Competitive Collaboration – A Key to Business Success

Competitive Collaboration

Collaboration is crucial!

Jay Bauer, Jeffrey Rohrs, and Zena Weist host the SocialPros podcast. I recently listened to the episode “How to Leverage a Community of Passionate Fans” where they Jeff and Zena interviewed Jake Jacobsen, the Social Media Manager for Garmin. They covered a wide range of topics, but one that stood out was the need to share and collaborate when it comes to social platforms.

South By Southwest (SXSW) was a huge event in the social media world. Many large corporations had their social media managers attend. A group of them have come together under an initiative called Brand Socialites. This allows social media managers from various companies to share ideas. The interesting thing is many of those companies are in competition with one another. Jake recalls the Brand Socialites happy hour at SXSW. He looked around the room and saw Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and American Airlines sitting there having a beer together in a booth. In another corner, Nokia, AT&T, Sprint, and Samsung all sharing stories and having a laugh. To Jake, that’s what it’s all about. They’re all figuring out the same things, facing the same challenges. So, if they can put the “competition” aside and learn from one another, everyone benefits. No, they’re not sharing proprietary product information, but they’ve learned to collaborate without sharing the “keys to the kingdom,” as Jake puts it.

Jeff Rohrs noted that such collaboration is common in the social world. I think it’s an attitude important in all areas of business. In my experience, businesses and entrepreneurs have more success when they lose the “us against them” mentality and adopt one of professional collaboration. A good friend of mine who is Branch Manager for Chase said there is enough business out here so everyone can eat. I thought that was such a progressive statement, and it’s likely part of the reason he helps boost the ranking of any branch they assign him.

That’s a great premise – but can it work?!

How Competitors Collaborate Effectively

Evan Rosen authors a blog entitled The Culture of Collaboration. He wrote about a collaborative venture between BMW and Toyota, where they share knowledge and costs in developing electric car batteries, and BMW supplies Toyota with diesel engines for their European cars starting in 2014. To achieve success, Evan notes, such collaboration requires three factors. They must:

  • Create value for both parties
  • Begin with structure and clarity
  • Involve non-differentiating processes

Evan describes clearly and concisely why the Toyota/BMW alliance works for both parties. Can those same principles work for you and your business? Consider the following.

Create value for both parties. The easiest way to bypass an “us against them” mindset is to insure both businesses benefit. Can you work together and pool resources in developing products you’re both brining to the market? Can you share networks so that both organizations benefit? A classic case of the latter is when two companies in the same field serve different niche markets. Collaboration becomes attractive when you can refer clients to one another who develop interests best served by the competing business. That way, you help your client, boost the competing business, and shoot your credibility as a problem solver dedicated to serving your client’s interests.

Begin with structure and clarity. It’s important that both parties understand the working relationship so that you don’t step on each other’s toes. You want your attorneys involved so that you cover your respective gluteus maximus, yet don’t leave out other key personnel in your organization. Having all stakeholders involved in the negotiations is critical. You’ll better identify potential snafus before they happen, and avoid implementing a legal but not necessarily practical strategy.

Involve non-differentiating processes. Businesses tend to utilize this aspect more regularly. For example, the same processing plant may supply meat and other food items to multiple restaurants and fast-food chains. A bottling plant may package and brand items for numerous retailers. Businesses may establish a buying consortium to reduce the costs of purchasing items they all use. All these examples involve non-proprietary supplies and/or services, and collaboration may help the businesses increase their buying power thereby reducing operating costs and increasing profits.

Based on the preceding, it’s easy to see what social media is an easy forum for business collaboration. Everyone gains value from the exchange of ideas, it’s understood that none exchange trade-secrets, and the methodologies are easily and readily utilized by all. Bringing that same mentality to other areas of business may also bring dividends. Take a look at Evan’s blog for further examples of productive business collaboration. Ultimately, you’re the only one that can decide what works for your enterprise. Yet the track record of positive collaboration stands the test of time. Those willing to share more tend to progress faster and further in today’s business world. Note the following from Wikipedia:

Due to the complexity of today’s business environment, collaboration in technology encompasses a broad range of tools that enable groups of people to work together including social networking, instant messaging, team spaces, web sharing, audio conferencing, video, and telephony….Many large companies are developing enterprise collaboration strategies and standardizing on a collaboration platform to allow their employees, customers and partners to intelligently connect and interact. (Italics added)

The fact that large companies see value in developing collaboration strategies is a clue. Of course, a few of you are saying “yeah, but they’re developing internal collaboration policies, not ways to connect with those outside.” Yes and no. They’re definitely working on enterprise wide collaboration. They’re also working on ways of connecting with the public in general. Smart organizations realize the competition will connect just to find out what they’re doing. Therefore, it makes sense to find ways of positively interacting with organizations and individuals with competing interests since at the very least they’re silently monitoring you. It’s a brave, new, inter-connected world. If you learn to make the most of it by effectively collaborating, you’ll do better than if you operate on older (meaning outdated) business paradigms.


12 thoughts on “Competitive Collaboration – A Key to Business Success

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