Co-opetition Strategy

Episode 84: Co-opetition Strategy, with Nicole Mahoney

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Co-opetition Strategy? Discover the possible effect if you didn’t collaborate with competitors by exploring our guide on co-opetition strategy.

In this episode of Sell With Authority, I’m thrilled to welcome our guest expert, Nicole Mahoney. Nicole is the Founder of Break the Ice Media, a PR and digital marketing agency specializing in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry.

She also serves as CEO of Travel Alliance Partners — is the host of the rock solid awesome podcast, Destination on the Left — and is the author of the brilliant book, Stronger Together: Building World-Changing Business Collaborations.

Why am I so excited to have Nicole join me on the podcast today? It’s because Nicole’s approach to building her businesses, her unwavering commitment to serving her industry, and her refreshing perspective on competitors are truly unique — and so refreshing — in an industry where many are very willing to race each other to the bottom on profit just to win that next new client.

A co-opetition strategy is a better alternative to competing. Nicole shows you how to collaborate with competitors and helps you learn how to collaborate with them, resulting in more client wins, opportunities, and room for growth.

Nicole calls this innovative strategy in collaboration “coopetition.” But it’s more than a strategy; it’s a way of life for Nicole. It’s the guiding principle behind her leadership, her teaching, and how she and her team serve their industry.

If you take and apply the insights and wisdom Nicole shares on co-opetition strategy, you’ll unlock a world of new opportunities and forge partnerships, and perhaps even alliances, with former competitors. This will position you perfectly to charge into 2024.


What you will learn in this episode is about the co-opetition strategy:

  • How Nicole defines coopetition
  • Why Nicole sees collaboration and co-opetition strategy as one and the same
  • Why you are losing out if you are not pursuing collaborations with competitors
  • What are the three types of collaborators Nicole discovered in her research
  • How to set up a framework that will set you up for success in building collaborations


Additional Resources:


Co-opetition Strategy: Full Episode Transcript 


Welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast. I’m Stephen Woessner, CEO of Predictive ROI, and my team and I created this podcast specifically for you. So if you’re an agency owner or a strategic consultant, and you’re looking to sell more of what you do for a higher fee, and because you’ve built a position authority in the niche that you wanna serve, and then monetize that position by creating a steady stream of RightFit clients flowing into your sales pipeline, well then you’re in the right place. Okay, so before we dive in and meet our very special guest expert for today, I want to take a minute to pause and say thank you. So, more specifically, I wanna say thank you for your time. I wanna say thank you for listening. I wanna say thank you for stepping into our community. I want to say thank you for playing full out inside our Facebook group.


If you’ve joined us there, I wanna say thank you for jumping into the deep end of the pool with our open mic q and our two-day Intensive. And we hope that you have found the time that you’ve spent with us helpful and productive. I want to say thank you for taking full advantage of the frameworks, the guides, and the other tools inside our free resource library. And last but not least, I wanna say thank you for the encouragement along the way. Every email that you send, every social media post that we’re tagged in, or when we cross paths in person at a conference or an event, and you share how an insight you learned from one of our guests made a difference in something that you were working on, please know that fills our bucket, and we’re grateful to receive it.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to this podcast: The 3Cs of Successful Collaboration, with Nicole Mahoney 


Co-opetition Strategy: Nicole Mahoney’s Introduction


I want you to know my predictive team, and I was looking forward to doubling down even further to help you sell more of what you do, close out 2023 strong, and then do everything we can to help you roar into 2024. Okay? So, I am excited for you to meet our very special guest expert today, Nicole Mahoney. So, if you’re meeting Nicole for the first time, she’s the founder of Break the Ice Media, which is a PR and digital marketing agency specializing in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. She also serves as CEO of Travel Alliance Partners, is the host of the Rock Saw awesome podcast Destination on the Left, and is the author of the brilliant book Strong Together, building World Changing Business Collaborations. I was so excited when Nicole said yes to my invitation, and I’ll explain why here in just a second, to join me on the podcast.


