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Participants in the business buying process

Who does the buying of the trillions of dollars’ worth of goods and services needed by business organizations? The decision-making unit of a buying organization is called its buying center: all the individuals and units that participate in the business decision-making process.


The buying center includes all members of the organization who play any of five roles in the purchase decision process.

  • Users are members of the organization who will use the product or service. In many cases, users initiate the buying proposal and help define product specifications.

  • Influencers often help define specifications and also provide information for evaluating alternatives. Technical personnel are particularly important influencers.

  • Buyers have formal authority to select the supplier and arrange terms of purchase. Buyers many help shape product specifications, but their major role is in selecting vendors and negotiating. In more complex purchases, buyers might include high-level officers participating in the negotiations.

  • Deciders have formal or informal power to select or approve the final suppliers. In routine buying, the buyers are often the deciders, or at least the approvers.

  • Gatekeepers control the flow of information to others. For example, purchasing agents often have authority to prevent salespersons from seeing users or deciders. Other gatekeepers include technical personnel and even personal secretaries.


The buying center is not a fixed and formally identified unit within the buying organization. It is a set of buying roles assumed by different people for different purchases. Within the organization, the size and makeup of the buying center will vary for different products and for different buying situations.


For some routine purchases, one person – say a purchasing agent – may assume all the buying center roles and serve as the only person involved in the buying decision. For more complex purchases, the buying center may include 20 or 30 people from different levels and departments in the organization.


According to one survey, the average number of people involved in a buying decision ranges from about 3 (for services and items used in day-to-day operations) to almost 5 (for such high-ticket purchases as construction work and machinery). Another survey detected a trend toward a team-

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based buying –Module 8 7 percent of surveyed purchasing executives at Fortune 1000 companies expect teams of people from different functions to be making buying decisions in the year 2000. Business marketers working in global markets may face even greater levels of buying center influence. A study comparing the buying decision processes in the US, Sweden, France, and Southeast Asia found that US buyers might be lone eagles compared with their counterparts in some other countries. Sweden had the highest team buying effort, whereas the US had the lowest, even though the Swedish and US firms has very similar demographics. In making purchasing decisions, Swedish firms depended on technical staff, both their own and suppliers’, much more than did the firms in other countries.


The buying center concept presents a major marketing challenge. The business marketer must learn who participates in the decision, each participant’s relative influence, and what evaluation criteria each decision participant uses. For example, Allegiance Healthcare Corporation, the large health care products and Services Company, sells disposable surgical gowns to hospitals.


It identifies the hospital personnel involved in this buying decision as the vice president of purchasing, the operating room administrator, and the surgeons. Each participant plays a different role. The vice president of purchasing analyzes whether the hospital should buy disposable gowns or reusable gowns. If analysis favors disposable gowns, then the operating room administrator compares competing products and prices and makes a choice.


This administrator considers the gown’s absorbency, antiseptic quality, design, and cost, and normally buys the brand that meets requirements at the lowest cost. Finally, surgeons affect the decision later by reporting their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the brand. The buying center usually includes some obvious participants who are involved formally in the buying decision. For example, the decision to buy a corporate jet will probably involve the company’s CEO, its chief pilot, a purchasing agent, some legal staff, a member of top management, and others formally charged with the buying decision.


It may also involve less obvious, informal participants, some of whom may actually make or strongly affect the buying decision. Sometimes, even the people in the buying center are not aware of all the buying participants. As the Gulfstream example showed, the decision about which corporate jet to buy may actually be made by a corporate board member who has an interest in flying and who knows a lot about airplanes. This board member may work behind the scenes to sway the decision. Many businesses buying decisions result from the complex interactions of ever-changing buying center participants.


^ Major influences on business buyers

Business buyers are subject to many influences when they make their buying decisions. Some marketers assume that the major influences are economic. They think buyers will favor the supplier who offers the lowest price or the best product or the most service. They concentrate on offering strong economic benefits to buyers. However, business buyers actually respond to both economic and personal factors. Far from being cold, calculating, and impersonal, business buyers are human and social as well. They react both to reason and emotion. Today, most business-to-business marketers recognize that emotion plays an important role in business buying decisions. For example, you might expect that an advertisement promoting large trucks to corporate truck fleet buyers would

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stress objective technical, performance, and economic factors. However, a recent ad for Volvo heavy-duty trucks shows two drivers arm wrestling and claims, “It solves all your fleet problems. Except who gets to drive.” It turns out that, in the face an industry wide driver shortage, the type of truck a fleet provides can help it to attract qualified drivers. The Volvo, ad stresses the raw beauty of the truck and its comfort and roominess, features that make it more appealing to drivers. The ad concludes that Volvo trucks are “built to make fleets more profitable and drivers a lot more possessive.”


