Let’s be clear; collaboration is not the answer to every business challenge. But ignoring its potential is quite likely to make every aspect of your business more complicated and costlier.
With that in mind I recommend that in the current oscillating climate of business confidence uncertainty and disruption, the business community should reboot its business development strategy with collaboration. Fair and good competition has to remain one of the pillars of smart business, but this can produce even better results when competitors collaborate. And that is not an oxymoron.
It is important to remember that good business is about good solutions to whatever the market demands. In the fierce competition for a slice of revenue, business strategy often turns to marketing as a knee-jerk reaction. We inherently believe that a better marketing effort can deliver new, and secure existing, business. There are a few other methods business strategists (plural – there is rarely only one strategist in any business) tend to explore when looking for ways to grow a business. Most of the tactics (and really they are most often just that – tactics) businesses focus on include increasing their efforts in what they already know and staying away from things they are not good at. Generally speaking there is good sense in that – up to a point.
What most businesses have not yet developed well (speaking in the Australian context for the moment) is what I call the ‘collaboration instinct’. In short, this refers to the capacity of an enterprise to act on its existing collaboration strategy and enable its business to grow through strategic collaboration with existing partners and competition alike. It is hard to talk about collaboration on a whim. It takes time for senior managers in any business to digest what it means to collaborate. After the pleasant ‘let’s work together’ phase, comes the real work in working out a plethora of factors that arise in almost every collaboration. To be able to deal with those factors, such as say, levels of trust and dependence on collaborators, business managers need to invest time. Thus the need to fully absorb collaboration thinking and practice.
Most business managers are probably in those positions because they have learnt to compete without being collaborative. Collaboration is not traditionally a practice that has been rewarded to the same extent as sales management, marketing, or even HR management. That is not a fault that needs correction per se. It is simply a matter of business evolution. Today’s environment consists of perennial disruptions which very few business can deal with in isolation. And that is why collaboration matters for business development.
Business Development Managers are expected to deliver often unreasonable outcomes. For some reasons, many business managers believe that good BDMs should be able to bring in new business regardless of external factors. And this can then perhaps create a unique opportunity for BD Managers to assert their role by facilitating change in the way businesses think. Changing internal mindsets is what BD Managers can do as a precursor to good business growth. In fact, Business Development Managers may be in the best position to introduce the process of collaboration to their organisations as a way of focusing all staff on the potential that collaboration offers. While I would not argue for a complete shift away from HR Managers being the key to culture change, I do think that BD managers may be better equipped to introduce collaboration as a strategy for business growth. Or better yet, HR and BD could collaborate for total success.