Because of her approach to building her businesses, how she approaches serving her industry, and how she views competitors in her space, I’m telling you, it is so unique and candid and refreshing. If you own an agency or consulting firm, you know we work in an industry day in and day out that is chockfull of smart and driven competitors, who, unfortunately, are very willing to race each other to the bottom on profit just to win that next new client. And all of that, at times, can leave you feeling battered and bruised. And then you meet someone like Nicole Mahoney, and you hear how she has a completely different point of view instead of competing, she shows you how to come together with competitors. She helps you learn how to collaborate with them and, as a result, be better for it and create more client wins along the way.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by reading this book from Nicole Mahoney


Co-opetition Strategy: Insights from Nicole’s Strategy


I mean, that’s super counterintuitive, right? Nicole calls this a co-opetition strategy, and I would argue that co-opetition is even bigger than the word strategy. It’s how Nicole leads co-opetition strategy, embodies how Nicole teaches, and is absolutely the red thread that runs through how Nicole in her team serve in their industry. I promise you if you take and apply the insights and wisdom Nicole shares with you around the Quad petition; you will uncover new opportunities, new partnerships, and perhaps some alliances with competitors that will put you in the exact right position to roar into 2024. So, without further ado, welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast, Nicole.


Oh, thank you so much, Stephen. I love that intro. As you were talking, I’m a fan of everything you do: the Q&A, the Facebook group, and the podcast. I am just really thankful and want to express my gratitude for everything you do to support us on our journey.


Well, you’re, you’re welcome. And the gratitude goes both ways. So thank you, my friend, for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with our audience. I’m grateful for that. , before we dive in and, and, and, and pull some of the golden nuggets, because there are a ton of golden nuggets out of your book, and, and share those with our audience take us behind the curtain and, and share more about your path and journey and, and then we’ll dive in.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Nicole’s Journey of Connection and Niche Specialization


Well, I think where I’ll start is when I was growing up in a family-owned business. Because of my exposure to small business and my father’s business and working in it at a young age, I decided I wanted to own my own business. I just wasn’t sure what kind of business. , and the way that I landed in, in the agency world was a little bit accidental. When I launched my company, Break the Ice Media, 14 years ago, I actually launched it with the idea that I was the UN agency. I thought I was not an agency. That’s not what I do. , but quickly realized, yes, Nicole, you are an agency, but what I decided the UN part was, is just, you know, bringing my own philosophy and my own spin on it.


So, you know, starting from working in my father’s retail store and building a couple of other businesses that I bought and sold and then getting to the point where I launched Break The Ice Media, one of the things that I found myself kind of coming back to time and time again were, were actually two things. And then a third thing merged with ’em. But the first thing was I love to make connections with people. I decided through all of the work that I had done in my career that making connections and connecting people was one area where I specialized. And that’s where the name Break the Ice came from. I thought, well, I guess I make introductions, I help break the ice. The second piece was about my passion for public relations and event planning and, you know, working with people in that way.


And so I came to a point where I was doing that freelance and decided to launch into an agency. And then the third was in 2009, when social media was just starting to, Facebook, in particular, was just starting to take off, and I was finding a lot of my freelance clients asking me questions about what is this social media and how we use it. And I saw it as a great amplifier for the work I was doing with PR and events. And that’s where I launched. , it took me a few years after launching to figure out that I needed to find a niche. So I did launch just small businesses everywhere, you know I serve everyone. But over time, I decided to niche down and, to use your words, double down on the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry. And it has served me and my company very well ever since.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Collaboration with Competitors


Hmm. I love that this is gonna be such a great conversation and so illuminating. And you and I have known each other for a long time, but when you just, when you shared the love to make connections for people, and that’s where break the, like, I didn’t know that that’s where Break The Ice came from. I didn’t know that that’s the origin story of the name. That’s super cool.


