Strategies Of Competitive Networking –

When you think of your business competition across town or even across the street, it’s likely that you don’t have any warm feelings about them, and may even have some bad things to say. And you’re making a huge mistake.

So, why should you be friends with a person who is likely to be stealing work out from under you? It’s just good business. According to researchers from the BI Norwegian School of Management, being close friends with your business competitors can actually have a positive effect on your business and even result in increased profitability. In their study, managers in a large shopping mall who had good relationships with their peers, even direct competition, had more successful sales than those with none or fewer friends. Researchers believe that these relationships stimulate better business with innovation, ideas, and creativity.

My own experience as a small business owner backs up what the researchers have found. I am certain that my business would not be where it is today without the help of my friends in the photography business. We’ve had competitor-friends fill in to shoot a wedding for us in an emergency, picked up some awesome gear for a great price, and learned valuable lessons from the collective experiences of hundreds of photographers. We’ve put these resources to work in our business, coming up with new ideas, learning how to avoid unpleasant incidents, and working better as highly informed business owners. I greatly value the support and camaraderie that we enjoy with our photographer friends, even the ones who make up our direct competition.

This kind of competitive friendship can be enjoyed in just about any business. The craft beer industry is notorious for its friendship among brewers. As a craft beer fan, I often enjoy collaborative brews created by two or more breweries. These collaborations are a great way for breweries to get exposed to the customers and distribution channels that their brewery friends enjoy. One legendary collaborative brew was created as an alternative to a lawsuit, as Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing realized that they had both created ales named Salvation. Instead of suing each other or agreeing to drop the names altogether, they decided to blend the two together and name it Collaboration, not Litigation Ale. This is a great beer, and a great lesson in embracing your competitors as friends for mutual benefit.

If these warm and fuzzy stories aren’t making you want to pick up the phone and call your competitor across town, maybe this fun fact will: taking a negative approach to your competition is downright dangerous to your business. Kaihan Krippendorff, an entrepreneurship professor at Florida International University and author of The Art of the Advantage has found through research that “our knee-jerk reaction to [taking] a competitor’s gain … as our loss” is a big mistake. In fact, entrepreneurs with a competition-vanquishing attitude tend to be less successful that those who set out to positively grow their business without trying to take out the competition.

From a consumer standpoint, Krippendorff’s findings make a lot of sense. When I experience a business tearing down their competition, I rarely think about how much better they are and why I should give them my business. Instead, I’m thinking about how whiny and negative they sound, and do my best to separate from them. A local radio station in Houston frequently runs ads that yell and go on about “commercials, commercials, commercials,” specifically, how many fewer ads they play than their competing station. This strategy blows right up in their face as I, and I’m sure many other listeners, simply change the station to avoid hearing about it. Your competitor’s shortcomings are not your strengths, but you can learn from them.

Becoming friends with your competitors reduces rivalry and helps you both win. We’re not talking about collusion, but collaboration. Celebrate the resources that your competitors give you, even if they’re not your friends. Instead of worrying about losing business to them, think about how their presence forces you to work harder and become better at what you do. Learn from their mistakes, as you can celebrate and learn from their successes. They have knowledge and resources to share with you, and insights that are unique to your industry. Don’t pass up this valuable friendship.