Friday, August 7, 2009

Zero Sum and a Competitor Conundrum

Can you be friends with a competitor?

Like most executives, I invest time thinking about the firms we square off against for client assignments. I visit their corporate Web sites, evaluate their social media activities, take note of their press announcements and review new marketing initiatives.

It’s all part of my responsibility to maintain a strong competitive position for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic).

While I have a healthy level of respect for nearly all of our competitors, there are several firms where I have a more cordial relationship with one or more of their principals. I make it a point to spend time with them at industry conferences and events and, whenever possible, refer business opportunities.

However, an Email landed in my Outlook inbox this week that has me re-thinking this dynamic:

Hi Marc

I hear you are meeting with my client, NAME WITHHELD.

Does this mean I can now aggressively go after your clients? I have been holding off going after my friends' clients up till now.

Business is typically a zero sum situation. If my business is to advance, it’s typically at the expense of a competitor.

It’s no secret that Strategic calls on companies represented by other firms. We don’t knock anyone, yet certainly have an agenda to win away business. I expect my competitors to be doing the same with our clients.

After giving this Email some thought, my view remains constant. It is professional (and respectful) to be friendly with a competitor. Friends though? I think not.


PepGiraffe said...

So how did you answer the email? What does he mean by aggressively, anyway?

Marc Hausman said...

@PepGiraffe - I briefly explained that I had a prior relationship with the company's CEO and was pursuing an opportunity that was outside of this competitor's existing scope of work.

As for what was meant by "aggressively," I assume it implied a targeted campaign to pursue Strategic's clients. Of course, this is something that I expect competitors to be doing every day.