Yeah, I guess so. It’s funny because we all have these origin stories, but you might not think they’re so important. Like, ah, it’s not interesting until you share it, and then somebody goes, oh, that’s kind of interesting.


So, I wanna start us off by going down the path of co-opetition strategy by reading an excerpt from your book. So everyone, this comes from page 31 of Stronger Together, Nicole’s new book. And, so then, we’ll go down the path of competition. But I want to use this to kind of set the stage, if you will. So, I’m quoting Nicole here. If you collaborate with a competitor who handles something better than you, you don’t have as much research and work to do. You can make more money and develop a better relationship with a competitor who may come to you next time with something they don’t normally do. So let’s take this piece, this really cool excerpt that you wrote. Let’s take this piece into defining co-opetition. So let’s first go high level of defining co-opetition, and then we’ll go more eye level. So, how do you define co-opetition?


Co-opetition strategy for me? , the way I define it is perceived as competitors coming together to do something together better than they can do on their own. That’s the very basic way that I describe it. Okay. , but also, for me, co-opetition is synonymous with collaboration. Hmm. To me, it’s the same. , but for many people I talk to, it’s not. There’s a place where they say, well, I’ll collaborate with people who aren’t perceived competitors. But when it comes to competitors, I’m not so sure I wanna collaborate with them. But my philosophy is they’re one and the same. And I’m all in on collaboration for a number of reasons, some of which you just said in that quote. And so that’s part of why I wrote the book and part of why I study this so much.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Turning Competitors into Allies


Co-opetition strategy? Okay. So I think this is a really unique point of view because you see them as one and the same. So tell me more about that. Like what? I can totally understand why some would see them vastly differently. Oh, I’ll collaborate as long as you’re not taking something off of my plate. But you see co-opetition and collaboration as the same. So, tell us why you see them as the same.


Well, at the very basic level, I actually believe that collaboration is key for businesses to grow and thrive. We cannot do anything alone that’s hence the title Stronger Together. , it was interesting when I was working with my publisher; I wrote the book first, and then we came up with the title, and I was struggling. I just can’t think of a good title for this book. And he says to me, Nicole, that you sign the signature line of all of your emails stronger together. How about Stronger Together? One of those aha moments? I was like, yeah, okay again, like, you get so close to things that you, you stop seeing them sometimes. , but at any rate, I do believe that we do we can grow and thrive more together than we can alone. And to truly be a collaborative partner, you have to be open to all types of collaborations.


Co-opetition strategy and collaboration, really are the same for us. I’ll give just a small example. And I shared this with you before we hit record. Okay. But I am a podcast host and in my seventh year, thank you to Predictive, ’cause we’ve been working together seven years as of the first episode launched October 16th, I think I figured out. So, right around the time that you and I were talking seven years ago, I had a guest reach out to me who had written a book on selling without a sales team. Hmm. And I thought it was extremely interesting and would be really valuable for my audience. So I accepted his pitch and, and had him on my show.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Right Path Forward


Well, about a week before he was supposed to be on the show, he emailed me, and he said, I apologize. , I didn’t realize you owned an agency. I own a digital agency, and this may be a conflict. So I’m okay if you think it’s a conflict, and you know, I’m fine with backing off the interview. And my response was absolutely not your message. You know, you wrote this book, I reviewed what you have, and I believe your message will help our audience and help our clients. So I’m happy to have you on my show. , and for me, a rising tide truly lifts all bo all boats. So if you are, you know, like I said, compartmentalizing, when you’re willing to work with different collaborators, I think you’re missing out.


That’s, that is just awesome. Oh, okay. So, let’s take that piece a little bit further and maybe tweak it just a little bit. So, because I can imagine that some hearing your words right now might be thinking of situations where it might be Okay. Other situations. Absolutely not. So, let’s talk about your point of view around obstacles because you’ve had this strategy or point of view for a really long time. I mean, this is, this has been how you have run your business for a long time. So tell us like along that path and journey, what are some of the typical obstacles to collaboration that you hear over and over and over again?


