Business networks connect customers, partners, and employees as communities. They provide:
- A marketplace where the communities come together for commerce transactions
- A collaborative backbone utilizing social technologies to connect people with information that enables faster and even real-time decision-making
- Highly interactive access to relevant content for more compelling customer experiences
Examples of such networks include the SAP Ariba network for sourcing materials, employment networks for permanent or contingent staffing, eBay for commerce, Uber and Lyft for transportation services, Airbnb for hotels, and a variety of employment networks to source ongoing or contingent labor.
But the result does not have to be a business transaction. Business networks centered on particular products or technologies can bring together employees of a company that produces a product with users of that product to form a customer/product support network.
More business networks are forming all the time, enabling enterprises to redefine processes and activities and take advantage of today’s connected world. In all of these cases, information is the essential ingredient that drives the network’s operation:
- Real time: Information within the community about what is available informs buyers of options within the network that they may not have known via a traditional business 1:1 model.
- Mobile: Anytime access to services within the network via a location-aware mobile app that can recommend services to meet local needs.
- Social: Reviews and ratings by community members enable customers and others to assess service providers and find experts within the community who can share knowledge and provide guidance.
- Analytics: Marketplace organizers analyze data from operations to provide information to members that measures performance from multiple dimensions, improving buyer awareness and seller effectiveness.
As business networks are information-centric, data provides both opportunities and constraints around the formation, growth, and retention of a business network and its corresponding community. Consider the following recommendations at each stage in the life of a business network:
- Formation: A network begins by forming a new community or leveraging an existing community around common needs and interests. A user group for a product or an organization of affiliates (such as partners and alumni) have the potential to be transformed into a network. Look to leverage a collaborative platform for sharing information among members.
- Growth: Information about the community’s members and their activities are used by the organizers/managers of a network to build up wider participation and activity. Analytics reveals segments within the community that can set priorities for feature enhancements.
- Retention: The “stickiness” of community members to the network increases as they become more reliant on community-based information. For example, a seller is more likely to stay with a specific network that provides valuable information not just about their performance, but about practices within the community that are proving to be effective (e.g., whether free shipping increases business over and above the added costs to the seller).
Want to leverage the power of business networks to get things done in new ways? Start by assessing your network of existing relationships and the data from these interactions to form a business network that will grow and retain members.
Want more business networking strategies that get results? See 5 Digital Trends Changing Business And Enabling The Possible.