A recent post of ours, 3 Sales Tips to Turn Competition into Industry Counterparts received a long comment peppered with real-life questions from Steve, so this post serves as "Part 2".
Steve says he has tried to collaborate with others in his industry locally for several years and feels a number of issues come up. He wondered if, in the example I gave of attending a meeting of many of my industry counterparts whether I felt guarded or if others seemed that way.
The broad answer, Steve, is that just like talking about marketing or sales, working with those in your industry is a wide and complex topic when you consider many different industries with various issues and accepted practices. I'll work to answer a number of your questions.
In the case of my industry counterpart get-together, by day's end, and through follow-up conversations, I resonated with a subset of attendees there. There were certain people who didn't seem to be interested in talking with or working with me - so I have always tried to be a good observer to those queues and don't go any further with those folks. By cues I mean by body language and just in how open someone is. Have you ever talked to someone who had their arms crossed? That is a very closed position - it shows they want to protect themselves. Just because I am open to collaboration doesn't mean I'll do it with just anyone - same with you. In fact, I would contend that you just need one or two open-minded business builder personalities to start with to prove this concept CAN work in your market.
First off see if YOU are conveying openness and interest - not just because you approached them. In fact, sometimes people are very weary of those who approach, because they think they are trying to get from them the very things you mention you want to keep of your own.
EXAMPLE: Since you are a graphic designer, I'd like to mention Web Designers Unite. This is a local group of more than 30 web and graphic designers in the small town of Bellingham, Washington who decided to meet once a month to be less isolated and to potentially collaborate when appropriate. This does not mean they don't take on individual projects, and that local companies don't contact a number of these folks to "bid" on work. They very well do compete at times, because the town is too small for that not to happen.
What makes Web Designers Unite work, though - is that they can work with companies anywhere, and the best part, I think, is that by having a pool of other counterparts, they rarely feel that a project would be too big for them to take on - there is always someone they know and trust who can do a part of a project. Also, as you know in the field of design, there are many different experts - coding, print design, logo work, etc. I know many of these folks - some who work together on a regular basis now - and it is amazing to see how this works in a town of 80,000 people.
One idea is to reach beyond your local area and find virtual collaborators - many businesses do that, in fact I'll mention another industry.
We worked with a client who was a successful, family owned remodeling business. The remodeling industry is riddled with companies who do poor work and who do not honor their word. The industry has a bad name with many people. So, they helped develop a network of their "industry counterparts" - companies just like them who were located in other parts around America. This took the local competitive possibility out of the picture and allowed them to focus on best practices, share ideas, and all the companies have grown because of it. They get together annually with key executives
Back to Steve's questions:
1. Can you discuss with industry counterparts without giving away your unique selling propositions (USPs)? YES. Keep your focus on what you DO want to discuss. Be comfortable to share your bottom line - such as how you would not do anything knowingly unethical, for example, or how your past track record shows that you are a person of your word. The truth is that your USPs are more about who YOU are and less about your "secret sauce" - they are not you, so they can never be you. If you do have a unique way of doing something that you feel wins you business, you don't need to share that. Just share what you are comfortable with.
2.Can someone be a collaborator and a competitor? YES. It happens in many industries all the time - just look at manufacturers who sell direct and sell through distributors. I ran into that in the technology industry all the time. I was selling to major accounts and so were they. I actually lost deals because the manufacturer did a price cut to win business - but they also were helpful to direct me to other business opportunities I would not have known about as a distributor. Tricky and delicate issues.
3.What do you do if it feels like a potential partner is less willing to share than you? INTERESTING QUESTION. First of all, they might be leery about what your goals are. Be upfront and clear about what you want and what you see they could gain. Give it some time, and if you continue to feel this way, they are NOT the partner for you. Listening to your gut instinct is often correct - but not always - so be sure you can give someone an extra opportunity before you move on to someone or something else.
You can read Steve's comments and add your own here or at Eyes on Sales. What do you think?
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the “Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012″ and one of “20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management”. Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for tips and strategies in selling.