Yeah, so this is interesting. At our book Launch Party just last week, I had a couple of folks raise their hands. ’cause we had an opportunity to have a little bit of discussion about collaboration. And they both kind of had similar stories. And these two people were from non-profit organizations. And they had raised their hands. And they said I love this idea of collaboration. I’m all for collaboration. But as a nonprofit sometimes there is, there’s only so much money that can go around. There are only so many grants that will be given. There are only so many donors out there, and it’s kind of really competitive in terms of being able to compete for these funds. And their question was about how I collaborate with my competitors when it’s so cutthroat to get funding. And my response was, I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not easy, but I’m saying it’s the right path forward.


And another, another woman on my book launch raised her hand. She is from a small nonprofit, a historical society. She shared a story where when she first started her job as executive director of this historical society in this small community, she was immediately reached out to by a group of other nonprofit muses in the community. And they said we’re creating this alliance. Will you join our alliance? And she said to me, I was only a month or so into my job, but I just jumped in. ’cause I said, okay, yeah, I’ll join your alliance. Let’s figure this out. In the three or four years since she became executive director, this alliance was able to create programming that drove visitors to all of the museums in a promotional way. They were able to work with their county economic development arm and get curbing and signage and like infrastructure investments into their communities so that when people came at, you know, they, they gave the best welcome possible.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: The Power of Collaborating with Competitors


And they showed off, you know, their assets in a really positive way. , and she had like two or three other examples of successes that they’ve had as an alliance over being just a small historical society trying to do this on their own. And so, the reason why it’s so grounded in my belief, it, first of all, it’s not easy. , and I’ll just say that time, you know, over and over again, but I do believe it’s the right, it’s the right path forward. And our research proves it. , you know, we did research to back it up. , I had these ideas come to me because of these stories I just shared with you because of my podcast. I’ve seven years of stories of collaborations that work. , and so I had ideas on what really made them work, but I wanted to test those ideas.


So, I put some investment behind that and invested in doing some first-party research with Susan Byer from Audience Audit. I know she’s been on your show several times. We were able to prove it working, not only working collaboratively but also bringing in more money, more credibility, more efficiency, and essentially more profit. But, I’m not gonna get the figure correct, completely correct, but almost 80% I wanna say of our survey respondents say that they collaborate with competitors as well. And so what that says to me and to Susan is, if you’re not pursuing collaborations with competitors, then you’re probably losing out on something because almost 80% are. And so, so that was really telling.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: The Three Types of Collaborators


It’s, it’s profound. I would’ve never guessed that that percentage was as high as it is. And 80% is obviously significant. So, let’s take this piece and extend it, and let’s continue going down the path of your research. So, what are the three types of collaborators that you uncovered in that research?


It’s really cool too because as I tell, as I talk about the three types of collaborators, people can really resonate with one of them, at least one, some people resonate with more than one, depending on the situation. But the point here, and I’m gonna tell you about the collaborators in a minute, but the biggest point is that there are these collaborator types. It ended up being about a third of each of the sample that we surveyed, of the professionals surveyed, yet 99% of the people that we surveyed said that they collaborate. And something like close to, I think it was again, around 80%; I don’t have the numbers right in front of me, Stephen, but it’s in the research that says that they have extensive experience collaborating, meaning they collaborate all the time. Mm-Hmm. So what that said to us is that no matter what your collaborator type is, you’re collaborating.


