Business networking is one of the most essential marketing strategies in the world (O’Donnell, 2013). Business networking provides mutual benefits for the companies involved. Moreover, the activity enables companies to reach marketing leads and referrals that would otherwise be difficult to find using conventional advertising techniques. In the recent past, most business networking methods involved trade shows, among others.
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However, technology has brought new business networking techniques such as online business networking. Internet-based business networking has revolutionized marketing. The technique has reduced the cost of marketing by making the world a digital village. It is now easier for businesses to the network from their stations through information technology than before. Moreover, businesses, which are barred by distance, can scale the costs through internet-based networking. Besides, business networking has enhanced collaboration between companies across the globe. This paper will explore business-networking strategies that enhance collaboration (Cross, Martin, & Weiss, 2006).
Business networking is an essential socio-economic business activity, which enables individuals to create and act upon business prospects. When business people create, utilize and recognize business prospects through socio-economic methods then they are said to be networking. Activities such as mentoring were considered as acts that promote professional success (Walker, 2006). Business networking involves social networking activities to improve business interests. Business networking helps organizations to strengthen existing business relationships as well as build new business relations.
These relationships are expected to create new business prospects for the organizations involved in business networking. In most cases, professional networking services are implemented using information technology to promote business networking. Business networking has been tested in various countries globally. It has been realized that business networking is one of the most cost-effective ways of creating new business ventures. Moreover, business networking is more vital to businesses than marketing. Business networking is considered cost-effective because it utilizes fewer resources. However, it should be noted that business networking requires a personal commitment. In essence, companies offer more personal commitment than resources in business networking. Examples of business networking activities across the world include guanxi, blat and old boy networks (MacCormack, Forbath, Brooks, & Kalaher, 2007).
It should be noted that the above-mentioned networks are informal. However, formal networks require regular meetings, which may be conducted after a given specified period. Moreover, these businesses exchange referrals. Formal business networking involves meetings outside the circles to achieve one-to-one business networks. In some cases, business networking is done over the internet or through the business community.
In this regard, internet-based connections have seen substantially rise because of its capacity to bring people together at reduced costs irrespective of distance. The internet has made the world a global village thereby connecting big corporations and small businesses alike without incurring huge costs. Most internet-based businesses provide marketing information to improve trade levels. This has enabled large corporations to succeed in businesses both locally and offshore. In essence, business networking provides value chains and networks. Face-to-face business networking techniques have been utilized for many decades.
These techniques have been utilized by most companies worldwide in the search for leads. However, advancement in online marketing has taken center stage for most parts of business networking due to its reduced costs. Nonetheless, most companies tend to utilize both techniques to reach more leads as is often witnessed in trade shows around the world (Walker, 2006).
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Online business networking has also proven to be good because it tracks all the details of business campaigns thereby promoting accountability. Most businesses utilize business networking in their marketing strategies. This happens because business networking helps businesses involved to develop trust among them that enables the businesses to raise their business profiles and brands. In most cases, business networking involves suppliers and businesses because the two groups of businesses require a strong sense of trust. Companies hold business secrets for competitive advantage. In most instances, suppliers know these business secrets.
Business networking between businesses and suppliers helps both parties to keep each other’s business secrets for a competitive edge. Networked businesses are usually supportive of one another. Besides, these businesses are always open to one another (Walker, 2006). Nonetheless, these are hierarchical business networks, which are usually selective. Either way, business networking benefits all businesses involved by strengthening collaboration.
Current strategies for networking
Business networking incorporates the conceptualization and management of many networking strategies. These include electronic commerce (EC), supply chain management (SCM) and consumer relationship management (CRM), among others (Sexsmith & Angel, 2011). While electronic commerce emphasizes the shaping of transactions, consumer relationship management emphasizes the relationship process.
On the other hand, supply chain management emphasizes production and planning activities. It is worth noting that businesses that represent electronic commerce network strategy tend to concentrate on contracting and information processes. In contrast, businesses that show a supply chain management strategy tend to concentrate on information that relates to the transformation and flow of goods from raw materials to finished products.
