controlled by and amassed by individuals. It could be controlled and taxed by Governments, and even redistributed to the poor or those in favour. In the New World where the critical resource is intellectual capital, there is absolutely and definitively NO control over it. Intelligence cannot be amassed, it cannot be controlled, censored or taxed or redistributed. The mind is the freest thing in the world. Attempts at Knowledge Management will fail dismally if it continues along its current paradigm of attempting to control information. Most current attempts at KM are nothing but glorified databases, and will remain so until its proponents learn to let go.

The Internet as a medium connects minds. It has its roots in spirit of freedom and its total freedom is what attracts people to it. Any business model that is based on the premise that it is going to control a user or a customer is bound to fail. The very existence of hackers demonstrates the evil end of this desire people have not be ruled or controlled. A business model that enables this freedom, values it and enhances it - will succeed. This may sound naïve, but the Internet is a result of people’s search for freedom and they will not give up that newly found freedom. In practice this approach merely means that one should allow a community to dictate the content and the nature of the business of that community. This is Marketing 101 – give the customer what it wants.

2.   The key resource: People

It is easily verifiable that the technical skills required to run such an e-commerce venture are in very scarce supply. But they can still be bought. It is even harder to find people who understand the culture of the Net and have the business savvy to make it work both ways. Any venture that is not staffed with the right people is doomed to failure. It will require people with the heart and the guts to want to make it work. Don’t underestimate the difficulty in finding people to staff a venture like this. And not only the number of people, but also the right quality of people will hard to find because they are in world-wide demand and command salaries that are beyond its true economic value.

3.   The same rules apply

The more things change the more they stay the same. People don’t and won’t change their personalities and values overnight.

On a corporate level, the same things that make businesses successful today will make them succesful in the future. Good strategy, sufficient capital, sound decision making, responsiveness to customer needs, good marketing and controlling the money are the things that make business go round now and always will.

On an individual level, customers want to be treated with respect, be able to buy the products and services they want when they want and pay a reasonable price for it. That is something that is not unique to any part of the world but a fundamental human trait. The Internet does not change the fundamentals, but indeed takes it to a new level of possibility. The Net gives people freedom to shop when they want and where they want on a scale not imagined before – a perfect opportunity that gives them complete freedom and perfect control.

4.   Connect, converse, convert

The Internet is about empowerment and ‘enablement’. The Net is about communicating. Create a conversation stream with the customer – in fact all the stakeholders – and keep it going. Don’t patronise, don’t try to sell – allow people to buy. Build trust and guarantee confidentiality, privacy and ultimately freedom.

One of the biggest misnomers today is the term relationship management. It is the most patronising piece of jargon to be coined in recent times – if not ever -that I can think of.  Just like relationship management may technically be the same as love, no person on the receiving end will ever confuse the two. A true relationship just is, and is not subject to ‘management’. This is a universal truth and the same applies on the Internet. Consumers want to be ‘loved’ (treated with respect for whom they are) and they do not want to be data that can be managed. Loyalty is earned – not manipulated.

This aspect is the most uniquely identifying trait of the cyberworld – not because it is new (it is in fact eternal)- but because it is now possible. It is the key to coming to grips with the new laws of doing business and failure to understand this is a guarantee for failure.