Death of a Salesman?

If making a sale were as simple as comparing bids online, then every Willy Loman in the world would soon be out of a job. The reality is that personal relationships still matter. has streamlined the bidding process, but nothing beats a golden voice or hearty handshake to close the deal.

“An additional channel is not going to replace existing transactions between known trading partners,” observes Aberdeen Group’s Tim Minahan, who says will have to focus on the 40 percent of the small-business buying market that is made up of “spot buys.” After the initial purchase, companies will try to bring subsequent buys under contract, reducing’s middleman role, he predicts. Since in most cases is charging a flat fee for the initial bid, it will be cut out of future revenues derived from the relationship it brokered.

And while’s founders promote nationwide access as a big plus for formerly parochial vendors and buyers, does someone in California or New York really want to be contacted by a tiny shop in North Dakota? “That will certainly be an issue,” says GartnerGroup analyst Leah Knight. “In my experience, smaller companies are best reached through regional vendors.”

And rival Onvia’s young founder Glenn Ballman insists that small-business owners want even more simplicity than provides. At his small-business site, customers can compare the prices of preselected vendors and complete the transaction without ever having to leave. “When you’re in the transaction process do you really want to send out notices to our vendors to call you back?” he asks. “No, you want to have the four best [national vendors] there and then just purchase from one of them.”

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