On the other hand, businesses that portray customer CRM tend to concentrate on awareness, after-sales, evaluation, and settlements with customers. Most companies tend to utilize all three network strategies to maximize their efficiency in business. Nonetheless, more strategies and frameworks have also been developed to improve service delivery to customers (Walker, 2006).
Companies are increasingly using business-networking strategies to reach their marketing goals. Moreover, companies are embracing collaboration as a way of increasing opportunities. These organizations develop relationships with the community and other stakeholders to complement their core expertise. This theory concurs with Drucker’s argument that no single company can solve all the grave issues facing the world (Shuman, 2010).
This has forced organizations to form business networks with other organizations to reach more customers or to complement their expertise. Current strategies for networking include digital networks that have created opportunities for collaboration. Digital networks play an important role in changing the way companies and customers collaborate. Of great importance are enterprise technologies that have been vital in promoting the success of collaborative business networks (Shuman, 2010).
These enterprises facilitate the building and functionality of business networks. Digital networks are essential in creating ways through which customers can engage in value creation for companies. These networks are especially significant because they lower the cost of reaching numerous customers for interactive business network activities. Moreover, these network strategies have enabled companies to tap into the social dimensions of consumers through constant monitoring of information from virtual communities. Essentially, digital networks have improved collaboration (Gomez-Arias & Genin, 2009).
Some of the most current business strategies for the network include internet-based networking technologies that have transformed business networking and collaboration. Some of these strategies have been lifted by the invention of the Cisco collaboration framework, which saved Cisco about 700 million dollars with the added advantage of providing increased production. The framework provides a clear path for increasing and accelerating business value (CISCO, 2016).
This framework is essential in providing methods that can be utilized in improving the sharing of knowledge among customers and other stakeholders of the company. Moreover, the framework can also be utilized to take advantage of social networking technologies utilized in a business environment. In essence, this framework can improve the productivity of the business by transforming operations thereby giving the business a competitive edge. Therefore, effective collaboration can be achieved through the implementation of concerted business networking strategies that actively manage people and technology (Dewar, Keller, Lavoie, & Weiss, 2009).
Also, the strategies should have the capability of managing new organizational processes. Besides, the strategies should help in developing and managing workflows as well as capabilities for increased efficiency. In case the named benefits are not achieved, the business can be exposed to damages and uncontrolled processes that would make the business to make a downturn (Word, 2009).
In essence, business-networking strategies that enhance collaboration can move companies faster, help those companies make smart decisions and enable them to source knowledge from a deep well. Moreover, these strategies can enable businesses to operate efficiently across barriers that include distance and time. Today’s organizations are considered as a collection of their capabilities, which assemble to achieve a specific goal.
These networks are required to collaborate to achieve their respective as well as collective objectives (Shuman, 2010). Current business networking strategies are aimed at creating value for a dynamic collaborative network. Networking strategies require collaborative value swaps. Moreover, customers need to be involved in every step of product or service creation. The rise in business networks has taken apart past value chains to promote collaborative business networks for creating value. In essence, current strategies emphasize the need to satisfy customer needs with a focus on increasing efficiency at lowered costs.
Effects of collaboration
Collaboration is vital to modern businesses because it is at the center of business processes. Several metrics used to measure the effectiveness of organizations have that collaboration ensures efficiency. These metrics include business process reengineering and process-based tools, among others. Although most companies have spent heavily on collaboration software, it is worth noting that business-networking strategies offer the best ways of enhancing collaboration. Companies should have the ability to chart and scrutinize value attributed to employee networks (Shuman, 2010).
By emphasizing on value created by these networks, companies can achieve effective collaboration. When companies quantify the benefits of collaboration as well as their costs, the value of networks can be assessed. Moreover, this can be achieved by mapping interactions to provide a base for value assessment. In a business world that changes continually, new networking strategies provide collaboration potential.
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In this regard, companies should take advantage of the new networking strategies to improve collaboration. An effective collaborative network should be dynamic. Also, it should be fit for its purpose. Moreover, an effective collaborative network should have the capability of iterating its components. Besides, the network should iterate how its components link to each other. It should also have a way of linking its components in an innovative manner (Marland, Spasser, Khan, & Overby, 2014).
