In July 1996, when Scott Eckert launched Dell Online, he hoped that a few Web surfers might order computers. Today Dell Online routinely takes orders worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. You don't get orders on that scale from retail customers. "We already have relationships with our business customers," Eckert says. "We extend those relationships by offering new levels of service."
That service comes in the form of Premier Pages - customized Web portals for business. Eckert's group has created Premier Pages for more than 4,000 companies, including Shell Oil, Boeing, Nasdaq, and Wal-Mart. The service offers everything from a one-click contact list that connects companies to their service reps inside Dell, to reporting tools for purchasing agents.
"We focus first on delivering technical support to our clients' in-house help desks," says Eckert. "That makes their internal support organizations more efficient."
Customized purchasing is another popular offering. Big companies have complicated purchasing systems that can be hard to mirror on a Web site. But Dell has done it. The company helped Unilever streamline its procurement process. Now, through their intranet, Unilever employees around the world can place orders for preapproved systems directly to a Dell manufacturing facility. Unilever cut $20 million in costs over two years.
A version of this article appeared in the September 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.