At no time in the history of commerce has any business ever survived without building sustainable relationships with its stakeholders. It is really unfortunate that our e-commerce ecosystem has normalized the abnormal, and takes relationships for granted. Without any doubt, taking relationships for granted has been another source of the downfall of most e-commerce companies.
Anywhere in the world, the success of e-commerce companies is based on relationships and not sympathy from the main stakeholders who include and not limited to investors, suppliers, and customers. Let us be honest with each other and not turn a blind eye to reality; investors, suppliers, and customers are selfish beings, seeking to fulfill their own selfish desires and not to make you rich or wealthy. Profitability becomes an unintended by-product of their selfish desires being satisfied.
As an example, suppliers want to squeeze you of every coin that you have in the bank, as it is human nature that every seller expects the highest price possible for their product or service, and they don’t really care what happens to you after the exchange of money. Business is about profitability, and for as long as that selfish desire is fulfilled, suppliers will always be happy to conduct business with you.
On the other hand, customers are looking for bargains or the lowest price possible, because they don’t want to pay more when a possibility to pay less exists. Even the high net worth people, some of them still expect to get the best prices, and loosely translated, best price is a politically correct term of saying the lowest price.
Now, a closer analysis of the aforementioned conflicting interests between the supplier and customer groups, one realizes that businesses are always caught up in a war zone of contradictory desires to satisfy. Nonetheless, the most successful corporates have managed to cultivate workable solutions that ensure that management of these contradictory interests leaves all parties with some sense of satisfaction.
Never fool yourself into believing that you simply have to manage just one constituency of your stakeholder community, as there has to be equilibrium in balancing the various interests, otherwise one of the stakeholder groups can make a decision to explore its options.
In addition, as a matter of fact, the internet has opened up the world market and suppliers and customers have so much choice nowadays. Now, a guy in Harare can sell any handcrafted ware to a person in Bangkok without any knowledge of where Bangkok is, or setting foot in Thailand. Therefore, these new age entrepreneurs overplay their importance in our local e-commerce ecosystem.
Zimbabwe’s population is just but a pocket change of the global population, and if you can’t get the basics correct locally, honestly, I am not sure whether it is not an illusion that you believe you can make it globally where the operational standards are a bit higher, and efficiency is of paramount importance.
Daymond John, the marketing genius behind the clothing apparel FUBU, says start with your local territory and become a local hero, which in layman’s terms means first become popular in your hometown or country before you can even think of being a global hit.
Amazon did its apprenticeship in the United States first, before it penetrated the globe. Same for Alibaba, it got its hands dirty in China before it opened itself up for business to the rest of the world. WeChat is another partial e-commerce company which nobody pays attention to outside China that has the potential to turn e-commerce on its head, as it is silently building up its infrastructure in China away from the preying eyes of the world. That is how you attract attention, by having local cheerleaders.
Be that as it maybe, I fail to understand why the local e-commerce entrepreneurs treat customers like dirt when they should be building sustainable relationships with them. A customer or supplier, for example, is not a difficult component of commerce to please because everyone knows their interests, and they don’t ask for too much.
Now, a glance at our e-commerce ecosystem, it is so broken to the extent that nobody trusts anybody. There is a need for some good hygiene to be introduced into this ecosystem.
Shiying Liu and Martha Avery co-authors of the book Alibaba: The inside story behind Jack Ma and the creation of the World’s Biggest Online Marketplace wrote that “To educate policy makers and to bring a critical mass of Internet entrepreneurs together in a kind of lobbying force, Jack Ma created a series of different kinds of conferences.”
They proceeded to state that,”On June 12, 2004, more than a thousand China “Net business” representatives gathered in Hangzhou for the first annual meeting of the Entrepreneurs Summit, also known as the Alifest. The E-Commerce Association and Alibaba hosted the meeting. The gathering of so many senior business people was one indication of the gradual maturing of an interactive Internet business model. Sessions provided an opportunity for Alibaba to display e-commerce methods to China’s traditional industries and enterprises.”
In conclusion, the authors highlighted what Alibaba was doing differently as compared to the West, “Yahoo!’s co-founder Jerry Yang attended the meeting, expressing surprise at the numbers of people attending. “This is the first time I have even heard people talking about ‘Net business,’” he noted. “America doesn’t really have this. I myself had not appreciated the usefulness of the Internet as a tool for small and medium-sized enterprises to transact business. Our model is generally just revenue from ads.” Ad revenue on the Internet is now around $40 billion, making Jerry Yang’s focus on ad revenue understandable.”
The lesson from Alibaba hosting the Alifest is that they have educated the policy makers, investors and another critical stakeholder in their operations, the small and medium-sized enterprises, whilst also lobbying their cause without needing to visit all the constituencies separately. Jerry Yang through Yahoo! in later years would invest in Alibaba.
I am always of the opinion that live events have far better reach than traditional marketing. If an e-commerce company can organize a conference or event whose main purpose is to create brand awareness whilst allowing free