The Risk of Trusting your Competitor
If you read business books you may recall the popularity of Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. Even though it was written in the fifth century BC, many interpret it in modern times as a primer on how to defeat your organization’s competition. Which raises my question, “How do you view your competitors?”
Enemy to be defeated? Company who’s products and services are to be disparaged, particularly to your customers? Outfit that’s trying to steal your secrets, employees, and customers? In other words, you’re at war with the competition.
What if we held a different perspective? What if we actually collaborated with our competitors to grow everyone’s business? Professional trade associations for example, are composed of competitors who may:
- Agree upon industry safety standards and ethical business practices to the benefit of all.
- Lobby governments to create regulations that protect the interests of the country and the industry.
- Share best practices with one another. The idea being you aren’t slicing the pie into smaller pieces for each business. Instead, you’re collectively baking a bigger pie, creating more business for everyone.
- Do business with one another, collaborating on large projects, and referring business to one another when we may not have the capacity or expertise.
- Create personal bonds and friendships with people with whom you share common interests and challenges.
My view – labelling the competition as the enemy is short sighted and small minded. Today’s competitor may become tomorrow’s business partner. Focus more on satisfying your customers than on slamming your competitors. I can attest firsthand to the significant amount of business I’ve received from and referred to my competitors in the training industry. I’m also a long term active member in my association, the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). On a personal level, some of my closest friends are my competitors.
Even if you aren’t part of a formal trade association, if your customer has a need you can’t satisfy, then I believe it still makes sense to recommend a competitor. Not recommending a competitor is tantamount to leaving a customer high and dry and admitting that you don’t know your industry. There’s little probability the customer will ever give you another chance. On the other hand, when you help your customer find a supplier that can assist them, they recognize your service as being helpful, and in future they may give you another shot. So, you have nothing to lose and potentially something to gain by recommending a competitor.
We all have a choice on how to compete in today’s marketplace. We can take cover behind a shield of scarcity and adversity. Or we can take action and embrace a mindset of abundance and collaboration. Both have risks. But one is certainly more fun, and in my experience significantly more profitable.
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