An effective collaborative network should have the ability to leverage existing resources in an organization with the benefit of creating new value. A collaborative network is considered as a collection of businesses, organizations, or persons that have means and capital required to realize specific goals. Collaborative networks require vibrant processes, inventiveness, and agility. This becomes important because every organization wants to satisfy the customer’s needs.
In this regard, these organizations would require various interactive connections to satisfy consumer’s needs. Consequently, one organization can be forced to participate in different business networks concurrently to address customers’ needs. In most cases, the organization becomes the choreographer to ascertain multiple concurrent collaborative networks. In the present business dimension, collaborative networks define businesses.
Businesses are nowadays not considered competitive because of their goods. Instead, businesses are considered competitive based on their abilities to create and sustain business networks that are collaborative and work across cultural boundaries. Business networks should be able to enhance collaboration by delivering value to their members and customers. Moreover, it should be noted that business networks are impossible to be bought; instead, businesses should be ready to build collaborative networks from scratch (Shuman, 2010).
It should also be noted that organizations cannot build networks but individuals can build networks. Therefore, only companies with the capability of pulling together and running a group of shared networks can be viable. In essence, corporations today need not only specialized expertise but also collaborative capability. While most chief executives have noted the need for collaborative networks in their organizations, however, they have failed to achieve it within their organizations. Most of these chief executives cited a lack of expertise in collaborating externally given its complexities.
This brings to focus the need to shift ways of thinking when focusing on business networking to help achieve collaborative networks (Shuman, 2010). Chief executives need to explore the benefits of collaborative networks as a function of the costs involved. Therefore, organizations should appraise collaborative network design principles to ensure that they are fit for their businesses before proceeding with the implementation of the same.
Benefits of the better business network
An effective business network is one that enhances collaboration. For the benefits of the business network to be achieved, all stakeholders should be taken aboard to improve its effectiveness. This ensures that employees embrace a business network strategy to be implemented. A good business network has numerous benefits to its implementers (Applegate, Austin, & Soule, 2009). It has been proven that companies with an effective collaborative network have a great chance of improving their business processes. Effective networks enable businesses to reach consumers that are beyond their grasps concerning market or geography.
This is made possible because the internet has unprecedented reach throughout the globe. The Internet gives firms vast information regardless of their locations. Consequently, this lowers the cost of researching customer needs. The company can address consumer needs after utilizing digital networks to evaluate their needs. Additionally, effective business networks offer good scalability to firms. This ensures that companies can extend their reach with no ramifications on the quality of information. Therefore, more customers can be reached without affecting the quality of collaboration.
For instance, digital networks offer rich interactions with numerous consumers in a consistent manner. Besides, effective networks offer persistent interaction between customers and companies. This is in contrast to past strategies, which offered episodic engagement. New technologies have made digital networks more persistent in engaging customers (Applegate, Austin, & Soule, 2009).
Effective business networks offer standardization that guarantees increased data and intelligence sharing for members of a collaborative business network. Moreover, effective business networks cushion businesses from security concerns which envelope most networking strategies. Better networks embrace openness, which promotes the sharing of data and intelligence for improved efficiency.
Business networks offer additional benefits to firms if they can aggregate and analyze data on behalf of the business (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013). For instance, Beiersdorf has a network that integrates intelligence by analyzing its data from external data companies like Nielsen. This information helps the company to know its achievements across various variables. Moreover, organizations such as Hawaii State have also utilized the geospatial platform for purposes of collaboration, which have been important in improving its disaster response techniques. In all these cases, it is evident that effective networks are vital to organizations.
Networks also help companies to build insights from customer interactions, which enable the companies to adapt to the ever-changing business environment. The benefits of the network will be extensive and invisible. Every enterprise will be expected to incorporate a collaborative network to succeed in business. Networks are beneficial to companies regardless of specialization.
