nonprofit consulting zone blog

Friendly competition. Does it work?

“Friendly competition.” Is there such a thing?

You see football players greet each other after a well fought game. We hear (but see less and less) of politicians getting to know each other on friendlier terms when they’re not in front of the cameras. Maybe you and someone you know have a friendly competition over something like cooking (hey, we’re all winners in that one!)

Can you be friendly to a competitor consultant?

If you consider the cold, hard facts, there’s little incentive to smile across the room. It’s a “zero sum game,” right? There are only so many contracts to be had, and if you don’t get it someone else will. That could mean the difference between paying your mortgage this month, or a nice vacation or not next summer.

If that’s the case, then any sign of cooperation can literally take food out of your mouth. You don’t want a client or potential client to experience someone different because they might leave you, right?

Maybe. How good are you at what you do? More important, how good do you feel about how good you are at what you do?

For a lot of us, it’s not whether someone else is a competitor. It’s how confident we feel about ourselves when we’re facing that competitor.

All of this is in the context of one more dynamic, the nonprofit sector.

Do nonprofits compete? On paper, yes. Social work agency A serves a very similar population to social work agency B. In reality, however, it’s more likely they cooperate than compete.

Why? Mission.

I find that when you’re mission driven, you’re typically not going to tell a client in need that he or she shouldn’t seek more help, even if that’s heading to a competitor. Help is help, from you or someone else.

If you’re from the nonprofit sector, this seems natural, albeit counter-intuitive. If you’re not, then you might get funny looks from your clients who don’t understand.

Despite your background and what your clients may think, should you have a friendly attitude toward your competitors whether your clients are looking or not?

Some say yes. I was at a restaurant not too long ago with another consultant when I spotted a competitor meeting with a client across the room. She saw me, and clearly didn’t want any contact. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this about her. She sees everyone as “competition.”

On the other hand, I know competitors who go out of their way to be friendly to their fellow, competing consultants. Are they of the philosophy “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? Could be, but I doubt it. They probably can’t help themselves. Besides, they might find more business in it.

How do you see your competitors? Friends? Enemies? “Frien-emies”?

Published by

Matt Hugg

Matt Hugg is the president of Nonprofit.Courses.

See his bio here.