In Sales, Friendly Competition May Be Worth Your While

February 1, 2011

Hey, we’re not in high school anymore. In our old age, there’s room for civilized rivalries. So stop looking at the competition in your particular industry as the enemy. If you think about it, there’s quite a bit you can learn from your so-called business rivals.

By being civil — and maybe, gasp, friendly — you can find out more about them, your customers, and your market segment. I’m not suggesting you have to invite them to your family’s Christmas dinner, but keeping the relationship amicable has its benefits.

Inc. Magazine contributor Janine Popick wrote an article on the topic, saying that it’s much more common for her to befriend competition than to despise them. Over the years, that strategy has manifested itself in some very beneficial ways. For example, a friend and rival CEO once informed Popick that one of her employees had badmouthed the rival company. She was able to confront that employee and address the company’s best practices for business conduct before things got out of hand.

Popick’s article makes a compelling argument, proving that I’m not completely crazy. In sales, competition is omnipresent and unavoidable. Every person and every company has someone else to compete against. After all, where there are willing and able customers, there will often be multiple companies competing for their business.

So why does it behoove those companies — especially at the expansion stage — to be friendly? Here are a few pretty valuable reasons:

They May Post Valuable Information

Your competition may be executing a content marketing strategy, meaning they publish articles, blogs, and other useful information on their website, social media sites, and other networks. You can learn from that information and share it with your own network. It’s especially important to follow competitors that are exhibiting thought leadership, allowing you to stay up on their ideas and the trends that they’re recognizing.

There should be some boundaries, however. For example, you should block your connection list on LinkedIn so that your competition can’t poach from your network. Just because you’re trying to be friendly doesn’t mean you need to give them access to one of your most valued assets.

They’ll Be Less Likely to Trash Talk

A prospect that is not the best match for your competition’s business could turn to you instead. Remember, just because your competition has a similar product or service, doesn’t mean it’s identical. So, if a particular prospect is looking for a feature that is unique to your business, a moral, friendly competitor might share your information and push the prospect in your direction. If the relationship is mutual, the hope is that you might do the same thing for them somewhere down the line.

As a former recruiter, if I was working with a candidate that I couldn’t place, I would share their information with competing recruiters that I respected at other agencies in town. And, yes, they sent candidates back to me that were more appropriate for my open positions.

Your Paths May Eventually Cross

You never know when a former rival will become a potential coworker, resource, or boss.  If your company is building a sales team, for example, your rival may be a great source for potential candidates. Poaching employees from your competitors can be tricky, but there are good ways to do it (I wrote a previous post about this here).

On that same note, it’s entirely possible that a one-time foe could become a friend at a future place of employment. Your paths might cross, so don’t burn bridges. It’s a small world.

The moral of the story: It’s always beneficial to have more friends than enemies in the business world.

Fortune contributor Mark Suster wrote an article about befriending competition, coining the term “frenemies.” It’s a pretty good way of describing the relationship. You don’t have to be best friends, but you certainly shouldn’t be enemies. The relationship can be competitive, while retaining mutual respect.

So keep your sales practices clean and stay connected to your market rivals. Believe it or not, those competitors will likely remain a valuable resource to you and your pipeline.

Photo by: { QUEEN YUNA }