During my years as a management consultant, I would regularly participate in management organization "hubs" made up of other consultants, many of whom could be considered my direct competitors. However, each of us also had specializations in addition to our general management skills. Someone would have much stronger skills in reading a financial statement; another would be a technology guru; someone else would be a true master of closing large sales.
Depending on the needs of the client, I could turn to one of these competitors for assistance on particular projects with my clients, and they could also pull me in at times to help with theirs. We had a clear delineation and understanding of whose client it ultimately was, but we all became better providers of knowledge for our clients by occasionally using this collaborative approach.
I developed this concept in my book The World's Best Known Marketing Secret. For my management consulting approach with my clients, I was the "hub" who brought in other professionals with specific talents as needed. This approach made me a better consultant than I could be on my own.
I was doing a seminar many years ago on networking and was talking about the value of collaborating with your competition from time to time, and how it is actually possible to increase your business by collaborating and cooperating with people who might be your competitors.
A man in his early 20s sitting in the audience raised his hand and argued passionately about how he didn't think it was a good idea to consort with the competition. We were having a pretty lively debate when an older member of the audience stood up to weigh in.
The story he told made a believer out of everyone else in the room:
I've been in the investment business my entire professional career. A few years ago, I was courting a company for a gigantic investment package that included retirement, investments, insurance, and more. It was huge -- one of the biggest projects I had ever worked on. I spent weeks getting to know the client's intricate needs and putting together a comprehensive package. I was so close to closing the deal, but literally days before I thought it would close, the client told me they were going with someone else.
I was just gob smacked, completely shocked. After I caught my breath, I asked him who he had chosen. It turns out he was giving it to a competitor in his mid 20s. This kid had no experience and yet, here they were giving him this monster project. I felt like I had spent enough time with the client to ask him why he would choose this person over me and my package. He looked at me and said, "You want the honest-to-goodness truth? It's my brother in law, and my wife will go crazy if I don't give him the business. I do trust him, but I know he hasn't got the experience you have."
In my entire professional life, I had never done what I did next. In my area of business, it's usually dog-eat-dog, but I called the kid and congratulated him. I told him I knew a lot about the company and if he ever needed anything, I was happy to help.
The kid's voice literally jumped out of the phone. He said, "I'm from a wealthy family, but I really have no idea how to manage a project this big. I'm connected and I have four more deals just like this one, and I don't know how I'm going to get it all put together. Could we partner up? I know I can get even more deals like these, but to manage it well, I could really use your help."
We did just that: partnered up. And that kid is a rainmaker -- we have worked on so many deals, all of them the same size or bigger than that original one I thought I lost. I made more money than I had ever made before by calling up my competitor and offering good will and advice if he ever needed it.
As you might suspect, the young man in my audience had a change of heart after hearing this story.
Will this happen every time you try to work with a competitor? Of course not. But it will never happen if you don't reach out.