When suppliers’ offers are very similar, business buyers have little basis for strictly rational choice. Because they can meet organizational goals with any supplier, buyers can allow personal factors to play a larger role in their decisions. However, when competing products differ greatly, business buyers are more accountable for their choice and tend to pay more attention to economic factors. The following figure lists various groups of influences on business buyers – environmental, organizational, interpersonal, and individual.


^ Figure 17. Major influences on business buyer behaviour


Environmental


Economic developments

Supply conditions

Technological change

Political and regulatory developments

Competitive developments

Organizational


Objectives

Policies

Procedures

Organizational

Structure

Systems

Interpersonal


Authority

Status

Empathy

Persuasiveness

Individual


Age

Education

Job position

Personality

Risk attitudes





Buyers




Environmental factors

Business buyers are influence heavily by factors in the current and expected economic environment, such as the level of primary demand, the economic outlook, and the cost of money. As economic uncertainty rises, business buyers cut back on new investments and attempt to reduce their inventories.


An increasingly important environmental factor is shortages in key materials. Many companies now are more willing to buy and hold larger inventories of scarce materials to ensure adequate supply. Business buyers also are affected by technological, political, and competitive developments in the environment.


Culture and customs can strongly influence business buyer reactions to the marketer’s behavior and strategies, especially in the international marketing environment. The business marketer must watch these factors, determine how they will affect the buyer, and try to turn these challenges into opportunities.

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Organizational factors

Each buying organization has its own objectives, policies, procedures, structure, and systems. The business marketer must know these organizational factors as thoroughly as possible. Questions such

as these arise: How many people are involved in the buying decision? Who are they? What are their evaluative criteria? What are the company’s policies and limits on its buyers?


^ Interpersonal factors

The buying center usually includes many participants who influence each other. The business marketer often finds it difficult to determine what kinds of interpersonal factors and group dynamics enter into the buying process. As one writer notes, “Managers do not wear tags that say ‘decision maker’ or ‘unimportant person.’ The powerful are often invisible, at least to vendor representatives.” Nor does the buying center participant with the highest rank always have the most influence.


Participants may have influence in the buying decision because they control rewards and punishments, are well liked, have special expertise, or have a special relationship with other important participants. Interpersonal factors are often very subtle. Whenever possible, business marketers must try to understand these factors and design strategies that take them into account.


^ Individual factors

Each participant in the business buying decision process brings in personal motives, perceptions, and preferences. These individual factors are affected by personal characteristics such as age, income, education, professional identification, personality, and attitudes toward risk. Also, buyers have different buying styles. Some may be technical types who make in-depth analyses of competitive proposals before choosing a supplier. Other buyers may be intuitive negotiators who are adept at pitting the sellers against one another for the best deal.


^ The business buying process

The following table lists the eight stages of the business buying process. Buyers who face a new-task buying situation usually go through all stages of the buying process. Buyers making modified or straight rebuys may skip some of the stages. We will examine these steps for the typical new-task buying situation.


Buying Situations


New Modified Straight

Stages of the Buying Process Task Rebuy Rebuy


1. Problem recognition Yes Maybe No

2. General need description Yes Maybe No

3. Product specification Yes Yes Yes

4. Supplier search Yes Maybe No

5. Proposal solicitation Yes Maybe No

6. Supplier selection Yes Maybe No

7. Order-routine specification Yes Maybe No

8. Performance review Yes Yes Yes






Problem Recognition


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The buying process begins when someone in the company recognizes a problem or need that can be met by acquiring a specific product or service. Problem recognition can result from internal of external stimuli. Internally, the company may decide to launch a new product that requires new production equipment and materials. Or a machine may break down and need new parts.


Perhaps a purchasing manager is unhappy with a current supplier’s product quality, service, or prices. Externally, the buyer may get some new ideas at a trade show, see an ad, or receive a call from a sales person who offers a better product or a lower price. In fact, in their advertising, business marketers often alert customers to potential problems and then show how their products provide solutions.