And so for me, no matter what type of collaborator you are, you still can be successful and you bring some very important points of view to the table. So the three collaborator types, the first one is the promoter. And the promoter is just all in on the collaboration. The promoter is probably my alter ego because that’s me, right? All in on the collaboration. I can’t think of a collaboration I won’t get in on. , you know, I’m just ready to have the conversation and to explore the opportunities even with competitors. , and what the promoter does for a collaboration with that mindset. What you’re bringing to the table is the ability really to gather, right? Mm-Hmm. To get people excited and, and to get ’em involved in whatever the collaboration or the effort is. The second type of collaborator is the doubter; the doubter’s a little bit more reserved, and they’re more like, ah, I’m about collaboration.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Understanding Collaborator Types: Promoters, Doubters, and Protectors


Like, I get it. But I think the promoters are making it out to be a lot more than what it is. , it’s hard. I’m happy to get into it, but I’m gonna tread carefully. What doubters bring to the table is the ability to be critical thinkers. Hmm. And to think about, you know, where the holes might be or where the questions are. And so when they’re at the table with you, they’re bringing forward those questions and that critical thinking, and they’re actually able to help you make a stronger collaboration because of that. Right. As promoters, we’re like, oh, let’s go. And we might not be thinking through some of these other angles. So the doubters are real important for that. Okay. The third type is the protectors. And the protectors, they’re all for collaboration as well, but they believe they have proprietary systems or information or knowledge that they don’t wanna share because they believe it gives ’em a competitive advantage.


So they’ll enter into a collaboration as long as their, you know, their proprietary information is protected. And what they bring to the collaboration is an ability to set expectations from the front. So, just because we’re collaborating doesn’t mean we have to expose all of our proprietary information. I mean, a promoter might, like, I might, my belief is I’m kind of like you and Susan, like relentlessly helpful. I’ll tell you everything, but you don’t have to. And what the protectors bring to the table is the ability to set those expectations clearly upfront, which will also make for stronger collaboration. So those are the three types. And like I said, it might change for some people I’ve talked to; they said those types resonate with me. Depending on who I’m collaborating with, if it’s somebody new to me or somebody I’ve collaborated with in the past, I may shift from type to type. But what I find is that there’s one really strong one, though, that resonates with people.


I got it. So, as somebody becomes a more experienced collaborator, they might be uniquely wired to be a promoter, but as they do this over and over and over and over again, they can see aspects of how to behave like a doubter or maybe bring some of the benefits of the pro protector into that type of collaboration. Am I tracking with you?


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: The Role of Promoters, Doubters, and Protectors


Yeah, I think they can. I mean, people have told me this. That wasn’t something I’d thought of, of okay. But as I’ve been sharing this information with people, that’s what they’ve said to me. Yeah. They said I can see myself shifting my mindset based on the collaboration and who’s involved. , but I still have a core belief that you are, you really do resonate with just one of those personalities. That’s kind of your default. You may shift a little bit in the collaboration itself. , but you do have something that’s very strong. Like me, I’m a promoter all day long. , but I can still, I do believe, use my critical thinking to think through the process. And, I do wanna make sure we set up, you know, expectations in advance. However, the big thing is that the more you understand the three types and the people at the table, the better the collaboration can be. Because instead of, like, looking at the doubter and thinking, geez, they’re just a negative Nelly. Like, you know, they’re just trying to bring us down. Maybe we need to leave them in the dust or something. And, sometimes, they’re necessary for the collaboration to be successful. Instead of that, recognize what they are bringing to the table and understand where they’re coming from. And that’ll just help with the communication and help get everything set up for success from the beginning.


So from your perspective in experience, does a collaboration need all three types of collaborators? Or, if the collaboration was mixed with a compilation of all promoters, would that be as successful as a collaboration that might have a promoter, a doubter, and a protector? So, is there anything as far as the mix of who is part of the collaboration impacts success?


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: The Three Cs Framework


I studied that, but just in my anecdotal conversations with folks, I don’t, that’s not what I believe. That’s not what I’m saying. The research, though, shows that, most likely, there will be at least two collaborator types in your collaboration because 99% of the people have collaborated. And something like, as I mentioned, something like 80 ish percent have extensive experience, meaning they collaborate over and over again. So if you look at a third, a third, a third, most likely, you’re gonna have at least two of those types in a collaboration. So, what I’m saying is that the most, the more you can understand the different types, ’cause they’re, they’re not gonna sit down at the collaboration. I mean, maybe if they’ve all read, they will, but they’re not gonna sit down and hold up a sign and say, I’m a promoter.


