Drop The Drawbridge!

In 1992, I was the 460th cell phone adopter in the San Francisco Bay area. I know this because my phone number was 415 999-0460, and Motorola told me the numbers were being assigned sequentially. They anticipated only a small subset of the population would ever want them.

Fast forward to Apple introducing the iPhone in 2007. It was the first truly personal computer, and the velocity of uptake and innovation enabled by customizable "apps" exploded. Mobile software companies drove both new virtual activities like texting, mobile gaming, and photo-sharing, and eventually they created platforms and programs for new, phone-based ways to access familiar services like summoning a ride or making a bank deposit. Consumers loved the 24/7 convenience and personalized new tools.

Inside corporations, innovation in the form of intranets, database management software and process automation had a huge impact beginning in the 1980s. But for the last decade or more, technology innovation has stalled. When I talk with high-level information technology executives at some of America's largest enterprises these days, they say their leadership and peers are preoccupied with infrastructure issues like network response time and security.

What we are finding at Inxeption is that at many large corporations, the focus on network speed and security keep an IT department busy, but it may mask a real deficit in customer-oriented innovation throughout the enterprise. I believe customers — and I'm talking about business customers, not consumers — feel that distance more than ever because their phones have convinced them they should expect more. Their bank makes it easier to pay bills, they can videoconference from a job site or shop floor, and their travel program is warning them about airport delays and suggesting alternatives.

What are their suppliers doing for them?

Near as we can tell, many are just encouraging them to periodically change their passwords to log onto an online catalog. And they're urging them to speak with a sales representative, account manager, or a middleman broker or distributor, to work through their business needs. In a way, those castle walls they so diligently reinforce have become a barrier to direct communication.

The LED light company Noribachi let down the drawbridge. Noribachi connected end-users directly to manufacturing, bypassing a sales force and lighting brokers. And within one day of enabling mobile orders (literally industrial lighting systems designed and ordered on a phone), 50% of the company's sales of custom lighting fixtures arrived over the mobile interface.

The two worlds I'm writing about here are coming together at Inxeption. The innovations in personal technology are allowing business customers to communicate with a business partner and submit an order as easily from an airport lounge as from behind a desk. Meanwhile, for the manufacturer, capturing more and more customer data that your sales team or distributor middlemen used to control, and allowing a more transparent transaction, has both immediate and long-term benefits and cost-savings.

Middlemen long have tried to be the interpreters of customer needs and preferences, and manufacturers may design products and systems based on their filters. Is it surprising middlemen are biased to emphasize what supports their own profits in these transactions? Of course not, that's what middlemen do. A few may do it in a way where everybody wins. The rest are cutting manufacturers out of an opportunity to expand their interactions with customers and improve that relationship for mutual benefit.

Customers have personal technology that's made them comfortable and happy talking with partners — in life, in banking, in book-buying, in ride-sharing, in investing — directly. In fact, studies show that when B2B companies implement ecommerce, 80% say their customers' expectations have changed because of B2C practices. The companies that use online transactions to understand and better serve those customers and work in partnership with them to grow their business, are going to win big. Inxeption's mission is to make that happen. We cut out the middlemen, we enable convenient and more satisfying transactions, and we make possible high-value products that delight business customers.

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