The sharing economy, defined as the sharing of assets or services between consumers, has expanded to encompass the realm of business-to-business (B2B) interactions. In this evolving landscape, businesses are embracing the concept of sharing services and assets among themselves to unlock untapped value.
The B2B sharing economy, aided by technological advancements, has gained momentum in recent years, although its roots go back decades. Businesses are leveraging this model to minimize costs and access a wide range of resources. The B2B sharing economy is reshaping how businesses operate and collaborate, from coworking spaces and business incubators to freelancers and ride-sharing services. [Read more about the best sources of B2B lead prospects.]
The sharing economy, also known as the peer-to-peer sharing economy, is a system where assets or services are shared between consumers. Instead of consumers trading goods and services, businesses in a B2B economy share services and assets with each other.
“As in the peer-to-peer sharing economy, the B2B sharing economy works by unlocking the value pent up in underutilized assets,” Robert Vaughan, managing consultant of economics & investment strategy for PA Consulting, told business.com.
While technology has greatly advanced the B2B sharing economy in recent years, the concept has been around for decades. Shel Horowitz, a profitability consultant for green and social entrepreneurship businesses, said he first started using the principles of the sharing economy more than 30 years ago. He was running a resume business that relied on an expensive laser printer. To share the burden of the costs, he got several other businesses to pay to use the printer, which stayed in his office, when they needed it.
Horowitz said he got the idea to have other businesses share the costs after visiting an Ohio community where, instead of every homeowner having a lawn mower, a group of them had chipped in to buy a tractor and used it not only to mow their lawns but also to take care of some farm acreage.
“This inspired me to be creative some years later when I started my own business,” Horowitz said. “The virtues of the sharing economy — both frugality and community — were obvious to me even back then.”
Today’s B2B sharing economy encompasses a wide range of services. Office space, cloud-based services, freelance workers and loans all are aspects of this sharing economy.
Yard Club is often credited with being one of the first businesses to truly base its offering on the B2B sharing economy model. Founded in 2013, Yard Club (acquired by Caterpillar in 2017) started as an online peer-to-peer construction equipment rental platform. The platform allowed businesses to rent idle equipment from other construction companies.
Other popular pioneers of the B2B sharing economy include Flexe, which connects organizations that need warehouse space to organizations with extra space, and Cargomatic, which matches shippers with carriers.
While initially the B2B sharing focused on peer-to-peer services similar to the B2C sharing economy, it now offers a wider range of services. Below are some of the many B2B sharing economy services available today:
Discover how businesses can optimize communication infrastructure with the best business phone systems available by reviewing our comprehensive guide.
Cloud computing offers a wide range of benefits for organizations of various sizes and industries, enabling them to leverage it for processes like data backup, email services, virtual desktops, software development and testing, big data analytics and the development of customer-facing web applications.
Unlock the financial possibilities for your business by exploring the best business loans and financing options available.
Streamline your payroll processes and ensure accurate and efficient payroll management by reviewing the best online payroll companies.
Claire McTaggart, founder of the HR tech platform SquarePeg, said her company has taken full advantage of the growing B2B sharing economy.
“Like many new tech startups, at SquarePeg we have taken advantage of the proliferation of free or discounted B2B services, which keep our recurring costs very low,” McTaggart told us.
She said the company uses coworking spaces in New York City that provide access to desks, video-equipped conference rooms, high-speed internet, coffee, computer monitors, landlines, printing and a host of other services for less than $1,000 a month. In addition, it has joined business incubators, which provide mentorship and help with legal, tech, PR and marketing tasks, and hired technical talent from abroad through Upwork
A Business.com survey found that nearly one-quarter of businesses use the sharing economy to hire freelancers and contract workers, while 13 percent are using it to access technology, like Amazon Web Services. In addition, 11 percent use platforms like WeWork to find office space.
Even though ridesharing sites like Uber and Lyft are more consumer-focused, 37 percent of the businesses surveyed said they use these services for business-related purposes.
Kristina Marsh, owner of Kris Marsh Consulting, said she is seeing the B2B shared economy from both sides of the equation — as a consumer and a provider. She said that, as a business owner, she is using the shared-service model for both office space and employees.
Marsh said her business had outgrown her home office, but traditional office space was too expensive. She ended up finding space in a local business incubator.
“It provides me with dedicated office space, access to conference rooms and service areas at an affordable shared-service cost,” Marsh said. “It has been a game-changer for my business by providing me with professional workspace for client meetings and workshops.”
On the flip side, Marsh said her consulting business offers shared services.
“The service line allows me to serve as an extension of my clients’ leadership teams, in the capacity of an experienced marketing director,” Marsh said. “These small and midsized businesses cannot afford a full-time marketing director, or they simply don’t have the organizational structure in place to support that move. This business model allows them to fast-track their marketing strategy and initiatives with an experienced marketing leader on their team, at an affordable shared-service cost.”
The sharing economy is undergoing a transformation, transitioning from its turbulent adolescent phase to a mature and stable adulthood. This evolution is fueled by factors such as a shift in businesses’ consumption model from ownership to usership, rapid digital technology adoption, the recognition of economic benefits derived from collaborative consumption, and the use of crowd-sourced assets and services.
Businesses are recognizing the numerous benefits, both economic and social, that come with sharing assets. They have realized that adopting a usership model, where consumption is based on utilization rather than ownership, can generate multiple sustainable advantages. This shift in perspective is leading to a transformation in the way businesses operate and derive value from their assets.
In the next decade, we can expect the B2B sharing economy to gain momentum, much like the current state of B2C sharing. Large organizations will increasingly recognize B2B sharing as a lucrative avenue for generating revenue from their capital-intensive equipment that would otherwise remain idle.
As global connectivity continues to increase, the sharing economy is projected to experience significant growth over the next decade, with a yearly compound annual growth (CAGR) of about 32 percent, according to Statista. Collaborative consumption and asset sharing will become the norm, revolutionizing industries like travel, tourism, transportation and real estate. Moreover, the emerging B2B sharing revolution not only promises to disrupt industries and reshape economies but also holds the potential to foster inclusive and regenerative societies in a post-pandemic world.
Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.