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How to Collaborate with Other Shops to Solve a Customer’s Problem

  • May 2023
  • Number of views: 802
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Chris Culver
Marketing & Industry Awareness Committee Member
Cyntek Group Inc.

Collaboration in our industry may seem a little counterproductive to some. But, if done right, it can be beneficial to all and most importantly to the end user.

Collaboration with other companies can be a powerful tool for solving problems, reaching a new market, developing new products or services and so much more. It can take many forms, such as strategic alliances, innovative networks or partner ecosystems. These types of systems all have several processes to ensure success, and most require a lot of challenging work from all parties involved. For the purposes of this article, the focus will be on competitive collaborations.

When it comes to our industry, the most effective collaboration occurs without a lot of administrative steps or meetings. Through my experience, I have found that having strong relationships in and around our industry and trust with potential partners provides our company with access to an expanded resource pool at critical moments when a client is looking to us for a solution.

The electrical apparatus sales and service industry has seen an expansion of services provided to the various markets we serve. To remain competitive in our markets, this may mean we will need to purchase new equipment for the shop, or new tools and machinery for the field service team. Software for the office might need to be updated, or more specialized training needed for our employees. Sometimes, taking on the cost of these capital improvements is not worth the investment. This is especially true for smaller jobs or limited work that does not generate the revenue needed to justify the initial investments. The reality is that taking on this new work, whether it be in the shop or the field, can be infeasible due to costs, labor, logistics or a lack of proper equipment and other factors.

This is where collaboration becomes the answer. But how do we collaborate in our industry with partners who could also be direct competitors?

The answer is simple; it is EASA. Let me explain.

Since becoming a member 20 years ago, we have met many other member shops in our region and other countries. They all have different client bases or serve different markets than we do and therefore have a different focus. This difference in focus or specialty means they likely have different equipment, experience and trained personnel. Getting to know these other businesses at various meetings or EASA events is the ideal time to forge these relationships and build trust among peers.

Competitive collaborations can help reduce the costs and risks associated with accepting new work or projects with which your team may have limited experience. This will allow you to start building that necessary experience within your own team (for future projects), while simultaneously providing your client with exceptional service and results through your collaboration.

For collaboration to succeed, each partner must contribute something distinctive and valuable: basic research, product development skills, manufacturing capacity, specialized equipment, access to technical information from previous work, etc. The challenge is to share enough skills to create an advantage vis-à-vis companies outside the alliance while avoiding a complete transfer of core skills to the other business. This is a very thin line to walk, as companies must carefully select what skills and technologies they pass to their collaborative partners. Each company must develop safeguards against unintended or informal transfers of information. The goal is to limit the transparency of their businesses while sharing enough information or resources to make the collaboration fruitful for both parties.

One of the most important aspects of collaboration is learning. Learn the skills, learn the steps necessary and learn from the communications between the parties involved. Learning from the process will help you move forward to the next collaboration and ensure your team continues to expand their knowledge base.

The other crucial tool to use when collaborating is an effective communication protocol. This is key to ensure that the expectations are clear with the current collaboration and that the parties involved with completing the work are all working together.

Our own experience has shown that competitive collaboration is an essential part of our business. We are not a large firm and yet we have large end-user accounts that require several types of services. Therefore, to best support these clients, we rely on many partners. From OEMs to vendors in our industry, as well as many other shops. Presently, we use four to five shops, as well as several vendors and OEMs.

When it comes to onsite services, our small crew of on-site technicians can provide most of the services our clients require. However, we do not own a crane truck, a fleet of flatbed tractor trailers or have high voltage electricians on staff. Therefore, when it comes to more skilled work or larger projects, we have a multitude of suppliers we have worked with to complete this work for our clients. This increases our knowledge base and revenue, and the partner has more work and revenue while embedding us further with the client. A win for everyone.

All these benefits are attainable if we work with partners that we get to know, trust and with whom we communicate. Participating in EASA events has provided us a conduit to getting to know these partners. Again, a win for all.

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