Social Business Coopetition: My Response


I was asked an interesting question last week, or rather I should say that I was challenged to defend a certain behavior.  Specifically, “Why do you promote the work of your competitors and/or interact with them?”.  It’s a valid question, my response is below:

  • It’s in my clients best interest, and thus my best interest, to be as informed as I possibly can be.  The thought leaders outside of my own company will tend to be people working at my competition.  Those thought leaders who are most interested in elevating their knowledge understand that the best way to do so is to engage with and challenge one another.  It’s true that makes each party better, but that’s a small tradeoff.  Those people who believe they alone hold all the answers and whose egos won’t let them acknowledge anyone else soon find themselves lagging the field.
  • Trust.  Clients want to know that their advisors will come to the table with the *best* answer regardless of its source.  They would much rather their consultant be mature enough to give them the right advice even if they have to give credit to a competitor than to give them a less effective answer due to their arrogance.  It may seem counter-intuitive but in the long run it’s always the best strategy.  As much as my ego would like for it to be true, clients really don’t care as much about whether you ‘know the right answer’ as they do whether you can ‘find the right answer’.  And having a network available to find that right answer, even if some of them are competitors, is a valuable asset.  It’s a reciprocal network though so you have to give if you expect to take.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats.  I would much rather be one of a dozen *great* social business consultancies than I would be one great consultancy in a sea of mediocrity.  Seems crazy right?  Why wouldn’t you want to be the one standout firm?  Let me explain.  An industry needs validation to be successful.  If mediocre consultancies are doing mediocre social business initiatives then they achieve mediocre results.  That in turn gives social business a bad name.  Which, in turn makes fewer businesses believe in it and diminishes the industry as a whole.  Trust me, there is much more business to be had in a thriving industry riddled with success stories than one filled with doubt and stories of failure.
  • The notion of ‘my competition’ isn’t always wholly accurate.  ’Social Business’ is an incredibly complex and broad space filled with specializations.  SideraWorks happens to specialize in the strategy and structure side of things (org design, culture, change management, framework development, etc.) while other social business consultancies specialize in a variety of the other aspects.  There are many cases where we could (and do) work side by side with organizations that may seem like competitors on the outside simply because we both fall under the generic term of ‘social business’.  We have overlaps certainly, but quite often aren’t fully parallel when it comes to competing for business.
  • Clients don’t buy on ‘capabilities’ alone.  I’ve never really been afraid of competing.  Even in cases where we are competing on exactly the same capabilities there are always differences.  Clients also buy based on ‘fit’.  For example, do our people and our approach fit better within their culture?  If I don’t win that business because someone else was a better fit doesn’t that mean that we wouldn’t have meshed well with the client anyway?  The type of work we do is extremely ‘up close and personal’, if I sell you a bill of goods just to get your business and then deliver in a completely different way then all I’ve done is create an unhappy customer.  That in turn costs me future business.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m fiercely competitive and I hate to lose but making the sale ‘at all costs’ is ridiculous to me.  That’s a short term view and one destined to bite you in the ass over time.
  • It’s a small world.  Those people who are your competition today may be someone you acquire (or are acquired by) tomorrow or at the individual level perhaps a future employee.  Staying engaged with them vs. alienating them because they are ‘competition’ isn’t so smart.

All of the above notwithstanding, it’s just who I am.  I simply enjoy the intellectual stimulation and I don’t really care what role the other person has or where they work.  If they write something that my clients and followers would find valuable then I’m going to promote it, period.  It’s not something that I feel threatened by, I know where SideraWorks‘ value lies with clients and it’s not in pretending that we are the smartest people on the planet on every subject.  Would you trust someone who implied that they were?  


Matt Ridings – @techguerilla

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  • Jay Baer

    In all nascent industries, the smart players recognize that everyone is in it together, and the "enemy" isn’t other providers, it’s inertia. You don’t compete against other social business consultancies, you compete against companies clinging to the status quo. Great post, Matt.