How To Convert Your Competition Into Collaborators

I was recently rewatching the 1991 movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (I’m a 90’s kid) when part of the story got me thinking. In the film, Robin continually butts heads with one of the members of his band of outlaws. Despite the affection and loyalty given to him by all the rest, one outlaw named Will Scarlett seems to hate Robin for no apparent reason. When their conflict finally comes to a head and Robin asks Will where his hatred comes from, Will shocks him by revealing that he is, in fact, Robin’s brother. Instantly, what had been a bitter rivalry transformed into a loyal partnership. All that had changed was perspective.

competition, collaboration

Healthy Competition

Competition is one of the basic tenets of doing business. It takes many forms, from competing with other businesses in the marketplace to competing with yourself to improve prior performance. Competition is a healthy and necessary part of a free economy and when used appropriately it can deepen employee engagement and improve performance. For the consumer, competition helps ensure fair pricing and the ongoing improvement of products and services.

Toxic Competition

Sometimes, however, competition for its own sake can blind leaders from seeing the bigger picture, leading them to miss crucial opportunities. Like Robin and Will, there are situations where competitors can let go of their rivalry, join forces, and do more together than they ever could have done separately.

Real-World Examples

A great example of competitive collaboration is one that everyone is familiar with, and that most have used firsthand. Namely, the collaboration of Amazon and its third-party seller partners. In many cases, Amazon sells the same products as the third-party seller. So why would they work together? Because they both have more to gain from each other than they stand to lose as separate competitors. Amazon charges a fee for every third-party seller transaction, which improves its overall margin. In return, the third-party sellers get access to Amazon’s enormous customer base and brand equity. Everyone wins.

More recently, McDonald’s announced that they’ll be offering Krispy Kreme donuts in select markets. Capturing the breakfast spend is a fiercely competitive space, with each player actively trying to steal market share from the others. Typically when one retailer has a successful product offering, the others scramble to create their own versions and get them available for sale as soon as possible. The McDonald’s/Krispy Kreme collaboration is an excellent example of two strong retailers identifying an opportunity where they can work together and win more than they could as competitors. For McDonald’s, they get to leverage the cult-like popularity of the Krispy Kreme brand without incurring the cost of developing their own donut. For Krispy Kreme, they get to take advantage of McDonald’s incredible number of stores and high drive-thru traffic. One plus one equals three, and everybody wins (including the consumer).

How To Do It

So how can you identify opportunities for fruitful collaboration in your business? Here are some basic steps:

  • Make a list of all of your competitors. Big and small, direct and indirect. Anyone competing with you for the same dollar should go on the list.
  • Next to the list of names, divide the list into two columns. In one column, you note any competitor who does something better than you and write down what their superior competency is. In the other column, you write down anything you do better than that competitor.
  • It’s not necessary for every competitor to have both a strength and a weakness versus you. Some will have one or the other, some will have both, and others will have none. That’s fine.
  • Focus on those competitors where you have something written in both columns, then brainstorm ways you could help each other. Having a competency listed in both columns is crucial because the process only works if each party has something to gain. For example, you may have great retail locations and a competitor may have unused manufacturing capacity. Or you may have an excellent distribution network and a competitor may excel at product innovation. Look past the obvious and really dig into the possibilities.
  • Reach out and start a dialogue!

It won’t work out every time, or maybe ever. But either way, you’ll have expanded your thinking to find new and innovative solutions where you only saw problems before. And that is priceless.

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