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B2B Marketing & the Sharing Economy

The new sharing economy is affecting B2B marketing strategies in a significant way. We should strive to exchange customer and marketing data with other companies, as this sharing can only help increase business and profit margins. How can businesses analyze data about other businesses and determine the best marketing angles and approaches to take in marketing to them? For example, Amazon Web Services has done an amazing job of identifying the need for affordable server space with variable demand: the amount of space needed fluctuates, and cloud space is needed on a regular basis.

It would be beneficial to analyze the data on current opportunities for growth and gaps in suppliers of business-specific needs—but how can you access that data and from whom should you access it? In this new collaborative environment, there’s a greater degree of personalization and customization, and goal-directed behaviors on the part of B2B buyers are more pronounced. Lastly, data sharing and purchasing decisions between marketing departments are made in collaborative circles, as opposed to via rigid processes.

Sharing should include the targeting of businesses as potential clients and B2B customers—and future partners, in some cases—rather than mere competition, as with B2C marketing. At the marketing level, this means mimicking trends in the increasingly popular sharing B2C economy models, such as Uber and AirBnB. New platforms of customer data sharing are emerging, such as data co-ops. These cooperatives allow marketing departments to have access to other companies’ customer data, such as static or demographic data.

One interesting niche that is being tapped into is the innovation angle—which is huge for businesses in terms of research and development of their marketing strategy. An example of this type of innovation-related collaboration is the recent partnership of Fisher-Price and Quirky, an online inventor community. Quirky encouraged Fisher-Price to consider the consumer preferences of millennials in the packaging and design of new products. There’s also the strategy of sharing assets such as employees (as with UpWork) or workspace (as with LiquidSpace) in order to maximize ROI and productivity while minimizing excess expenses. The bottom line to all this sharing is that it is affecting both the nature of new businesses and the nature of data sharing between businesses.

Data Sharing & Acquisition in B2B Marketing

Generally speaking, there are four sources of B2B data: internal data, public data, self-provided data, and developed data. Internal data is very valuable because it is “highly relevant to the business of the company and there will be no better source of data to describe prospects and customers.” The second best source of data is developed data, since it is likely to be verified and accurate. However, it is also expensive, so internal data that is freely and willingly exchanged is ideal, if possible.

In general, according to Barry Levine of Marketing Land, there are three commonly-known types of data: first-party data is brand-owned information about their own clients or site/app visitors; second-party data is first-party data sold or traded with someone else; and third-party data is aggregated data like demographics, which anyone can buy. Of particular interest in determining much of these corporate and B2B-specific needs is second-party data—first-party data about a particular business that is shared directly with another business, usually in exchange for some of that other businesses’ data, in turn. This is another way the sharing economy is influencing the marketing world: through the practice of marketers sharing their company’s first-party data with other marketers. Thus, it’s not only the industries that are becoming more collaborative; it’s also the nature of marketers and their method of obtaining marketing data that is integrating a sharing approach, more often than not.

In a recent article by Steve Ustaris on Chief Marketer, a distinction is made between traditional second-party data and second-party data 2.0: “The 2.0 version of the second-party data marketplace is what I would label as transparent data sharing between brands with no existing relationship, and no existing practice of sharing marketing assets.” This kind of data-sharing between companies with no prior relationship would necessitate a sharing platform such as a data co-op that shares information about potential B2B target market information, as well as information about the marketing departments of competing brands so as to be better able to analyze the behavior of other marketers in your industry.

One exciting development in data-sharing, 2.0 style—according to Levine’s recent article on Marketing Land, one company that has recently made more democratically-provided data available is Adobe, whose Marketplace via Marketing Cloud helps publishers find partners for their first-party customer data—turning that first-party data into third-party data. Of course, all of the data made available to marketers is sold and made available on a voluntary basis. The Marketplace “takes care of legal and billing arrangements, is vetting the quality of the data for things like adherence to data privacy and security standards, and makes the data available on a self-serve basis.” As Matt Ackley points out, however, second-party data is more likely to be more accurate than third-party data because it’s directly provided to you by the company, rather than via public records or data brokers. Therefore, a direct relationship with a company is ideal; however, a reliable data source such as Adobe Marketplace is a close runner-up.

All this talk of direct relationships reminds me that it’s always best to obtain your information about other businesses directly, rather than indirectly. Not only will the information be more secure and reliable, but you’re also more likely to develop a new professional relationship with people in another marketing department. Therefore, you’ll have further developed your people and networking skills, along with your knowledge about another company’s client base. Not surprisingly, one major source of client acquisition, especially for B2B clients, is LinkedIn—allowing you to leverage your existing relationships along with building new ones. This type of online networking platform is comparable to mingling at an industry conference or an inter-company party.

After all, as Helen Yang stresses in a recent Connectors article, “Being truly “customer-centric” isn’t converting a lead or closing a deal; it’s forming friendships.” That kind of B2B relationship-building isn’t merely good for forming individual business relationships; it can also help foster additional business connections, since it helps solidify your individual character in others’ eyes, increasing the likelihood that you’ll be introduced to other business contacts, in the future. Who knows: maybe there’s a business opportunity in your industry related to helping to introduce business people to each other. The more businesses think of other businesses as human, as opposed to being composed of a set of numbers and statistics, the more likely we are to be successful in appealing to new potential clients—after all, they’re people, too.

It’s in companies’ best interests to share data about customer behavior, preferences, and other statistics, because it will ultimately help increase your company’s bottom line. The more that data sharing is done ethically and with transparency, the higher the bar is likely to be set. The more we as marketers can encourage effective platforms for data sharing and analysis, the most demand there will be for efficient and user-friendly sharing. In fact, it’s very likely that data sharing platforms such as AdRoll and Adobe Marketplace inspire the creation of other diverse and effective data sharing models and platforms. It’s up to us to get the proverbial ball rolling.