I’m a doubter, I’m a protector. But through the conversations, you’ll start to hear, you know, them voicing whatever position they have, and it’ll sort of come out. So the more that you know about the different types, the easier it’ll be for you to work with ’em. Yeah. And to build a successful collaboration. So it’s not necessarily the types at the table, but in the book, I also talk about a framework, and it’s more about the framework that will set you up for success, I think, than the, than the folks around the table. If you’re working from the framework and everybody understands what the framework is, then, you know, you’ll get to a place where you can have a more successful collaboration.


Take us through the framework. I think you’re referring to the three-C framework, right? Yes. Or is it a different framework? Okay.


Three C framework. Okay. , which is communication, commonality, and commitment. Okay. And these are the three ingredients that I believe you need to have a successful collaboration. And the three C framework came from all of my interviews on the podcast. ’cause I asked folks, what does it take to set up a successful collaboration? I analyzed all those transcripts and the most common answers, and they really fall into three categories. Then we tested the framework with the research as well. And so the three C framework, right? Communication, commonality, or Yeah, commonality and commitment. Do you wanna go into them?


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: The Critical Role of Communication in Collaboration


Yeah, I would love to. Okay, because it sounds like a critical framework for a collaboration. Well, so yes. Let’s absolutely break it down.

Yeah. So communication is really kind of what I’ve just been describing. You know, you’re sitting around a table, or you’re in a virtual, virtual zoom, or however you’re putting your collaboration together. , and you really need to have these discussions upfront you know, to set up expectations to align around the goal of the collaboration. And you don’t have to have; there’s a common outcome we’re all trying to get to with this collaboration. And you know, in the example of travel and tourism, a lot of times it’s around it could be around a campaign. We’re trying to bring visitors into a certain region, let’s say. So there’s always a common goal, but then I might have my own personal goal, too, right? Where I sit at the table. So I’m in it. I’m buying into this collaborative goal because it’s helping me with some kind of business outcome or business goal that I have.


Yeah. , and so getting aligned on what the goals are, what the expectations are, and what everyone’s role is in the collaboration. Is that communication piece really getting yourself set up for success? What does success look like? , and we’ve actually developed a sweet spot filter for collaboration, which we can, I can we have a whole collaboration toolkit, actually, Stephen, which I can give you and you can link to in the show notes. Awesome. , but in the sweet spot filter, it kind of walks you through some of the questions to ask under each of the Cs to make sure we have these covered as we get forward. But communication is really about being open, not holding back for people who are trying to collaborate and are not openly sharing their thoughts. I’ve seen that so many times. That’s not speaking of what you’d asked me before. That’s an obstacle to collaboration and really does not set you up for success. So the more you can communicate and be open about expectations, who’s doing what, what you can bring, can and cannot bring to the table is, all of that falls in that first C


Okay. So before we move to commonality, my guess is that not only is that a potential obstacle, but that’s probably where collaborations, potential collaborations, never get off the ground. Or if they do, they never reach their fullest potential. , because there was just not that communication. You said, let’s be open and don’t, don’t hold back in the alignment, and what everyone’s role is and all of that. Unless you’re having a candid and honest conversation. To your point, communication at the onset is doomed. Right?


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Uniting Collaborators for Success


Absolutely. If you’ve ever been in a collaboration, like even on a committee, a lot of people will talk about, you know committee work that they do. Like, say if you’re on a board or you’re on a committee or something, and you always see there’s like a handful of folks that are like pulling everyone else along or doing all of the work or however you wanna label it. And a lot of that has to do with there’s just not clear communication upfront, right? We haven’t set our expectations; we haven’t set what we will or will not do. , it could be that two or three people are gonna carry the majority of the workload because they have more capacity to do so or whatever. But unless you communicate that upfront as a member of this collaboration, like, this is what I can bring to the table. Mm-Hmm. , you know, it doesn’t always have to be a time resource. It could be a money resource, it could be a strategic resource, and it could be different things. But unless you iron that out upfront, you really can brag down, you know, the collaboration itself and the outcome that you’re trying to achieve.