^ General need description

Having recognized a need, the buyer next prepares a general need description that describes the characteristics and quantity of the needed item. For standard items, this process prevents few problems. For complex items, however, the buyer may have to work with others – engineers, users, consultants – to define the item. The team may want to rank the importance of reliability, durability, price, and other attributes desired in the item. In this phase, the alert business marketer can help the buyers define their needs and provide information about the value of different product characteristics.


^ Product specification

The buying organization next develops the item’s technical product specifications, often with the help of a value analysis engineering team. Value analysis is an approach to cost reduction in which components are studied carefully to determine if they can be redesigned, standardized, or made by less costly methods of production. The team decides on the best product characteristics and specifies them accordingly. Sellers, too, can use value analysis as a tool to help secure a new account. By showing buyers a better way to make an object, outside sellers can turn straight rebuy situations into new-task situations that give them a chance to obtain new business.


^ Supplier search

The buyer now conducts a supplier search to find the best vendors. The buyer can compile a small list of qualified suppliers by reviewing trade directors, doing a computer search, or phoning other companies for recommendations. Today, more and more companies are turning to the Internet to find suppliers. For marketers, this has leveled the playing field – smaller suppliers have the same advantages as larger ones and can be listed in the same online catalogues for a nominal fee.


The newer the buying task, the more complex, and costly the item, the greater the amount of time the buyer will spend searching for suppliers. The supplier’s task is to get listed in major directories and build a good reputation in the marketplace. Salespeople should watch for companies in the process of searching for suppliers and make certain that their firm is considered.


Many business buyers go to extremes in searching for and qualifying suppliers.


^ Proposal solicitation

In the proposal solicitation stage of the buying process, the buyer invites qualified suppliers to submit proposals. In response, some suppliers will send only a catalogue or a salesperson. However, when the item is complex or expensive, the buyer will usually require detailed written proposals or formal presentations from each potential supplier. Business marketers must be skilled in researching,

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writing, and presenting proposals in response to buyer proposal solicitations. Proposals should be marketing documents, not just technical documents. Presentations should inspire confidence and should make the marketer’s company stand out from the competition.


^ Supplier selection

The members of the buying center now review the proposals and select a supplier or suppliers. During supplier selection, the buying center often will draw up a list of the desired supplier attributes and their relative importance. In one survey, purchasing executives listed the following attributes as most important in influencing the relationship between supplier and customer: quality products and services, on-time delivery, ethical corporate behavior, honest communication, and competitive prices. Other important factors include repair and servicing capabilities, technical aid and advice, geographic location, performance history, and reputation. The members of the buying center will rate suppliers against these attributes and identify the best suppliers.


As part of the buyer selection process, buying centers must decide how many suppliers to use. In the past, many companies preferred a large supplier base to ensure adequate supplies and to obtain renewal and would often shift the amount of business they gave to each supplier from year to year. Increasingly, however, companies are reducing the number of suppliers. Companies such as Ford, Motorola, and allied Signal have cut the number of suppliers anywhere from 20 to Module 8 0 percent. These companies expect their preferred suppliers to work closely with them during product development and they value their suppliers’ suggestions.


There is even a trend toward single sourcing, using one supplier. For example, whereas most newspapers rely on a variety of companies to supply the tons of newsprint they consume, the ^ Knoxville News-sentinel and the New York Daily News each rely on a single source for their newsprint. With single sourcing there is only one supplier to handle and it is easier to control newsprint inventories. Using one source not only can translate into more consistent product performance, but it also allows press rooms to configure themselves for one particular kind of newsprint rather than changing presses for papers with different attributes.


However, are still reluctant to use single sourcing. They fear that they may become too dependent on the single supplier or that the single-source supplier may become too comfortable in the relationship and lose its competitive edge. Some marketers have developed programs that address these concerns. For example, GC Electronics of Rockford, Illinois, has a “one source lowest price guarantee program,” which promotes the reduced transaction and purchasing costs of using it as a single source. However, if after being with the program for a while, distribution can show that they could have gotten a better deal elsewhere, GC offers them a 6 percent rebate.


^ Order-routine specification

The buyer now prepares an order-routine specification. It includes the final order with the chosen supplier s and lists items such as technical specifications, quantity needed, expected time of delivery, return policies, and warranties. In the case of maintenance, repair, and operating items, buyers may use blanket contracts rather than periodic purchase orders.

