You’ll get different answers if you ask any business today whether it has adopted an ecosystem model. They could range from “what is that?” to “what does it mean?” It’s a marketing trend, or it could be a business model that isn’t working for them.
Business ecosystems consist of partners, customers, and influencers. They also include academics, NGOs, and associations.
This approach can create partnerships that seem unlikely, sometimes between competitors. These partnerships are beneficial for the companies involved, their clients, and even the entire industry.
Take the Apple/IBM collaboration. Both companies, which were historically viewed as rivals, have evolved their mobile and enterprise technology to the point that a partnership is a natural extension of their business. Apple is a dominant player in the consumer market, while IBM has a solid foothold in enterprise computing. IBM and Apple are able to pursue more opportunities together while gaining an edge over their competitors.
This partnership appears to be between Apple and IBM. It is not just Apple and IBM that are involved.
What if you don’t have a big name in your industry? Or is the C-suite reluctant to allow “outsiders’ in?
First, ecosystems do not only belong to large, global companies. Smaller organizations are better suited to build and leverage their ecosystems because they’re more agile. Although the hesitation to open your business processes may be a valid concern for your company, it will limit its ability to grow, evolve, and seize new opportunities. Instead, create an ecosystem that has boundaries.
Create the Foundation
Assess your market:
- Consider your 12- to 18-month strategy. Who are your partners who can help you to leapfrog over the customer experience competition?
- Focus your organization on collective vision instead of brands. CPG companies are often guilty of narrowly viewing the world through their products. Technology businesses can also lose sight and become too engineering-driven. You should ask yourself, “What is the market’s need?” Who can I turn to for help in achieving my vision? What can I do in return for their business?
- Use this knowledge to help you shape your approach. Focusing on the bigger customer problems and taking a holistic approach will usually define the key players in your ecosystem.
Building a Sustainable Ecosystem
Adopt a more ecosystem-oriented mindset. Every business has its ecosystem. However, three elements make up any ecosystem.
Refine your partner program.
In the beginning, partnerships were formed when businesses with complementary products and mutual interests joined forces to serve their customers. Over time, associations have become an extension of a business’s sales pipeline. They are now largely dependent on volume.
We don’t intend to reduce or abandon healthy channel partner programs. However, for an ecosystem to be developed effectively, we need to engage a subset more deeply. These partners are identified by several factors, including complementary offerings, target customers and audiences, and strategic direction.
Expand your boundaries and reach
Think beyond your inner circle and partner organizations to grow your ecosystem.
The healthcare industry is an excellent example of how unanticipated partnerships can create vibrant ecosystems. Consider the evolution of house calls. This standard practice was abandoned when people found more efficient ways to communicate with their doctor – better transportation, telephone advice, and advances in medicine. This ecosystem grew to encompass a wide range of industries in the interest of patients/customers.
The healthcare industry is constantly evolving. The healthcare industry is a vast ecosystem. It includes apps for monitoring health, research in academia, technology that can identify and treat potential problems before they become emergencies, government regulations, and a growing shift toward patient-centric care.
Prioritize your ecosystem’s evolution.
As your business and ecosystem develop, some partnerships will grow and expand while others may change and disappear. You must, therefore, ensure that your ecosystem is constantly evolving. Your marketing department should lead this effort but involve all key stakeholders within your company.
The ecosystem business model is becoming more popular. No other function can lead and execute this effort better than the CMO. The marketing function has a pulse on customers’ needs, as well as insight into the business and the industry in general. It is up to them to set the strategic direction for the company, articulate its vision, and form authentic and mutually beneficial partnerships.