Befriend the competition? Mon Dieu! But smart companies are learning how to partner up and play nice to everyone’s business can grow.

My good buddy Whitney Keyes like to cite a story of a local Seattle chocolatier who needed to find an innovative way to incease customers. The solution? Partner with the other local chocolatiers in town (the horror!) and create a Chocolate Tour that would stop at all the stores and educate people on the history of this divine treat. The result was increased business for everyone, and a great press opportunity to ptich to local papers.

When we combine efforts, we can offer much more value to potential customers than we can going it alone. How exciting would a tour have been for just one chocolate company? But when you can offer multiple options and a more robust benefit to people, they will see more bang for their buck and will respond.

Some other local businesses often partner with complimentary companies if they go after a similar demographic. For example, Trophy Cupcake here in Seattle just had an event on Saturday with local boutique Show Pony. The two have similar target audiences and decided to pair up and offer a trunk show, complete with cupcakes and shopping. Similar target audiences, different products = a more robust offering to attract people. Lululemon Athletic here in Seattle often partners with organizations that reach the same female demographic to conduct parties and workshops in-store – life coaches, networking groups, etc.

This might seem like a simple idea, but many companies – large and small – do not take advantage. My guess is because of fear. Fear of “losing” money to “the other guy”; fear of promoting someone else’s product over their own. “But what if they buy his product and not mine?” Wah.

Get out of your own way, people. If foot traffic has gone down to your store or website or your reps are stalled on deals, what do you have to “lose”? It can’t get worse, right? When you can offer a more complete bundle to people, they see more value – maybe they wouldn’t have bought from you or your partner company by itself but together, they are willing to spend even more money combined. Think about it from the customer’s point of view, not from protecting your own fiefdom.

I often do workshops with other marketing consultants. (One will be coming up in late October in Seattle, so stay tuned!). Technically, we are competitors but not really – we all have different stenghts. Together, we offer a valuable workshop to which neither of us alone could have attracted as many people.

Try it. Think about the businesses that complement your goods or services. Are you a roofing company who can partner with plumbers, electricians, etc. to refer business (see the 9/28 WSJ SmallTalk column in print, Section R)? Are you a florist who can partner with a jewelry store or spa around Valentine’s Day? Are you a software developer who can partner with another software company who sells a different product to the same audience as you? Are you perosnal stylist who can partner with a career coach or dating site to help people put their best foot forward? Are you a department store who can partner with a local designer to expand your product offerings at a Preview Party?

I challenge you to put one partnership/coopetition tactic into your marketing plan for 2010 – or even Q409. You will be surprised at how much value you will generate.

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