A business network refers to a complex, enduring, and interdependent webs of business relationships among market and non-market actors that allow firms to co-create value in their business environment.[1][2] Firms influence their markets by managing and signalling their network positions,[3] facilitating entry of new actors, or removing other actors, for instance, through disintermediation, which means elimitating the middleman.

When some actors within a business network have joint strategic intents and work together to achieve certain objectives, then the network is called a strategic business net.[4] These objectives, which are strategic and operational, are adopted by business networks based on their role in the market.[5]


Several descriptions of business networks stipulate different types of characteristics:


In the late 20th century, the study of business networks emerged in the field of industrial markets.[citation needed] Researchers analyzed the transactions and communications beneath the visible flows of products, inquiries, sales visits and negotiations, and beyond the visible growth and prosperity of some companies and the failure of others.[9]

Snehota and Hakansson (1995) explain: For more than twenty years, we have analyzed business networks for answers to the many questions about industrial markets. Unlike consumer markets, industrial markets are not generally known to the public, nor to many management scholars. We have been surprised by the complexity of industrial markets and at the same time by the apparent smoothness of their working. Gradually, we have acquired respect for their importance and complexity and learned how they work.[9]

Another study on business networks was carried out by Ecorys between 2013 and 2014. This study was specific to EU-level business networks and was financed by the European Commission. The main objective of the study was to investigate and highlight the new forms of inter-firm collaboration and to propose possible measures to support and coordinate them in Europe where and if appropriate. This study included the objectives and categorization of business networks.[5]


Business networks have two types of objectives — strategic and operational — that are adopted depending on the role of the business network in the market.[5]

Strategic objectives

Strategic objectives are focused on long term activities, such as:

Operational objectives

Operational objectives are diverse and include:


Business networks can be divided into two main categories: business associations and company aggregations.[5]

Business associations

Business associations — also called business networks as business associations — provide member companies with a platform and conditions for cooperation to meet an objective. The companies decide if they want to cooperate to achieve that objective.

Business associations create a level playing field for cooperation among companies. They have a stable and well-functioning governance structure. The members may pay a fee to the association. In return, the business association monitors and meets the needs of their members and proactively develops and provides new services. This is the key task of business associations.

Business associations provide services that are generally more professional, extensive, and cost effective compared to services offered by individual members.

Figure 1: Relationship between the business association and its members, and among the members.[5]

In a business association, there is a direct link between the business association (central body) and each of its constituent members. This is displayed with solid bidirectional arrows (refer to Figure 1). The members may or may not choose to cooperate with each other, displayed with dashed lines between companies.

Business associations are further categorized by sector or by location and scope.

Company aggregations

Company aggregations — also called business networks as company aggregations — are formed by companies, which decide to cooperate and aggregate. Unlike business associations, these companies have already taken the decision to work together on a joint set of objectives.

In a company aggregation, companies collaborate directly with each other without a representative and/or a servicing association. The aggregation of the companies can be formalized through a business contract.

Figure 2: Company aggregations have two forms of cooperation: horizontal and vertical.[5]

Company aggregations have two forms of cooperation: horizontal and vertical. (refer to Figure 2)

Business network model

The characteristics of a business network model are:

Business network companies — that is, platform and network-based companies — outperform traditional companies. Some of the advantages of business network companies are:[10][11]

Some companies that follow a business network model include Trepup, eBay, Red Hat, Visa, Uber, TripAdvisor, Alibaba.[10]

Difference between business networks, clusters, and joint ventures

Difference between clusters and business networks

Clusters are a network of connected businesses, suppliers, and associates in a specific field that are all located in the same geographical area.[12]

Conversely, companies in a business network are not bound by geographical locations or sectors, and can be focused around any specific objective.[5]

Difference between joint ventures and business networks

A joint venture is a new legal entity created by two or more companies, generally characterized by shared ownership, shared returns and risks, and shared governance. The companies come together to accomplish a specific task, such as a project or a business activity.[13]

In a business network, on the other hand, the autonomy of each of the companies is preserved and no new legal entity is formed. The companies capitalize on the network to create opportunities and expand their individual business interests.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Holmqvist, Jonas; Diaz Ruiz, Carlos (2017-01-01). "Service ecosystems, markets and business networks: What is the difference? A horizontal literature review". The TQM Journal. 29 (6): 800–810. doi:10.1108/TQM-03-2017-0028. ISSN 1754-2731.
  2. ^ Ford, David, Lars-Erik Gadde, and Håkan Håkansson. Managing business relationships. (2003).
  3. ^ Tóth, Zsófia; Naudé, Peter; Henneberg, Stephan C.; Diaz Ruiz, Carlos Adrian (2020-01-01). "The strategic role of corporate online references: building social capital through signaling in business networks". Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing. 36 (8): 1300–1321. doi:10.1108/JBIM-02-2020-0101. ISSN 0885-8624. S2CID 234408021.
  4. ^ Möller, Kristian; Rajala, Arto; Svahn, Senja (2005-09-01). "Strategic business nets—their type and management". Journal of Business Research. Special Section: Inter-organisational research in the Nordic countries. 58 (9): 1274–1284. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2003.05.002. ISSN 0148-2963.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Business Networks - Ecorys - European Commission
  6. ^ Jeffrey Word (2009). Business Network Transformation: Strategies to Reconfigure Your Business Relationships for Competitive Advantage. p. 198
  7. ^ Peter H.M. Vervest, Eric van Heck, Kenneth Preiss, Louis-Francois Pau (2005). Smart Business Networks. pp. 20.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Lundy Lewis (2001) Managing Business and Service Networks. p. 138
  9. ^ a b Snehota, Ivan, and Hakan Hakansson, eds. Developing relationships in business networks. Londres: Routledge, 1995. p. xii
  10. ^ a b Libert, Barry; Wind, Yoram (Jerry); Beck, Megan (20 November 2014). "What Airbnb, Uber, and Alibaba Have in Common". Harvard Business Review.
  11. ^ "Networks and Platform Based Business Models Win in the Digital Age, According to a New Study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania's SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management". 28 June 2016.
  12. ^ "Business Dictionary - Business cluster". Archived from the original on 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  13. ^ "Investopedia - Joint Venture".