Identifying the Soft Skills Needed to Leverage B2B CommercePublished: March 14, 2007 in Knowledge@Emory
Eve D. Rosenzweig, an assistant professor of decision and information analysis at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, has been on the front lines of the supply-chain back end, where she experienced first-hand how technology was changing business and how many companies were not (and still are not) prepared.
Take the evolution of supply-chain strategy, which is now becoming more high-tech and Internet-driven. This change, stresses Rosenzweig, is forcing companies to rethink the way they operate. “Technology is making so many things possible and its connecting people all over the world, whether we’re talking about consumers or business-to-business (B2B) relationships,” explains Rosenzweig, whose research interests include supply chain strategy, technology-enabled B2B operations, and empirical research methods. “We’re shifting more to a strategic view of operations. Now we’re thinking, ‘How do I utilize Internet-based technologies to develop the right kinds of relationships with the right suppliers and the right customers?’”
With these issues in mind, Rosenzweig and co-author Aleda V. Roth, the Burlington Industries professor of supply chain management at Clemson University’s College of Business and Behavioral Sciences, wrote the paper, “B2B Seller Competence: Construct Development and Measurement Using a Supply Chain Strategy Lens.” Their goal: to identify what managerial skill sets, or “soft” competencies, are needed in an Internet-enabled B2B commerce environment that allows for closer relationships. The research, drawn from a long-term study, is forthcoming in the Journal of Operations Management.
Rosenzweig uses empirical research methodologies to define and measure the competencies associated with the seller-side of Internet-enabled commerce (referred to in the paper as B2B Seller Competence or B2B-SC). Following initial discussions with senior executives to explore what they thought was important in this environment, she and Roth created a web-based survey for top executives at multinational corporations. They used the resulting data to conduct their analysis.
Rosenzweig and Roth found that the conceptual domain of B2B-SC comprises seven dimensions: 1) technical skills, 2) change disposition, 3) conflict management, 4) market acuity, 5) coordinated logistics, 6) knowledge channels, and 7) fluid partnering. “We found that developing strength on these competencies seems to be important with respect to performance in this new environment,” explains Rosenzweig. For example, the authors define change disposition competence as a general readiness for organizational change, or the willingness of the seller’s employees to alter operations in support of the business, while knowledge channels competence refers to the strategies used by sellers that permit the transfer, recombination and/or creation of knowledge among supply-chain partners.
The authors’ conceptual model of B2B-SC offers practical guidance to manufacturers, especially the many who have struggled with competing in the B2B arena. These competencies are meant to help manufacturers leverage technology investments associated with Internet-enabled commerce. “A key reason why many senior executives were interested in participating in this study was that we provided them with a detailed profile of their scores on these particular competencies relative to their peers,” notes Rosenzweig. “They could determine how they were doing on these competencies and subsequently the areas in which they may or may not need to focus more resources and effort. At the same time, manufacturers can have their suppliers answer questions pertaining to each of these competencies in order to help them benchmark and select suppliers to do business with.”Rosenzweig has been hard at work on several papers in addition to “B2B Seller Competence” that are related to this study. Another working paper currently under journal review explores the conventional wisdom that the closer a manufacturers is to its suppliers and customers, the better its performance. “This paper suggests that there are different kinds of business environments in which you might not want to be that close,” notes Rosenzweig. “Closer is not always a good thing.” Expect to find out why in an upcoming edition of Knowledge@Emory.