In a time of ever-increasing competition and choice, the value of investing in smart partnerships is apparent. But what's not so apparent is that opportunities for collaboration are often hiding in plain sight—with your competitors.

Although strategic alliances with competitors may initially seem risky, they can also offer unmatched rewards. As long as the relationship benefits both sides, you can create a mutually profitable partnership to attract and retain customers.

Consider the media industry. As online readership replaces print subscriptions and attention spans wane, traditional media need to find new ways to compete. The New York Times reported that Facebook is in talks with media providers about hosting content directly within Facebook. (The deal has since been consummated.)

Facebook likes that this arrangement would keep readers within its universe; media likes the built-in audience offered by Facebook; and readers ultimately benefit from the reduction of site-jumping friction.

Rather than competing head-to-head, consider the players in your field and how you could combine efforts to help both companies and, ultimately, your customers.

Here are six steps to keep your "enemies" close.

1. Identify strengths, gaps, and goals

Start by outlining your partnership goals and defining what you need out of a collaboration: Do you want to enlarge your customer base by gaining access to a specific niche? Would your customers be more successful with new technology? Are these initiatives too cost-prohibitive to tackle internally?

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image of John Toskey

John Toskey is the global director of eBay Partner Network, eBay's in-house affiliate marketing program.

LinkedIn: John Toskey