By Marsha Lindquist
Business leaders are often trained never to trust their competition. They see business as a win-lose game, where if they associate with their competitors they’ll get beat. But this isn’t always the best approach to dealing with the other team.
No two companies are created exactly the same, even if they are perceived as competitors. While any two competitors may share some similarities, the majority of their functions are completely different. And even if you do all the exact same things as another company, you have different people and systems in your organization that make you unique. This concept is important to realize because once you get past the fear of your competition, you can actually build mutually beneficial relationships and grow your business.
Forging relationships with companies within your industry can allow you both to achieve greater levels of success. For example, say you own a carpet cleaning company. You clean carpets, but you specialize in flood damage. From time to time, people approach you to clean up fire damage. While this isn’t your specialty, you could still clean their carpets and chance mediocre results. Or, if you have established a relationship with a carpet cleaning company that specializes in fire damage, you can refer the customer to them. And likewise, they could send clients your way. While on the surface you appear to be competitors, you can actually help each other grow.
The Benefits of Embracing Your Competition: Still not convinced? Consider the following five reasons why you should embrace your competition.
1. You Make a Bigger Pie: When you get your market to recognize that the type of products or services you offer are in big demand, you help people understand what need you fulfill. This also makes the market aware of other companies that can fulfill the same need. As a result, the pie gets bigger for everyone, even companies you perceive as your competition. And when you embrace your competition, you’ll be able to reach corners of the market that you could never reach before.
For example, if two companies do similar things and both make their pies bigger, the pies will begin to merge. Some commonalities will inevitably exist. But at the same time, you’ll be able to get pieces of the competitor’s pie that you couldn’t get before. You wouldn’t be able to reach that corner of the market without your competitor.
2. You Complement Your Talent with Someone Else’s: Imagine your market as a glove. Perhaps when you put your hand in that glove, you can’t fill the whole thing. But your competitor can fill in the gaps. You fit together within the market because you complement each other’s talents.
But you have to approach the relationship without the fear of having your business stolen. At times, you may get into a competition for the same piece of the pie. In those cases, when you have established a relationship, you can work it out. You may say, “You should do the project because you’re the best person for the job.” Even though you didn’t take the work, you’ll still look great in the client’s eyes because you provided an outstanding solution to their needs. The next time, you may be the best person for the job that comes along. However, this mutual respect only comes after trust is developed.
3. You Look Good and They Look Good; the Win-Win Mentality: When you refer a prospect to your competitor, if they do a bad job then their performance reflects poorly on you too. In a relationship like this, people begin to associate the two of you together. So make sure you rub up against people who smell good.
Also in this type of relationship, you create respect and trust within your industry and especially among your clients. You’re doing a better job, because someone else is looking over your shoulder. So you not only answer to your own organization, in some ways, you also answer to your competitors.
4. You End Up with More Business: When you generate more energy and your competitors generate more energy, business picks up. That’s just the way the world works. When you contact people and meet people, then you get more business. This build up of energy results in a better market advantage because you’re not only seen with that one relationship, you’re also seen with other relationships that are tangential to you.
For example, you’re in a department store looking for a particular item and you ask the clerk where you can find it. The clerk explains that they don’t have what you’re looking for, but tells you where you can go to get it. Even though the clerk sent you to another company, that department store gets the market advantage because you see them as a solutions provider. And you’ll go back to the first department store next time you need something, whether you think they have what you’re looking for or not. When you create relationships with your competitors, you have all the answers, even if you can’t give the prospect exactly what they need.
5. You Learn New Skills: When you work with other people, you learn from them even if you aren’t necessarily trying. And they learn new things from you too. This learning is important, because you must fully understand how your skills complement each other, and how they are different. As a result, you enhance not only what you do, but you also enhance your brand because you know better what sets you apart. This gives you the opportunity to make yourself unique, which only has a positive impact on your business.
Relationships with businesses similar to yours can also be helpful when you’re stuck on something or need advice. You can call in other people who know your business and can give you advice. Even Donald Trump calls on other CEOs to help him with things he’s doing. It can get lonely at the top, so you need to develop relationships that have respect and trust from other organizations. Otherwise you won’t survive in the long term.
How Can You Approach Your Competitors? The first step in building relationships with your competitors is knowing who they are and what they do. Then you need to find an entrance that won’t be perceived as a threat. In other words, don’t approach them on something that is the exact same thing that you do. Then start a conversation by saying, “I would like to talk to you about this one corner of my business that I would like to share with you. So that I can know how this could be advantageous to your clients, I’d like to talk to you about your business.” Keep in mind, if you’re trying to find a marriage with a competitor, you need to be very non-threatening.
If they aren’t receptive, then move on to another competitor. This relationship has to be reciprocal. If you keep sending a company business and you never get anything from them, then ask yourself if pursuing the relationship is advantageous to you. If it isn’t working in both directions, then you need to let it go.
Embracing Your Competition for a More Successful Future: Companies are often afraid of forming relationships because they think that if they share too much with their competitors, then they might steal their business. But just talking about your business doesn’t automatically allow your competitors to see everything in your brain.
The market today is filled with people who need things, and many companies can fulfill those needs. The bigger range of products or services you can offer, then the bigger your business will grow. You can’t look building relationships with your competitors as something that shrinks your business. You must look at it as helping define a greater demand for everyone. You’ll get more business anyway, just by showing up and being there.
By building relationships with your competition, you’ll expand the market, create a greater demand, and grow your business to otherwise unreachable levels of success.
Learn more about Marsha Lindquist at http://www.themanagementlink.com/marsha_lindquist.html