A blanket contract creates a long-term relationship in which the supplier promises to resupply the buyer as needed at agreed prices for a set time period. The seller holds the stock, and the buyer’s computer automatically prints out an order to the seller when stock is needed. A blanket order eliminates the expensive process of negotiating a

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purchase each time that stock is required. It also allows buyers to write more, but smaller, purchase orders, resulting in lower inventory levels and carrying costs.


Blanket contracting leads to more single-source buying and to buying more items form that source. This practice locks the supplier in tighter with the buyer and makes it difficult for other suppliers to break in unless the buyer becomes dissatisfied with the prices or service.


^ Performance review

In this stage, the buyer reviews supplier performance. The buyer may contact users and ask them to rate their satisfaction. The performance review may lead the buyer to continue, modify, or drop the arrangement. The seller’s job is to monitor the same factors used by the buyer to make sure that the seller is giving the expected satisfaction.


We have described the stages that typically would occur in a new-task buying situation. The eight-stage model provides a simple view of the business buying decision process. The actual process is usually much more complex. In the modified rebuy or straight rebuy situation, some of these stages would be compressed or bypassed. Each organization buys its own way, and each buying situation has unique requirements. Different buying center participants may be involved at different stages of the process. Although certain buying process steps usually do occur, buyers do not always follow them in the same order, and they may add other steps. Often, buyers will repeat certain stages of the process.


^ Business buying on the Internet

During the past few years, incredible advances in information technology have changed the face of the business-to-business marketing process. Increasingly, business buyers are purchasing all kinds of products and services electronically, either through electronic data interchange (EDI) links or on the Internet. Such “cyber-purchasing” gives buyers access to new suppliers, lowers purchasing costs, and hastens order processing and delivery. In turn, business marketers are connecting with customers on-line to share marketing information, sell products and services, provide customer support services, and maintain ongoing customer relationships. In addition to their own Web pages on the Internet, they are establishing extranets that ling a company’s communications and data with its regular suppliers and distributors.


So far, most of the products bought by businesses through Internet and extranet connections are MRO materials – maintenance, repair, and operations. For instance, Los Angeles County purchases everything from chicken to light bulbs over the Internet. National Semiconductor has automated almost all of the company’s 3,500 monthly requisitions to buy materials ranging from the sterile booties worn in its fabrication plants to state-of-the-art software. The actual dollar amount spent on these types of MRO materials pales in comparison to the amount spent for items like airplane parts, computer systems, and steel tubing. Yet, MRO materials make up Module 8 0 percent of all business orders, and the transaction costs for order processing are high. Thus, companies have much to gain by streamlining the MRO buying process on the Web.


General Electric, one of the world’s biggest purchasers, plans to be buying all of its general operating and industrial supplies online within the next two years. Five years ago, GE set up its Training Process Network – a central Web site through which all GE business units could make their


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purchases. The site was so successful that GE has now opened it up to other companies, creating a vast electronic cyber-buying clearinghouse.


The rapid growth business-to-business cyber-buying promises many benefits. The cyber-buying juggernaut promises to

  • ^ Shave transaction costs for both buyers and suppliers. A web-powered purchasing program eliminates the paperwork associated with traditional requisition and ordering procedures. At

National Semiconductor, the $75 to $250 cost of processing each paper-based requisition has been to cut to just $3 per electronic order.

  • Reduce time between order and delivery: Timesavings are particularly dramatic for companies with many overseas suppliers. Adaptec, a leading supplier of compute storage, used an extranet to tie all of its Taiwanese chip suppliers together in a kind of virtual family. Now messages from Adaptec flow in seconds from its headquarters to its Asian partners, as long as 16 weeks to just 55 days – the same turnaround time for companies that build their own chips.

  • ^ Create more efficient purchasing systems: One key motivation for GE’s massive move to online purchasing has been a desire to get rid of overlapping purchasing systems across its many divisions. “We have too many purchasing systems to count,” said Randy Rowe, manager of GE’s corporate initiatives group. “We’re looking to enable each division to manage its purchasing on extranets with financial data [concentrated in] a centralized platform.”

  • ^ Forge more intimate relationships between partners and buyers. Robert Mondavi Corporation puts satellite images of its vineyards out over its extranet so that its independent growers can pinpoint potential vineyard problems and improve the grapes Mondavi purchases for them.

