How To Turn Your Company’s Competition Into A Resource by Elliot Ashkenazie (Forbes)

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Many of you might need to read my next sentence a few times: Sharing resources with your competition could add to your success and growth.

I am the COO of a commercial financing company that serves small- and medium-sized businesses. Located in the Financial District of New York City, my competition is on every other block. Despite this, I’ve found that having a thorough understanding of your competition can further benefit your business operations and consumer or client base.

After all, competitors are merely just a community from which you can learn. What have my adversaries failed at? How are my competition and I operating the same? How can I use their practices to improve my own business? Whether it be through secondary trial-and-error, constructive feedback or studying another company’s prominent strategy, over the course of several years, I have learned from how my competitors operate.

One day, I had the out-of-the-box idea to host a gathering in my office. After kicking the idea around for a year, I decided to turn my thoughts into a reality. The invitees? My competition. I set up a conversational dinner, whiteboard and all, to discuss like-minded ideas, how we can all improve, where our strengths and weaknesses lie and so forth. It was a friendlier evening with my rivals than I could have guessed.

We respected one another’s approaches but collectively decided on various strategies. An important one was how we could use our strengths for the greater good of the commercial finance industry. After all, healthy competition only pushes you further to attain your goals. Competitive intelligence has helped my business because there is an opportunity to learn a new angle.

Why is it helpful to see competition as a resource?

Communication and understanding opposing views are key factors when determining which direction you will lead your company. You can also challenge the business practices of your competition. I, for example, both deliver and receive feedback, including constructive criticism, which is invaluable. This helps hold every business owner accountable and is necessary and helpful to set a prominent standard for the best operating procedures and values.

I find that sharing ideas and resources can also take your business to the next level and trigger a more streamlined and efficient process. Sharing is a good thing for growth. It breeds honest and transparent work and benefits the consumer and business.

In the case of my competitors and me, sharing resources not only provides insight into industry trends and the financial climate but also brings added value to the industry by further growing solid leadership, market popularity and identifying client needs. I like to focus on the “four P’s”: product (or financing, in my case), price (their buy rate or factor rate compared to the standard regulations), promotion (where they are advertising) and place (where their clients are).

What should you know when getting started?

Keep in mind, however, that copying the exact process of your competitor will backfire on you and will bring down your reputation. Instead, apply a new idea to your current plan in motion. There is a fine line between inspiration and imitation. It’s important that you still strive to stay ahead of the industry and introduce innovative products or offers to clients. You can use an existing model but also try something that hasn’t been done.

To effectively leverage your competition as a resource, make connections and introduce yourself to others as well. Get on their radar and build from there. Invite them to your office to discuss industry trends. Visit their workspace if they invite you. Meet up at a common conference. When minds are together, discussing and sharing ideas, great things happen.

Remember: Competitors can be a resource for you, not your enemy.