The business network has the benefit of achieving a collaborative advantage (Huxham & Vangen, 2007). Collaborative advantage inspires individuals to achieve new heights that would otherwise be impossible. The business network also helps in harnessing cultural diversity. This is essential in creating shared goals for maximum productivity. Moreover, when collaborative advantage is achieved, then employees get job satisfaction because their efforts are appreciated. In this regard, employees can monitor their career progress. Effectively, employees who enjoy collaborative advantage have an edge over others because they possess better problem-solving skills.
Business networks also offer career opportunities to members of the network system. The business network builds employee confidence in sharing information that can improve business productivity (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013). Moreover, the business network provides a direct link between consumers and company personnel that gives the company an idea of consumer needs. If well managed, the business network is vital to business enterprises and organizations throughout the globe.
Effective business network
The 21st century has come with new demands from customers. Customers have reduced their spending power due to difficult economic times with increased demands. Consequently, firms face great pressure to offer increased value for their products and services to customers. Also, the firms face difficulties in improving efficiency even as they reduce the cost of production. It is also interesting to note that firms are forced to produce compelling goods or services. In essence, goods or services must be tailored to the customer’s needs. This has created the need for collaboration to help identify and address customer needs by networking with stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, and partners, among others. In this regard, companies are increasingly looking for ways of creating effective business networks that enhance collaboration (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013).
An effective business network can only be achieved by incorporating employees and other stakeholders within and outside the organization. Also, a good collaborative network should be implemented to maximize the benefits of business networking for the organization. However, it should be noted that collaboration needs connectivity. Therefore, technological advances in connectivity have what it takes to enhance collaboration. Moreover, enhanced collaboration provides the platform for creating value-added goods or services (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013).
Effective networks require that customers participate in creating, making as well as selling goods or services. This can only be achieved by improving connectivity between customers and organizations. An effective network promotes the creation of value. Business enterprises have evolved in the 21st century through collaborative business networks. Effective networks require individuals involved to embrace the sharing of information (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013).
Resistive cultures to data sharing would greatly impede the sharing of business intelligence thereby lowering the level of openness between members of a collaborative network. In this regard, an effective business network should be open. This enables it to have the capability of connecting with ant technology or protocol thereby widening the range for amassing business data. Additionally, an effective business network should be comprehensive to incorporate many partners with the ability to collaborate on a global scale. Besides, the effective network should have the capability of doing multiple processes.
For instance, the Amazon system has the capability of not only finding partners but also purchasing from them as well as tracking the status of shipments, among others. Furthermore, an effective network should be intelligent (Boudreau & Lakhani, 2013). This enables the network to aggregate and analyze information successfully. This would enable the network to unlock business opportunities as well as anticipate setbacks.
Steps and Actions
Before implementing a collaborative network system, all employees should be made aware of the system. Employees should also understand the technology platform that has been used to develop a new collaboration strategy. Moreover, it is essential to note that all stakeholders comprehend the significance and expected outcomes or benefits of the system to be implemented. This is aimed at ensuring that all employees understand and embrace the collaboration strategy to be adopted. The management should also examine if the organizational culture promotes information sharing. In case, employees are encouraged to hoard information, then this has to be eradicated to pave way for collaborative networks. Once the business has been set on a collaborative spectrum, the following steps must be followed in setting up a collaborative business network system (DeLoatch, 2016).
Senior managers should be enlisted to help promote teamwork between various departments in readiness for collaborative system enterprise. Firstly, the organization should also create business rationales for the collaborative network program to be implemented. This could be achieved by instituting business objectives and identifying a collaborative network system that supports the objectives. Secondly, the organization should teach its employees how to make good use of the collaborative system to be rolled out. This involves two main processes, one that teaches employees the technical aspects of using the system and the beneficial facets of utilizing it. Thirdly, the organization should evaluate the adoption and usage of the system by taking the correct measurements. Finally, the organization should find ways of keeping the employees involved with the system (DeLoatch, 2016).
As much as business-networking offers value to both companies and consumers, it also has pitfalls. For instance, when companies extend their networks, this exposes the company to multiple potential risks in terms of their security. This pitfall has discouraged most executives from participating fully in implementing collaborative networks because they are afraid of the risks involved when collaboration stops.