Right? Because then we never move. And I know you want to take us through the second C because if we don’t communicate well, there’s no hope for creating commonality, right?


Correct. Yeah. That’s gonna come out also in the, in the first c part of what you wanna discuss is the commonality. And the reason why commonality is so important is because we have to find that common thread as to why we’re all together. , I’ve seen some collaborations, and again, from my travel and tourism work, which is what really intrigued me to study this. Here, for example, in the state of New York, there’s a funding mechanism that comes from the state. And I know it’s like this in a lot of other states, but I know New York State very intimately in terms of how they fund tourism. The state of New York provides funding for tourism at the county level, but they actually give bonuses if you’re collaborating at a regional level. And they do funnel some funding through the regions. The thing about that is that the vacation regions in New York State were established by the legislature decades ago.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Collaboration’s Secret Recipe


Forced co-opetition strategy? If you will, because of the way the funding stream comes. And so what I’ve seen where it’s been successful with regions being able to leverage that funding stream and be able to have successful programs is where they come together around something that they have in common. It could be a common tourism asset, like, say, an outdoor experience in a wine region, a culinary experience, or whatever that might be. And they find the thread and the commonality, and they all coalesce around that. Thinking about businesses outside of tourism and funding streams, in that example, you know, the commonality could be that when it comes to our business and the co-opetition strategy that we do, it could be about how we’re serving a client. So we’re coming around to an outcome that we’re trying to provide to a client, and we’re collaborating with perceived competitive agencies because by putting us all together, we can get to that outcome for the client much quicker or get to a better outcome or whatever that might be.


When it comes to commonality, you’re trying to find what is that common thread and a favorite story I like to tell, because commonality does not have to be just within your own industry. , a favorite story I like to tell from the podcast is about a destination marketer in the Poconos whose job is to get people to come visit the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Mm-Hmm. The story that he shared with me is that he realized that all of the communities within the Poconos and the resorts and everything else were doing a great job keeping up curb appeal. The place looked beautiful, but one place nobody was keeping an eye on was Route 80, which is the main road into the Poconos, and everyone had to travel down to get there. And they had a litter problem. And so he, they decided as the destination marketing organization, we wanna do something about this litter problem.


And so they started a campaign within their community, you know, to shine a light on the problem and, and get people to stop littering essentially. , and then they decided they wanted to do a pickup the Poconos day, and actually go out and pick up the highway. But they weren’t able to do that because you just can’t walk onto a highway and start cleaning it. Right? . So they had to look for other types of partnerships. , and so they did find the Adopt a Highway corporation, which had the contract to go ahead and do the cleanup. They also ended up partnering with the Department of Transportation. They also ended up partnering with the local United Way because the local United Way had a program where they were trying to address homelessness. They were working on giving day rates to the homeless population to give them an opportunity to do some work, earn some money, and get back on their feet. They ended up using this program as part of the volunteer body that came out and picked up the highway. And so it’s actually grown a year, over year, over a year into this whole initiative that addresses not only keeping the highway clean but also homelessness in the region. And it’s just a really great example when you really open yourself up to conversations and to finding commonality, you’ll find it in all, all different areas. It’ll surprise you where you’ll find it.

That’s a cool story. Yeah, what a cool story. And, and, and, and I love the point that runs through commonality. It’s the common thread. You used quoting your words a few minutes ago; the common thread of why we’re all together makes total sense. 


