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How do you feel about your competitors?

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A Lesson from Bullhorn Engage

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Bullhorn Engage. What was once a user’s group meeting has evolved into one of the premier events in the staffing industry. Sure, it’s a place to learn about Bullhorn’s new technology, but it’s also become a forum to get inspired by world-class keynote presentations and discover best practices for running temporary staffing and executive recruiting companies.

This year, I had a unique opportunity to spend some quality time with people who I would normally consider to be competitors. And being a competitive person (okay, very competitive), my usual instinct is to find my opponent’s weakness and then develop a strategy to knock them out.

I know, this doesn’t seem very nice. But when it comes to the competition, we typically think it’s a zero sum game.

Competition doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

Well, one of my take-aways from Engage 2018 is that competition doesn’t have to be zero-sum. While most sales situations will be win/lose, there may be ways to creatively work with competitors so that the outcome is win-win.

I recall a professor from my MBA days talking about the idea of co-opetition, where you seek to find mutually beneficial ways to work with direct competitors. The concept is that you partner with competitors to:

  • Exploit complementary strengths to boost both company’s revenues
  • Combine resources to pursue larger opportunities
  • Combine products or services to create new service offerings or access new market segments
  • Share resources each organization could not afford on its’ own
  • Create economies of scale or scope

For me, meeting with a “competitor” opened the doors to new a couple of very exciting potential new markets and possibly a new approach to how we deliver one of our core products.

How can staffing companies work with competitors?

For a staffing company in today’s market, co-opetition may be the key to dealing with recruiting challenges. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Partner with competitors to cross place candidates on one another’s job orders.  Splits are common in executive recruiting—why are they so rare in staffing?
  • Partner with companies that specialize in different skill disciplines to cross refer clients.
  • Partner with competitors to bid on larger projects.
  • Create shared recruiting resources (e.g., more job posts, expanded social recruiting, offshore or onshore sourcing), so that your company (and your competitor) can get better buying power and more exposure for your jobs.
  • Cooperatively market the value of working with a staffing company to attract more candidates to staffing firms.
  • Partner with clients to get them to refer the candidates they don’t hire.

If you’re competitive like me, you probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to beat the competition. But in this economy (in fact, in any economy), you might be better served by looking for ways to work with—rather than against—your competitors.





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