Vital company secrets could be leaked out when fractures develop between two or more collaborating networks (Sacchetti, 2012). Another pitfall that companies engaged in collaborative networks face is lack of standardization. Standardization of software has been made difficult because companies are unwilling to swap convenience for customization. These companies do not comprehend the need for standardization for increased data through business networks.
Government regulations sometimes curb the level of openness in collaborative networks. This can act as a pitfall to business networks because government regulations would limit the level of openness between networks thereby limiting the amount of data shared. People tend to hesitate when it comes to sharing data outside their departments or even beyond the business. This happens because they fear losing control of their departments or businesses (Sacchetti, 2012). This can be a pitfall in the business network when it hinders information sharing in collaborative networks.
Another pitfall that concerns business network happens when companies consider collaboration as outsourcing. In this regard, some companies apply production outsourcing to collaboration to lower their production costs. These companies do not gain all the benefits of business networking when they take the outsourcing approach to collaboration. Instead, they realize failure in reaching their objectives because no value is created.
Networking pitfalls are disruptive. Firms or individuals should have prior plans made before they get into the business network. In case one is attending a business event, the individual should understand the scope of going to that event beforehand to avoid confusion. Individuals should focus on how they are going to stand out at the event. They should also consider the unique values they are going to add to the event.
In the case of an internet-based network, the business should asses its suitability in the forum. Another network pitfall that should be avoided is forgetting to analyze potential participants. Failing to analyze participants in the network would mean that an individual or business does not comprehend the network strategy to be pursued. Time is also of the essence, businesses or individuals participating in the business network should keep time. Arriving late can give a lasting impression on partners thereby hindering progress (Sacchetti, 2012).
How to maintain a network
For companies to maintain networks, several risk factors should be considered. For instance, security issues should be evaluated o assess trust levels for openness. In most cases, companies are advised to offer a data-centric approach to collaboration. Although this approach offers ‘zero trusts’ as it is known, it ensures that all required information for collaboration is availed. Most companies seek business interests in collaborative networks, consequently, maintaining the network requires that required data be availed to members. An effective network can only be maintained when standardization is encouraged.
Standardization would offer increased data as well as intelligence sharing for the creation of value in business networks. Government regulations should be accommodative for the sharing of data to help maintain the business network. This is essential because, in some countries, the kind of data shared between companies or individuals is restricted. This can hamper the maintenance of a good network. Maintenance of a business network requires organizations to control cultural resistance to information sharing. As mentioned above, most companies have organizational cultures that hider sharing of information. Besides, people are usually hesitant when it comes to revealing information surrounding the workings of their departments. This culture should be controlled to enable openness for effective collaborative networks (Sacchetti, 2012).
For companies to maintain the business network, they need to separate collaboration from outsourcing. By mixing the two business processes, trust can be destroyed because the firm would view others as a means to cut costs. In the end, little will be achieved and the business would be forced back to the drawing board. Firms that maintain networks go beyond wage arbitrage. These firms collaborate with other partners in the search for knowledge and skills with emphasis on improving their top-line.
It should be noted that while outsourcing seeks to replicate products at a cheap cost, the collaboration seeks new value on the products. Companies should, therefore, recognize the difference between outsourcing and collaboration to avoid mistakes in implementing a collaboration enterprise. In essence, firms that need to implement collaboration effectively should explore their calculated role for collaboration. The strategic role of the network should be following the business strategy (Miller, Besser, & Malshe, 2007).
Also, the company should plan adequately for rolling out a collaborative network. The company should also invest extensively to develop collaborative potential. The strategic role in developing a collaborative network should be to increase product differentiation. This can be achieved by leveraging members’ superior competences. Moreover, the company should consider members’ contextual knowledge. This would enable the company to assess drivers of product differentiation namely cost, capability, and context.
Companies should also think strategically if they expect to maintain a business network. Partner selection is very important for managers to achieve competitive advantages of collaboration. This requires an assessment of partner merits along with multi-dimensional lenses. This helps the company to decide on areas to invest strategically in-network and the technology to be utilized in that case. Firms should also recognize the fact that collaboration can only be maintained if it is applied in the correct situation.
