The old approach of putting up walls, guarding secrets and drawing strict lines between “us” and “them” may still work for companies holding truly proprietary information (like patents and such).
But for service providers, where the difference in offerings among competitors is measured in degrees and often people-driven, that way of doing business has become increasingly pointless and even counter-productive.
This is especially true in an age of unprecedented transparency and interconnectedness, where so-called “co-opetition” has become the norm for many businesses. The relationship between two companies is often fluid, morphing from competitor one day to sub-contractor, partner or client another.
Gini vs. The Giant
Gini Dietrich is a friend who runs her own marketing communications shop, Arment Dietrich. She worked hard to build it from nothing into a highly successful digital marketing business with one of the most influential blogs in that space.
Before that she was with a major PR agency. One day she was speaking in DC and invited an old friend from the firm to come out and see her.
He didn’t show up, and she later learned it was because that humongous global firm with hundreds of people on its digital team considered her a competitor! It was a total shock to her.
Goliath and Me
I had a similar experience with a Goliath of my own: a, um, “noted comedy institution” here in town.
I studied there years ago, and as my acting career grew I eventually got the idea for my first book: it would apply lessons from the world of performance to business.
When I was promoting Act Like You Mean Business, I asked them about renting one of their spaces for an event. I got word back that they considered me “the competition,” since they do some work with businesses themselves. So they declined my request.
I was dumbstruck. I mean, I guess it was a little flattering that this 50-plus-year-old, national institution thought of me as a competitor. (Especially in what is already a pretty crowded field.) But mostly I was bewildered that people still think this way.
The Way of the World
In other areas of my business I work with PR and marketing agencies, production companies, developers and designers who typically compete against each other for one job and then come together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle for another. It’s just the way business is done these days.
There’s tons of work to go around and nobody is right for every job, so it pays to know others you can refer work to (and get referrals in return) or partner with to solve a customer problem.
Hell, I’m more than happy to refer clients and others to this particular company—and often do. No skin off my nose!
The Future is Here
As I’ve been marketing my new book, I’ve been encouraged by the more forward thinking I’ve found. I’ve reached out to others who write about and teach public speaking skills and the response has been very encouraging.
So far, a half-dozen erstwhile “competitors” have written reviews (and several others intend to). Another is featuring the book in a series of excerpts on her blog, and one has even ordered 60 copies to give to people attending her presentation skills workshops!
Is she worried that her customers will read my book, abandon her and call me up? Obviously not. She’s got the relationship.
Am I worried that my book may give her an unfair leg-up with clients and prospects? Hell no! I’m glad for her, and grateful to get the extra sales and exposure for my work.
Don’t Be a Dummy When It Comes to Competition
There are few secrets in this world. If you’re out there marketing yourself—writing blog posts and articles, giving speeches, interacting on social media and maintaining your profiles there—people pretty much know what you’re up to anyway.
Somebody who really wants this information can always piece together your client list, your methodology, even your “secret sauce.”
But they can’t replace the relationships you’ve built or replicate who you are. So stop worrying about giving away the store. It’s a new world out there—join it!