In a down economy I guess it is to be expected, but I have to admit to being disappointed; more and more it seems that competitors are turning into predators. For instance, people who attend the workshops and events hosted, provided, taught by their competitors furiously scribble down notes and information or obtain copies of the literature and training materials. Some go so far as to register and attend under other company’s names so they aren’t blocked from attendance, or they “walk-in” at the door. I don’t mind colleagues attending each other’s events, but I do mind someone attending an event or workshop to get my content and use it to compete or package it as their own. I also get hot around the collar when people want to “network” and they sit across the table for half an hour before revealing they have changed companies and are now a competitor and “do I have any business for them?” What are they thinking?
Competitors as Allies
There are instances in which two or more competitive companies may decide to come together to pursue large projects or to find synergies of skill sets. There should be “friendly” competitors; just because you compete doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. But realistically when you are not above board in your conduct and you are using your competitors to learn your field, to develop your business content, or you are mining your competitors’ events for prospects and clients, don’t expect to stay on friendly terms with them.
A colleague related a story to me about having a “friend” who was a consultant come into his business to advise on how to improve his operations. The process was a disaster. Nothing made sense. Nothing worked. It was costly in fees, time, morale and every other way for the business. He couldn’t understand it. Then he discovered the “friend” had taken the business model that he learned during the consulting engagement and started a business in direct competition with him. It wasn’t that the consultant couldn’t help him; it was that he didn’t want to after he saw the business. He knew what would work better, and with the framework of what he learned, he took it and ran. Unfortunately, as a “friend and colleague” there wasn’t a signed non-compete in place and the underlying professional credentials and code of conduct for this consultant didn’t exist.
Lessons from Both Sides
Competition is healthy and it is good for your business. It is also good to have a healthy and cordial relationship with your competitors. However, being a predatory competitor isn’t good for your business or anyone else’s. It will come back to bite you, because in the end the behaviors you exhibit as a competitor are also those you exhibit with your customers and vendors, and no one wants to do business with predators, because ultimately they bite the hands that feed them.