9 reasons why thought leaders must embrace their competitors

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It’s a nasty, noisy world out there. It’s easy for your own ideas to get lost in the cacophony. I’m here to tell you what you don’t want to hear: make friends with your competitors, quote them, and give them credit for their great ideas.

I came to this realization after collaborating with people who had opposing views about quoting competitors.

At Forrester Research, where I spent 20 years as an analyst, you were never allowed to mention perspectives from our competitors at Gartner or IDC. Robert Scoble is probably the earliest proponent of the opposite viewpoint, that talking about your competitors is good for spreading ideas on social media.

I got to see this play out in the world of books, too. I just finished collaborating on a book with Dave Frankland and Nick Worth. Nick is the CMO of Selligent Marketing Cloud, a marketing services company. When our book Marketing to the Entitled Consumer comes out, you’ll see that it’s full of statistics from all over, including HubSpot and Salesforce, marketing services companies that compete with Selligent. Nick and Dave focused on the ideas they had, and recognized that there were other competing companies whose perspectives could reinforce those ideas.

On the book I am collaborating on writing right now, my coauthor and client, the CEO of a tech company, has the opposite perspective. You won’t see the names of the company’s competitors in that book, and I won’t be interviewing them for their perspectives.

Why you should cite your competitors

There’s room for disagreement here, but I come down on the side of citing your competitors and their ideas. Here’s why:

  1. Ideas are hard to spread. Getting attention for your ideas is challenging in a noisy world. You need all the support you can get, including from people who compete with you.
  2. Everyone knows the other guys are out there. People who drink Coke know there is such a thing as Pepsi. And people who buy from Gartner are well aware of Forrester. Even if you’re in an idea marketplace where there are fewer thinkers, people will get wind of the other thinkers sooner or later, so it might as well be from you.
  3. You need critical mass for your idea. Startup founders will tell you it’s easier to get traction when there are competitors, because they justify the idea. Similarly, if you have a radical idea, it’s easier for people to accept it if there are others also talking about it. People with similar ideas should stick together to justify their existence.
  4. Your thinking is the most advanced, right? What are you afraid of? That the other guy is smarter than you? Surely, if people read both of you, they’ll recognize that your ideas are more original, more advanced, based on better data, or better suited to your audience. If you act like you’re scared of the other guy, people will assume that you think you’re not as good.
  5. You might learn something. There are very few people who are thinking as hard about your topic as you are. Doesn’t it make sense that some of the insights you need to understand are coming from the other thinkers in your space?
  6. Goodwill is contagious. Be mean to the other guy and he might find a way to stab you in the back, tell your biggest client you’re dishonest, or otherwise take retribution. But if you cite the other person’s ideas fairly, they’ll be favorably inclined toward you. They might even steer some press — or some business — in your direction if they don’t have time, have a conflict of interest, or recognize that you have specialized skills the customer needs. In a small space, we need all the friends we can get. It won’t cost you anything to link to the blog post or video of a competing thinker.
  7. Debate creates interest. Do you know what you call a group of four people who are researching the same topic? A panel. And potentially an interesting one, if you have varying perspectives.
  8. You need excuses to talk more about your ideas. When your competitor comes out with a report, a book, or a public statement, that’s your cue to write about it. Is it correct? Slightly off? Impressive? Out of date? A competing thinker’s statement, like any other event in your market, is a good excuse to get your point of view out there. Just be sure you describe it accurately and fairly before you start wailing on it.
  9. You don’t want to look like a petty little shit. Face it, nobody likes a petty little shit.

You’re going to run in the same circles. You’re going to work with the same clients, talk to the same reporters, appear at the same conferences, and fight the same battles against the cold, cruel world of lazy thinkers.

So blurb the other thinker’s book. Link to her blog posts. Embed his videos.

You’ll feel better in the morning, and it might just pay off in the long run.

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  1. My approach was consider the source. If competitors shared other people’s content I would join them, but link directly to the
    Original source in my posts.

    Rarely did my competition post original non-promotional thought leadership.

  2. I’ve worked in industry since the late 90’s (after leaving NASA, which at the time had no competitors other than the Russians, and which wasn’t selling anything in a classic sense). There was no place I worked where it was considered ok to work with the competition, unless it was something the C-level folks cooked up.

    I’m in healthcare now and it is the oddest damn thing, but I am *supposed to* talk with my competitor counterparts and others! It’s encouraged.

    My competitor colleagues and I talk frequently. We share everything from what our companies’ project portfolios contain now and are going to contain, to what tools we use, to techniques we use, and much more. We all, you see, have the same goal – Improving healthcare for our patients – even when we all share the same market geography/patient pool.

    I’ve learned more from those conversations than I have in 40 years of reading business books (no offense). My business is better for it, too.