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Making Collaboration Work


The final element of the co-opetition strategy is commitment. And where I’ve seen collaborations fall down is when one or more of the parties just is not committed to the collaboration. Hmm. Because we all get pulled in so many directions, especially if you’re, you know, all of a sudden I have, you know, some fire, I have to put out in my own business. I can’t think about this collaboration right now ’cause I need to refocus my energy. You need to prioritize collaboration and be committed to it. An example I would like to give in my keynote talk is this analogy: Imagine you are a volunteer firefighter, and you join a volunteer fire department. And when you join, you actually believe that all of your fellow volunteer firefighters are committed to putting out fires. That’s why you joined, that’s why they joined.


But then, imagine if you, you think this, but then imagine running into a burning fire and all of a sudden your other cohorts, your other collaborators, aren’t there because they aren’t committed to fighting that fire. Right? So all of a sudden, you’re like, wait, what? What’s happening? And you might not have even run into that burning building in the first place if you knew they weren’t as committed. Right? So the idea is when we get together, we’re committed to making sure we see this succeed. We’ve had, we’ve clarified the expectations, you know, the goals, the outcomes. We found the common thread. And we are committed because when you are committed to something, it will succeed no matter what. And we saw that time and time again, actually throughout the pandemic, to be quite honest. It proved itself over and over again. The people who were committed to the work they were doing, or committed to whatever project they were working on, saw it through that very uncertain and tough time. , but it also works not during uncertain times. Right. Just whatever the collaboration is, we need to have a commitment from all parties to really see it succeed.


Amazing. And when I hear you step us through the three CSS frameworks, communication, commonality, and commitment, then I go back to think about your book title, Strong Together, which couldn’t have been more appropriate. I mean, a super fitting book title, really amazing. Wow. Wow. So I know we need to come in for a landing. But before we go, before we close out and say goodbye, any final advice that you’d like to share? Do you have any additional recommendations or anything you think we might have missed? And then please share with our audience the best way to connect with you, Nicole.


Learn more about co-opetition strategy by tuning in to Our “Seed & Open Loops” Framework


Co-opetition Strategy: Strategies for Success


Absolutely. I think, in closing, I’ll just say that having an awareness from this conversation will help you, the listeners, see more collaborative opportunities. And you might not think so many times I would ask my guests on my podcast to share a story about collaboration. And so many of them at first would say to me, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a collaboration. But then as we start to talk about it, they’re like, oh yeah, I can share this example or that example. Then there’s a ton of ’em that, that come up. So sometimes, you know, you’re, you actually are in collaborations all the time. ’cause it really is, I mean, 99% of organizations we surveyed collaborate. So I’m sure you are in collaborations, but I hope that by understanding more about co-opetition, the different collaborator types, and the three Cs framework, you’re able to not only be in the collaborations but also make them stronger because of the awareness.


And I will say that we do have this collaboration toolkit. , there are a couple of different resources there. They’re also in the book, but you, they’re downloadable from our website. I’ll make sure you get the link even to put in the show notes. But I encourage you to look at our sweet spot filter, our How to Become a Better Collaborator book, and the research that we’ve done with Susan Beyer. We’ve done a second research project that’s not even in the book yet, so more to come later, but on operationalizing collaboration and making it more part of your strategic pillars within your organization or your business. And there’s a lot of information about that as well. So we’ll get that link to you. The best place to find the book, you can find it on Amazon, or you can go to my website, You can find out more about my company at break the ice I’m also on LinkedIn. , and happy to connect with anyone there.


Thank you, Nicole. And okay, everyone, no matter how many notes you took or how often you go back and re-listen to Nicole’s words of wisdom, which I sure hope that you do. She just gave you the framework in stories and examples of how and why co-opetition makes a difference. But the key is you have to take what she shared with you so generously take it and apply it because when you do, you will accelerate your results. And Nicole, we all have the same 86,400 seconds in a day. And I’m grateful, my friend, that you came onto the show to be our mentor, to be our guide, to help us move our businesses onward to that next level. Thank you so much, Nicole.


Thank you, Stephen.

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