Article by: MaryEllen | Monday, August 20, 2012

By MaryEllen Tribby

“I can’t believe you gave them all that information! What if they actually apply it and their business beats ours?” Janie asked when we finished a meeting with one of our direct competitors.

This was the not first time I had received a question like that.

You see, regardless of the niche that I have been in, I have had the reputation of sharing data and ideas with my direct competitors.

As a matter of fact, in the financial newsletter world we held a roundtable every year. The event was hosted by a different organization each year where the top twenty companies in the industry would gather. We would take three days out of our busy schedules to share what was working and, equally as important, what was not working.

Sure, some companies were more forthcoming than others with divulging their secrets. But as sure as the sun was gonna rise, the companies that shared the most consistently came out on top.

My attitude and mindset have always been – the stronger the individual companies, the stronger the industry, the stronger the customers.

And, when customers are getting better advice and service, the more they buy.

Knowledge Equals Profits

So instead of fearing your competitors, embrace and collaborate with your competitors. What you’ll learn will far outweigh what you offer.

The following is an easy 10-step formula to profit from your competitors.

1)  Inserts: Most of your competitors will have some sort of physical product they send to their customers. Often, they do not contain any promotional materials. Offer to either buy “space” where you pay a flat fee to ride along with the delivery of their product or do a revenue share where you do not pay a flat fee but rather split any revenue generated from your promotional piece.

2)  Have lunch: Take your competitor to lunch. Do not start the lunch off with bombarding that person for answers. Rather, get to know them and have casual conversation. Once your competitor is comfortable with you, the information will fly.

3)  Form an association: This is a great way to get together a few times a year and discuss the state of the industry you are in. By collecting dues, this enables you to bring in experts in related areas from marketing to product development. This does not have to be a physical gathering – rather a virtual one. Make it a teleseminar so that all your members can attend.

4)  Start a newsletter or magazine: By starting a newsletter and/or magazine (print or digital) it allows you to get your competitors message out to your audience, which of course is a win for them. And it gives you free content – a win for you.

5)  Accountability partners: Use your competitors to keep you on track. If you are in the same industry and are on the same level, whether it is a CEO or Marketing Director, chances are good that you have had similar experiences and can help each other with realistic timelines and project expectations.

6)  Joint Venture: By promoting each other’s products via email you are able to make money, get new customers and leads, and obtain valuable R&D. But most importantly, you are able to serve your customers better. Face it, creating good products takes a lot of resources and time. But by promoting your competitor, you are giving your customer something you are not supplying, while adding to your bottom line.

7)  Become your competitors’ customer: So many entrepreneurs make the mistake of asking for comps to subscriptions and products. You should actually buy your top three competitors’ products. This gives you an inside look at EXACTLY how they treat their customers. Learn everything you can from this. If you think they do something great – emulate it. If you are offended by an action and you are doing the same thing, well now you know you need to change and improve that action.

8)  Social Media: Be their PR agent on social media. If you received a great newsletter issue from them, put it on facebook. If you received great customer service from them, tweet it.

9)  Conferences: Invite them to speak at your next conference. Companies make this mistake all the time. They are afraid to put their best customers in front of their competitors. But the reality is, by not doing this you are doing your customers a disservice. Regardless of how knowledgeable you are and how good you are at what you do, you cannot be everything to everyone. And some of your competitors just may resonate with your customers more. Don’t be afraid that your customers will jump ship because they won’t. What they will do is thank you for having the insight to invite that speaker.

10)  Visit their office: By scheduling a trip to their office, you get to experience the culture – something that cannot happen over the phone. You can sit in on their meetings and talk to their employees. This single act changed the course of my career when I was much younger. Watching how more experienced leaders interacted with their team members helped me become the leader I am today.

Now all of the above action items only work if you are willing to reciprocate. Don’t ask if you can visit a competitor’s office if you have no intention of letting them visit you. Or do not ask them to contribute content to your newsletter if your answer to them would be “I just don’t have the time.”

If you constantly strive to give more than you get – you will come out the winner.