Return to: GROK Dot Com 7/15/2000

“Internet, Shminternet!”
Think back. Waaaaaay back to the dinosaur days. All the way back to…1997. Three whole years ago. The best brains of technology and business were feverishly at work chasing the Next Big Thing: e-commerce. They were young. Brilliant. Talented. Visionary. And they were going to transform the world of sales. Profits, while distant, were inevitable, and inevitably enormous. And amid all the hype, a 69-year-old (!) businessman took a careful look, and warned his son (who happened to be, and still is, one of those visionaries), “Internet, shminternet.”

Two flavorful words that tell a whole story. A story born of over 50-years’ experience in selling, and through that experience, understanding people and what it takes to turn browsers into buyers. And the story is simple: the technology may be new, but people aren’t.

Smoke signals didn’t change human nature or psychology or the dynamics of buying and selling, the printing press didn’t, nor the telegraph, nor the telephone, nor radio nor television. Buying and selling have been going on for thousands of years, and the fundamental sales process, while more sophisticated, remains essentially the same. Why? Because communication technology may change, but people don’t. How come, that 69-year-old guy wondered, after all those other communications revolutions, suddenly in the world of the Internet the old rules no longer apply and buyers have instantly been transformed into some other kind of being? He didn’t see any valid reason why it would happen, didn’t see any process that would make it happen, didn’t see why it should happen. And three years later, guess what? It didn’t.

The proof? Look at the flood of red ink and the barrage of dot-bombs. Listen to the clamor by investors for profits. See the sudden swell of articles about customer experience and usability. Ultimately, just consider the following statistic: the average conversion rate of browsers to buyers in the brick and mortal retail world is 48%. Know what it is on the web? 1.75%. LESS THAN TWO!! SHEESH!! (Sorry for shouting; I get pretty frustrated about this.) Gazillions of dollars spent on the Next Big Thing and the conversion rate is LESS TH... (oops, sorry) less than two percent.

Well, that very smart 69-year-old guy is now 74 (God bless him), and his also-smart son Henry Kauftheil happens to be the president of I.C.E.S., Inc. , a successful Internet incubator focused on developing businesses that know how to sell in the real world, know how to translate that to the web, and are committed to making a profit. As you humans like to say, "What a concept." The same year his dad made “Internet, shminternet” famous -around I.C.E.S. anyway, Henry was interviewed by The New York Times and said this about his company: “This is a different kind of business. [It] is not run by cyber-jockeys. This is run by merchants.”

Merchants are successful over the long term only if they’ve learned how to work with people. Lots of people. Kauftheil finds the notion of eyeballs amusing, and so do I. When was the last time you sold something to an eyeball? So he talks the importance of what he laughingly calls ‘pinchable eyeballs’ - real, identifiable, motivated buyers and sellers. One of the things the Internet does best is bring together pinchable folks who have something to offer and are looking for someone else who might want it, or who want something and are looking for someone who might have it. Everybody benefits. And again, it’s simple.

Whether your business is B2B or B2C, the critical relationships, even in the age of the Internet, are still what Kauftheil calls "N2N" (“nose-to-nose”). Kauftheil is proving what his dad said three years ago: the web is one of the best communication systems ever, but that’s all it is, and if you forget that, you’re in trouble - especially against a competitor who hasn’t forgotten, or never bought into the myth that it would change “everything” in the first place. In order to sell more, you have to sell more. Apparently it took somebody from Mars to say it, and if you get that, you get it all. Learn how to sell to people. Learn why people buy. Then you can use any technology you want, or none at all, and still be successful. Plus you’ll be lots more successful than your competitors who are whizzes at the technology but never learned how to sell. And they’ll never catch you because they won’t even be asking the right questions. When their sales go down, or just don’t go up fast enough, all they’ll ever be able to do is throw more technology at the problem.

So, “Internet, Shminternet!” indeed. Think of the web as a good tool, a great tool, but at the end of the day, it’s just another tool. Follow Henry’s dad's advice, and never lose sight of the fact that sitting at the monitor at the other end of that T1 is a real person.


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Return to: GROK Dot Com 7/15/2000

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