The old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
That phrase has become just as applicable to the business evolution over the past 20 years as it had to friend-making. The Internet and, more recently, mobile computing, have rendered many a traditional business obsolete, never giving those companies a chance to restructure and rebrand themselves. Think about venerable businesses like Blockbuster, Borders, and Purchasing Magazine – these are all businesses whose death was due, at least in part, to a new, technology-based economy.
So, any company that was best known for publishing massive, multi-volume printed supplier directories that took up the majority of any purchasing department library as late as the early part of the current millennium has to be dead and gone by now, right?
ThomasNet, the legacy publisher of the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, is one of the companies that has successfully made the quantum leap from an old-school business model to a cutting-edge, technology-based new one. Their six-suite, web-based application – ThomasNet.com – was recently re-launched and does an impressive job of quickly connecting buyers and engineers with suppliers, products and services.
Seeing ThomasNet’s Supplier Discovery suite alone makes it clear why the company has been able to effectively reinvent itself. A buyer can quickly select a product or service category, then add supplier qualification criteria such as location, diversity status, quality certifications, and the like to drill down to a seemingly-perfect short list of suppliers. Then, from the same interface, the buyer can obtain a range of additional information about the supplier – the type of stuff that is often requested in an RFP – and even documents like diversity certification certificates.
The process is lightning fast, especially when compared to the “old way” of identifying potential suppliers in those big, green books.
When using the Product Sourcing suite, what is particularly interesting is how ThomasNet.com presents various product-specific criteria allowing the user to quickly refine his/her search. For example, when searching for “latex gloves,” the suite enables the user to narrow his/her search by such criteria as cuff length, environmental capabilities, colors and more.
And that’s just a simple example. Complex components have different, complex criteria from which to choose. These capabilities are what makes ThomasNet.com more than just an information serving site. The information appears to be backed by some sophisticated technical intelligence – you know, the human type of intelligence that is often missing in an increasingly “bricks-and-mortarless” business world.
When asked about this apparent level of expertise not typically found in average supplier and product directories, Tom Greco, ThomasNet’s Vice President of Publishing Operations, coolly says, “You have to remember, we’ve been [matching buyers with suppliers and products] since the late 1800’s.”
As you may imagine, finding the right subset of suppliers and products through ThomasNet.com is much more effective and efficient than finding it through another commonly used – and abused – digital buyer tool: Google. What you may not have anticipated though, is that it is the same cost as Google – free.
“We hear this when we promote the platform to procurement organizations: ‘Why wouldn’t I just use Google?’,” says Greco. “Well, the last time I checked, you can’t go into Google and define a set of qualifications for a supplier. You’d have one really long search string and I doubt it would work.”
The no-cost aspect of ThomasNet’s service is why I will stop this review right here. Instead of writing about the service, I encourage you to go to ThomasNet.com and try the application for yourself.
You may be about to meet your new “best friend” for discovering suppliers and sourcing products.