Turn Competitors into Collaborators

There are more and more companies that are turning potential competitors into collaborators.  I’m not talking about huge multi-national companies that take over some small company and call it a merger.  I’m really talking about a growing trend in business.   It’s part of the whole “Web 2.0” movement, which pretty much assumes that 100 minds are better than 1 person’s humble opinion. That’s really what Web 2.0 is about — conversation, but that’s a discussion for another time.

So, why would you open yourself up to potentially helping competitors?  It seems like that would be bad business, right?  Wrong.   For small businesses one of the best ways to position yourself as the expert on a topic is to make sure that everyone else is turning to you too.  While you may be helping out some competitors, it also turns them into collaborators and entices them to share tricks with you too.

One great example of this is SEOmoz.  This company has made it’s name by creating a community of search marketing professionals that discuss the minutia of the industry and try to figure out better ways of doing things.  They get business, in part, by people like me referring clients to them.  Why is this remarkable?  Because one of the services CDG can provide is interactive marketing strategy and execution, which includes search marketing.  So why would I forward a potential CDG client to someone else?  There’s a lot of reasons.  Sometimes it’s just clear that this company wouldn’t be a good fit with CDG, and based on what they need, I know SEOmoz would be a great partner for them.  I get a lot out of my relationship with SEOmoz, even if they don’t know who I am.  I also know that it helps me to be better at the craft of interactive marketing to participate on this website.  At some point, SEOmoz will need a partner for creative execution of projects and will probably call out to their online community and I’ll be right there to take advantage of this opportunity.

Another approach to this is one that turns your customers into collaborators.  Online movie rental house Netflix has issued a challenge and is offering prizes to anyone who can help them develop a better recommendation engine.   This action tells competitors what Netflix is up to, but also utilizes a huge pool of resources to which they would otherwise not have access.  The additional benefit is further turning your customers into loyal evangelists who not only make use of your services, but also tell everyone they know.

So the question becomes — how can you create an environment that turns your competitors and customers into collaborators?   Tell me about your business and I’ll find at least two ways that you can do this.

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