  • Level the playing field between large and small suppliers. By using Internet technology to establish secure, standing information links between companies, extranets have helped firms do business with smaller suppliers. Currently most large manufacturers use EDI to order supplies, because it provides a secure means of coding and exchanging standardized business forms. However, EDI is an expensive system; it can cost as much as $50,000 to add a single trading partner to and EDI network, compared to $1,000 for a company to join GE’s Trading Process Network. Moving business-to-business commerce onto the Web also levels the playing field between local and foreign suppliers, because purchasers can source materials from suppliers all over the globe for no additional transaction cost.


The rapidly expanding use of cyber sourcing, however, also presents some problems. Here are a few of the negatives:

  • ^ Cut purchasing jobs for millions of clerks and order processors. All these savings and efficiencies derived from cyber-buying don’t come without a price. National Semiconductor reduced its purchasing staff by more than half when it took its purchasing activities online. On the other hand, for many purchasing professionals, going online means reducing drudgery and paperwork and spending more time managing inventory and working creatively with suppliers.

  • ^ Erode supplier-buyer loyalty: At the same time that the Web makes it possible for suppliers and customers to share business data and even collaborate on product design, it can also erode decades-old customer-supplier relationships. Many firms are using the Web to search for

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better suppliers. Japan Airlines (JAL) has used the Internet to post orders for in-flight materials such as plastic cups. On its Web site it posts drawings and specifications that will attract proposals from any firm that comes across the site, rather than from just the usual Japanese suppliers.

  • ^ Create potential security disasters: over Module 8 0 percent of companies say security is the leading barrier to expanding electronic links with customers and partners. Although e-mail and home banking transactions can be protected through basic encryption, the secure environment that businesses need to carry out confidential interactions is still lacking. However, security is of such high priority that companies are spending millions of research dollars on it.


Companies are creating their own defensive strategies for keeping hackers at bay. Cisco Systems, for example, Specifies the types of routers, firewalls, and security procedures that its partners must use to safeguard extranet connections. In fact, the company goes even further – it sends its own security. Engineers to examine a partner’s defenses and hold the partner liable for any security breach that originates from its computer.


^ Institutional and government markets

So far, our discussion of organizational buying has focused largely on the buying behaviour of business buyers. Much of this discussion also applies to the buying practices of institutional and government organizations. However, these two nonbusiness markets have additional characteristics and needs. In this final section, we address the special features of institutional and government markets.


^ Institutional markets

The institutional market consists of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and other institutions that provide goods and services to people in their care. Institutions differ from one another in their sponsors and in their objectives. For example, Humana hospitals are run for profit, whereas a nonprofit Sisters of Charity Hospital provides health care to the poor and a government-run hospital might provide special services to veterans.


Many institutional markets are characterized by low budgets and captive patrons. For example, hospital patients have little choice but to eat whatever food the hospital supplies. A hospital purchasing agent has to decide on the quality of food to buy for patients. Because the food is provided as a part of a total service package, the buying objective is not profit.


Nor is strict cost minimization the goal – patients receiving poor-quality food will complain to others and damage the hospital’s reputation. Thus, the hospital purchasing agent must search for institutional-food vendors whose quality meets or exceeds a certain minimum standard and whose prices are low. Many marketers set up separate divisions to meet the special characteristics and needs of institutional buyers. For example, Heinz produces, packages, and prices its ketchup and other products differently to better serve the requirements of hospitals, colleges, and other institutional markets.


^ Government markets

The government market offers large opportunities for many companies, both big and small. In most countries, government organizations are major buyers of goods and services. In the US alone,

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federal, state, and local governments contain more than Module 8 2,000 buying units. Government buying and business buying are similar in many ways. But there are also differences that must be understood by companies that wish to sell products and services to governments. To succeed in the government market, sellers must locate key decision makers, identify the factors that affect buyer behavior, and understand the buying decision process.


Government organizations typically require suppliers to submit bids, and normally they award the contract to the lowest bidder. In some cases, the government unit will make allowance for the suppliers’ superior quality or reputation for completing contracts on time. Governments will also buy on a negotiated contract basis, primarily in the case of complex projects involving major R&D costs and risks, and in cases where there is little competition.


Government organizations tend to favor domestic suppliers over foreign suppliers. A major complaint of multinationals operating in Europe is that each country shows favoritism toward its nationals in spite of superior offers that are made by foreign firms. The European Economic Commission is gradually removing this bias.


