Column: Show Some Competitor Love

As most of us would agree, clarity is a key component in one’s approach to business. Having clear, specific goals, writing them down and planning to achieve them, is the right path for success. What might surprise some business professionals is that getting to know your competitors is also an important part of your business development strategy.

The old-style approach to business is to treat the competition like your enemy, and never let them know what you are thinking or doing. This kind of attitude is not only out-dated, but it is short-sighted and counter-productive. It can also keep you from nurturing some of the most positive business relationships available to you.

Get to know your competitors, one by one. Call them. Invite them to meet with you to discuss how you can learn from one another. Sitting down with your competitors is healthy. It will ease the tension of them trying to figure out what you are “up to,” and vice-versa. You might find that your two companies have some commonality in the industry. You may further discover that teaming up with them on a committee through one of the trade associations to which you both belong will help you to gain a better understanding of your company’s place in the industry, as well as the position of your competitors.

Make sure everyone in your company is aware of your efforts and that they are on board regarding your competitor relationship(s). Emphasize to your employees that you are not discussing rates or pricing with your competitors, nor are you trying to gang up on other competitors in your industry to “corner the market.” Make it clear that these kinds of actions are unquestionably illegal and unethical, and that they do not match your respective business philosophies.

Take your competitors to lunch or dinner, and let them know that you are picking up the tab. Give your competitors a tour of your facilities. Introduce them around your company to office and plant/production staff, alike. Ask your employees to spend some time with them talking shop. Leave both groups alone for awhile to get acquainted and exchange thoughts and ideas.

Remind your employees that all of business, as in life, is based on relationships. Set the tone and the example for integrity in your industry. Once you prove your respect and honesty to your competitors, you will become trusted industry friends.

Be active and open with your competitors. Keep it legal, ethical and mutually beneficial. And, above all, make it an honorable and lasting relationship.

Douglas Crotty is a business consultant and freelance writer. His business writing interests include: customer/vendor/competitor relationships, organizational continuity, and core values in business relationships. Contact Doug @ 352-213-2555, or doug.crotty@gmail.com.

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