Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Competitors Closer

Over the last few months, I have gained some interesting insights into how to deal with competitors.  Until now, I’ve always seen them as the “enemy” — faceless companies that we are in battle with everyday. However, recently my company has made a conscience  effort to reach out to many of our competitors in a positive, open, and non-threatening way.  The response has been surprising and insightful.

What I’ve learned from these conversations is that:

  • most competitors feel as threatened by you as you are by them and are appreciative of you reaching out to them,
  • the conversations start off very awkward; however without disclosing any secrets and by having a short chat about each other’s high-level objectives and market focus (yes, that means you have to share your plans as well!), you can uncover mutual opportunities that were not obvious before,
  • ultimately, if all goes well, you can potentially convert what you perceived as competitors into partners.
This was intriguing to me – I’ve always recognized partnership opportunities with complimentary, non-competing, products or services but had never considered the opportunity to convert competitors into partners.  This requires a level of honesty and openness on both parties behalf – and a common belief that sharing in a BIG opportunity is better than competing for a small one.
Not all competitors share this mindset, but as I’m discovering, some do.  It seems that this approach works best when the competitors are of similar size to your own organization – if they are too large, many lack interest in sharing (or assume that they can ignore you).  The good news is is they weed themselves out pretty fast.  Those interested in potentially working with you tend to respond to your request for a chat, and those who aren’t, won’t.
It’s a simple lesson but one I won’t forget – keep your friends close, and your competitors closer – one of those competitors may become a valuable partner!
I’m interested in hearing what you experiences have been – have you been successful in a similar conversion of a competitor to a partner?  What experience have you had in reaching out and engaging a competitor?
Follow me on Twitter (@tburke_quark) for more on innovation, tech startups and entrepreneurship – thanks!

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