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Why do B2B firms still not “get” the internet?

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The World Wide Web has been (and remains) awesome and terrifying all at once, but while there’s much to celebrate from progress already made, as the founder of a B2B tech company I believe that small businesses in particular have a long way to go to truly harness the capabilities of the internet.

In my last post, on the unnecessary talking-up of the tech bubble 2.0, I highlighted a few noteworthy examples of companies already pushing ahead in an effort to take modern industry along for the ride: HootSuite, the social media dashboard; Marketo, a leader in SaaS providing its customers exquisite levels of precise marketing automation. blur Group has pushed hard to encourage evolution of software in the creation of Services as a Transaction (SaaT) – our customers buy procurement services online and pay for project management tools solely for the duration of their project.

However, despite so many resources and platforms at their disposal and a range of generous pricing plans, small businesses have yet to – borrowing a leaf from Sheryl Sandberg – lean in.

The consumer tech world has helped online businesses; in fact, on Cyber Monday of last year, 36.8 million items were ordered through Amazon globally – that’s 426 items per second. Social media has blossomed so much that modern peer-reviewed journals now feature psychological studies on how Facebook impacts well-being and satisfaction.

While online consumer-facing businesses have a lot to celebrate, online B2B businesses are yet to get a seat at the table. According to the last survey done by the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), 95 per cent of businesses have email addresses and 74 per cent maintain a website, but given that websites and email were web 1.0 fanfare, it’s also important to look at how they are using project management tools rendered possible by Web 2.0, online collaboration; cloud computing. 

Sadly only 20 per cent of businesses are using the internet for tendering processes, sharing resources and file storage. The numbers are far more dismal when looking at small businesses of veteran years – uptake figures steadily worsen, with entrepreneurs who have owned businesses for more than twenty years most disadvantaged: 12 per cent have used shared resources, such as cloud computing platforms, and only 16 per cent have harnessed online tendering opportunities.

While online B2B platforms are probing the boundaries, and revolutionizing traditional ways of doing business, it feels as though the SMEs on the demand-side are more hesitant. When they finally understand what 2.0 has to offer, there’ll be real reason to celebrate.

Philip Letts is founder and CEO of technology company blur Group.

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