That is, the approach taken by the company should be suitable for the challenge. It should also be noted that a business network requires trust. However, trust cannot be built without personal commitment. Therefore, companies should have the right individuals with the capacity to offer a personal commitment to a good collaborative network. Maintain a business network is not easy; a lot of commitment must go into its operation and running (Lockett, Jack, & Larty, 2013).
How business network differs globally
Different countries have various government policies and regulations concerning data and intelligence sharing. This factor greatly affects the effectiveness of collaborative networks. For instance, restrictive countries hamper openness between networks thereby reducing the efficiency of collaboration. On the other hand, countries that allow the flow of data like the United States promote collaborative networks thereby promoting the creation of value. Business networks differ concerning technologies utilized in their implementation. For instance, most third world countries use traditional business network strategies (Tang, 2011).
Most organizations and businesses in low-income countries use trade shows to develop their business networks. This involves attending local trade shows to increase personal networks. However, the reduced cost of technology has also enabled some medium and large-scale businesses in low-income countries to focus on internet-based networks in parallel with face-to-face networks. Most of these companies are yet to enjoy the full benefits of the business network because they have fewer resources to cover the added cost. Also, consumers in low-income countries tend to focus on basic needs. This reduces the effectiveness of business networking in low-income countries (Tang, 2011).
Case studies from low-income states have shown that the business network is not as revolutionary as it is in middle income and high-income countries. However, this failure does not disapprove of the benefits of the business network. Even a small dimension, businesses in low-income countries develop because of skills gained from interactions and business networking. It should be noted that informal business network is predominant in developing countries because most of their activities are less formalized.
On the other hand, businesses in developed countries have integrated the use of business networks. Businesses and organizations in countries such as the United States and China, among others, have shown that business network has great potential (Gellman, 2015).
Moreover, these businesses have illustrated the significance of the business network. In an increasingly dynamic market environment, businesses are forced to tailor the goods to the needs of consumers. In this regard, the business network has become even more important than research and development processes that were utilized in product development. A business network can be open or closed. Most open business networks tend to attract more members than closed ones. Business networking can also be hierarchical or equitable. Hierarchical business networks are always selective while equitable networks are always evenhanded.
On a global scale, the type of network is chosen based on its scope (Tang, 2011). A business network is more intense in developed countries than in developing countries. Moreover, formal networks are numerous in the developed world than in developing worlds. Also, most networks in developing countries are sporadic while most networks in developed countries are persistent. In general, business networking in developed countries is at different levels from the ones in developing countries. However, with the decreasing cost of technology, it is expected that business networking will revolutionize the globe. A growing need to prioritize consumer needs is converging businesses to explore collaborative measures. To his extent, more and more businesses are embracing collaboration to improve their collection. In the next decade, collaborative networks will be inevitable for businesses across the globe (Vangen, 2011).
Business networks have become increasingly important especially in the 21st century. Most firms are no longer able to satisfy all customers’ wants. Consequently, businesses have been forced to come together in collaborative networks to create superior value for their customers. Simultaneously, businesses are facing pressure to reduce the cost of production as well as increase the quality of their products. These objectives can only be achieved through collaborative networks. In this regard, firms are seeking network strategies that have the capability of enhancing collaboration. Collaboration has the advantage of helping companies to cut costs on production without interfering with quality.
Several business network strategies have been developed to help improve the creation of value. These include the use of digital networks such as the enterprise collaboration system and Cisco collaboration framework to increase data and intelligence sharing. Digital strategies have been found to offer increased benefits to firms on collaboration than traditional strategies. Digital network strategies offer a wide range of data from across the globe while traditional strategies offer few data from a limited range. Additionally, digital network strategies require fewer resources to implement while traditional strategies need more resources to conduct.
Besides, digital network strategies offer persistent collaboration while traditional network strategies offer intermittent collaboration. Collaborative networks also have their pitfalls if they are not well maintained. For instance, they offer security concerns, lack of standardization when maintenance is not observed effectively. Additionally, it should be noted that different counties provide differing regulations on content sharing which can hamper intelligence sharing across different countries. Nonetheless, collaborative networks are important in every organization that prioritizes the creation of value.
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