Like consumer and business buyers, government buyers are affected by environmental, organizational, interpersonal, and individual factors. One unique thing about government buying is that it is carefully watched by outside publics, ranging from Congress to a variety of private groups interested in how the government spends tax-payer’s money. Because their spending decisions are subject to public review, government organizations require considerable paperwork from suppliers, who often complain about excessive paperwork, bureaucracy, regulations, decision-making delays, and frequent shifts in procurement personnel. Given all the red tape, why would any firm want to do business with the US government?


Most governments provide would-be suppliers with detailed guides describing how to sell to the government. For example, the US Small Business Administration prints a booklet entitled US ^ Government Purchasing, Specifications, and Sales Directory, which lists thousands of items most frequently purchased by the government and the specific agencies most frequently buying them.


The Government Printing Office issues the Commerce Business Daily, which lists major current and planned purchases and recent contract awards, both of which can provide leads to subcontracting markets. The US Commerce Department publishes Business America, which provides interpretations of government policies and programs and gives concise information on potential worldwide trade opportunities. In several major cities, the General Services Administration operates Business Service Centers with staffs to provide a complete education on the way government agencies buy, the steps that suppliers should follow, and the procurement opportunities available.


Various trade magazines and associations provide information on how to reach schools, hospitals, highway departments, and other government agencies. Almost all of these government organizations and associations maintain Internet sites offering up-to-date information and advice.


Still, suppliers have to master the system and find ways to cut through the red tape. For example, the US government has always been ADI Technology Corporation’s most important client – federal contracts account for about 90 percent of its nearly $6 million in annual revenues. Yet managers at this small professional services company often shake their heads at all the work that goes into winning the coveted government contracts.

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A comprehensive bid proposal will run from 500 to 700 pages because of federal paperwork requirements. The company’s president estimates that the firm has spent as much as $20,000, mostly in worker hours, to prepare a single bid proposal. Fortunately, government buying reforms are being put in place that will simplify contracting procedures and make bidding more attractive, particularly to smaller vendors.


These reforms include more emphasis on buying commercial off-the-shelf items instead of items built to the government’s specs, online communication with vendors to eliminate the massive paperwork, and a “debriefing” from the appropriate government agency for vendors who lose a bid, enabling them to increase their chance of winning the next time around.


Noneconomic criteria also play a growing role in government buying. Government buyers are asked to favor depressed business firms and areas; small business firms; minority-owned firms; and business firms that avoid race, sex, or age discrimination. Sellers need to keep these factors in mind when deciding to seek government business.


Many companies that sell to the government have not been marketing oriented for a number of reasons. Total government spending is determined by elected officials rather than by any marketing effort to develop this market. Government buying has emphasized price, making suppliers invest their effort in technology to bring costs down. When the product’s characteristics are specified carefully, product differentiation is not a marketing factor. Nor do advertising or personal selling matter much in winning bids on an open-bid basis.


Several companies, however, have established separate government marketing departments. Rockwell, Kodak, and Goodyear are examples. These companies anticipate government needs and projects, participate in the product specification phase, gather competitive intelligence, prepare bids carefully, and produce stronger communications to describe and enhance their companies’ reputations. Other companies have set up customized marketing programs for government buyers. For example, dell Computer has specific business units tailored to meet the needs of federal as well as state and local government buyers. Dell offers its customers tailor-made Web pages that include special pricing, online purchasing, and service and support for each city, state, and federal government entity.


During the past decade, some of the government’s buying has gone online. For example, ^ Commerce Business Daily is now online (cbd.cos.com) and the two federal agencies that act as purchasing agents for the rest of government have launched World Wide Web-based catalogs. The General Services Administration (www.gsa.gov) has set up an Advantage Web catalog, and the Defense Logistics Agency (www.dla.mil) offers one called Ascot. These Internet catalogue allow authorized defense and civilian agencies to buy everything from medial and office supplies to clothing through online purchasing.


The GSA and DLA not only sell stocked merchandise through their Web sites but also create direct links between buyers and contract suppliers. For example, the branch of the DSA that sells 160,000 types of medical supplies to military forces transmits orders directly to vendors such as Bristol-Meyers. Such Internet systems promise to eliminate much of the hassle sometimes found in dealing with government purchasing.


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