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by Matt Manning

Some 18 years ago I spoke at the European Association of Directory Publishers conference. This was at the very height of irrational exuberance over online information services. The conference attendees were all very interested in transactional business models such as those floated by VerticalNet. The idea was that you could create a buyer’s and seller’s marketplace on your web site (a buyer’s guide combined with an RFP and ecommerce mechanism) and use a business model where the buyers and sellers would compensate the platform’s owner via a percentage of the deal transacted.

At the time, I certainly understood why the platform owners would like that model, but I saw no reason why the buyers and sellers would agree to participate under those terms. Yes, sellers will pay for advertising and ‘preferred placement’ in search results to reach buyers without any guarantee of return on that investment, but the idea of paying a big commission (a small % but large dollar amount) on a guaranteed order was still something most firms would only entrust to their in-house sales teams. And, of course, there was the obvious issue that users could choose a vendor, agree to terms, and simply do the deal offline.

Almost two decades later, we have not advanced much further toward this exact transactional model, but there are a couple of variant business models that are taking hold and showing the path forward.

The first is BuyerZone’s model, which uses sophisticated SEM strategies coupled with a short survey to identify people looking to purchase a particular product right now. They do this by buying web traffic for specific keywords and displaying a link to a brief survey in the search results. The survey refines the search request and gathers data on the requester. Vendors agree in advance to pay $X for each qualified buyer delivered, so the end result is that BuyerZone can sell vendors a list of specific people interested in buying a very specific product (i.e., not a printer but an HP Envy 401X printer) and they can even take it a step further and provide retailers with lists of people in their geographic area who want to buy their products now.

Another more hands-off approach is the “deal room” model where two parties to a large transaction agree to pay flat fees for access to a collaborative workspace powered by third-party software and relevant data. It works like co-working space where the buyers and sellers can pay a flat fee and get in and out with no long-term commitments. This software-first model has a low barrier to entry and delivers the kind of ROI that buyers instinctively understand and appreciate.

Both of these models for enabling transactions involve transparent pricing and convenience to the firms buying the service – the two aspects missing from the ‘wishful thinking’ transactional business model of 1999. I expect these to evolve in 2018, along with other creative approaches to inserting ‘middlemen’ layers into b-to-b buyer and seller transactions, eclipsing the traditional industry-specific buyer’s guide model completely in the not-too-distant future.

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posted by Shyamali Ghosh on December 11, 2017

by Matt Manning

This year’s Business Information Media Summit (BIMS) continued the tradition of a strong program including some of the information industry’s leading lights. The general sessions took on more of a ‘data’ feel than in past years. Keynoters and those participating in the advertising, marketing, content, and strategy tracks all got deep into the weeds on how to harness the power of data to better serve customers and move the needle on revenues.

Thomson Reuters’ head of innovation for their financial products, Debra Walton, stressed that understanding what makes data valuable to end-users is essential in a world where executives need to process and analyze more data than ever before. Building the tools to tap in to the insights buried in mountains of big data is where the action is in her markets. Thomson Reuters’ Tracer app sifts through the bottomless pit of real-time social media data to identify disruptive events of critical importance to global supply chain managers.

More typical b-to-b information firms showed they can play this game, too. Hanley-Wood’s CEO Peter Goldstone, for instance, described his massive transformation of the firm’s business model, one of the more audacious gambles to date on a data-driven future. The change sacrificed substantial advertising revenue streams to pursue a data-centered product strategy.

And, of course, everyone could not stop talking about the value of intent data that predicts exactly who will be buying what in the not-too-distant future. TrueInfluence is perhaps one of the best examples of a firm that found a creative solution to divining b-to-b buying intent by applying account-based-marketing principles to target marketing. They focus on finding enterprise-level intent indicators first and then delivering high-quality contact data for the folks who will eventually sign a contract, thus boosting response rates for big-ticket purchases.

Artificial intelligence even reared its head for the first time at BIMS. Sapient took a quick look at practical AI applications that can help publishers improve online information and marketing services, as well as previewing the day when AI will not just make a recommendation, but will be able to do what’s recommended.

Other intriguing glimpses into the near future of the information business included the proliferation of training services sold as memberships (Victoria Mellor, co-founder of Melcrum), the move to data cooperatives (Gordon Anderson, Content VP at InsideView), the growth of events as core products (Diane Arseneau, CEO of Zagora), explosive growth in the regulatory compliance service business (Chelsea Brookes, Product Manager, HCPro), and turning raw data into natural language recommendations (Raul Valdes-Perez, CEO of OnlyBoth).

My prediction for the next five years in the information business? Jump on to the digital data rollercoaster and hang on for dear life! There has never been a better time for the information business to transform the way the world works than right now. Put on your thinking caps and carve out your piece of the future today.

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posted by Shyamali Ghosh on November 27, 2017