Obviously, when interacting with a competitor you may be a little guarded. But what I tell people is that while competition has its place, it is not a factor in how we organize and run the IAMCP chapter. I am a big believer in making the pie bigger for everyone — a model that I am confident Microsoft approves of. The idea that every competitor is an exact overlap of your organizational skills and capability is just false. There are things you can do for the customer that your competitor can’t, and vice versa. Sometimes there may be an opportunity for working together to serve your customer — sometimes referred to as "co-opetition." I’ve seen it work first-hand, and have developed good relationships with a couple competitors primarily through interactions within IAMCP.
There is value to be found within a coopetitive environment. From my experience, there are four primary benefits to the coopetitive landscape found within IAMCP:
1. It strengthens the community.
It only makes sense to get to know the players within your local region, as well as your competitors on a national or global scale. As someone who regularly organizes community events, in addition to helping run the local IAMCP chapter, my advice is that the first people you should reach out to and include in these kinds of activities are your competitors. You know who they are, and they know you, and inviting them to participate can go a long way to help improve the community. For chapter meetings, it’s fairly easy to separate competitive activities to work toward the common good, and share in responsibilities. And let’s face it — when people see two competitors working side by side, the level of trust increases for both companies.
2. You have the opportunity to learn from others.
I came across a great quote in a presentation: "Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it." (HubSpot) Each of us has experience and wisdom to share, and there are always opportunities to learn and grow. Much of this shared experience is outside of the realm of overlapping products or services. You can share experiences in working with difficult enterprise customers, or maybe best practices in working with Microsoft product teams. It’s amazing how much you can learn from each other when you lower the walls around you and start talking to your peers.
3. Together we can drive change within Microsoft.
Earlier this year my team was approached by a competitor who was interested in gathering 5 or 6 competitors together into one body to send detailed feedback, as a single body, back into Microsoft. This is a fantastic example of how developing relationships with competitors can benefit both the individual companies and the community at large. Microsoft actually does a pretty good job of listening to the partner community, but the combined voices of 5 or 6 large companies together creates a fairly compelling message to Microsoft. Advocacy is a major aspect of IAMCP membership, and we need to see more competitors aligning to drive change.
4. We can work together to deliver a better customer experience.
At the end of the day, it’s all about serving our customers. If the community is working together, if we are learning from one another and working together and with Microsoft, then we are only building a better customer experience overall.
The goal of most every company is to build the best product or service possible. And I would warrant that most companies welcome some competitive spirit — it helps drive the product development process, and ensures that customers are happy and that their needs are being met (because if they weren’t, they’d go elsewhere, right?). The primary value of IAMCP is partner-to-partner networking — working together to develop new customer opportunities, and to better serve the needs of the customers we have. In this mixed market, you need to take advantage of any opportunity in front of you to extend your dollar, your brand, your relationships. I would say that having competitors in the mix — whether direct or indirect — is yet another opportunity for improvement of the community, of your product or service, and of your professional skills and network.
The key is to remember to put the personal aside, and work together to make sure the customer is best served. That’s what coopetition is all about.