Who’s Your Frenemy Now?

6 Steps to Navigating a Sea of Vendors in 2016’s “coopetition” landscape

Marketing technology and data availability have dramatically expanded, leaving marketers with many choices and questions. How do we navigate capabilities, vendors, technology, cost and time to market?

We hear about “coopetition” and “frenemies,” but what does this really mean? Think about your company’s core competency: Is it customer experience? Analytics? Creative?

Forrester says:

“Insights can be better derived from multiple sources with different perspectives, which means data shared across an ecosystem can drive ‘coopetition’ to new levels.”

Here’s an example we can all relate to: In the busy holiday season, does it matter to you, the customer, how a package is delivered as long as it arrives on time? If we think about an example of coopetition that works, and impacts all of us, the USPS and private parcel carriers come to mind. They have negotiated a more efficient delivery service. Private companies do the “heavy lifting” of mail processing and transport while the USPS contributes to the most efficient destination delivery. According to the Wall Street Journal, FedEx uses USPS for 30% of ground parcels, while UPS uses it for 40% of its ground parcels. So while these companies are frenemies, they have come to a place of collaborative competition.

How does this apply to marketers?

Here’s where to start.

1. Know your strengths — What sets your company apart from the rest?

It all starts with your customers. What keeps them engaged with your company? Let’s say you consistently deliver online and offline creative assets and campaigns. This is a win, and your customer has paid for these services for years. You know these are competencies based on customer loyalty. How do you grow the relationship to cover a broad ask? What if your customer suddenly wants you to prove that the creative and campaigns actually work?

While most of us know what keeps the lights on at our company, we must be tuned in to changes in the marketplace. The latest new technology, the shiny dashboard, and the latest “data mining” software may not be on the agenda, but you notice your client just engaged with a vendor who provides data management services. They bought your creative and campaign expertise, but clearly there is a deeper need to satisfy the CMO — which could cost you some valuable new business.

2. Know what is best for your customers — What is their experience with your company?

What is your company’s “face” to the external world at large? Are you known for deep subject matter expertise in one or two areas? Is this enough to sustain your future business? We all must evolve with the marketplace, but also must see the world through a customer lens. Have you asked your customers what their pain points are? Understanding the world from their point of view may narrow things down to a couple of core needs: a) how we can be in market faster (time) and b) how we can deliver results at a lower cost (money).

So, as you acquire a new customer, it’s smart to assume these are challenges they need to solve in some way. Depending on your customer’s industry focus area, there may be unique challenges to be aware of. These could include technology, infrastructure, lack of internal resources, and shifts in management, to name a few. Why does this matter? Staying tuned in to specific customer needs and relating those back to marketplace trends can be a prompt to begin researching new capabilities for your toolkit to help meet customer needs.

3. Know your organizational challenges — What keeps you from delivering the very best to your customers?

In a world of media and vendor fragmentation, do you know where you stand in meeting your customer’s needs? Know your core competency and stick with it. Bring in capabilities to add measurable value. Don’t beta-test your customers. Keep the customer experience front and center. Ask yourself, How will this benefit my customer?

Where to start:

  • Conduct an organizational audit: What is our current offering? What do our customers need? Do we have the capability to meet new demands?
  • For customer needs that do not match your organization offering, identify whether this is a space you will need to “amp up.” If it is, then:
    • Decide whether to build or buy. This involves a detailed analysis, which typically results in hiring staff with a specific skill set or identifying a vendor who has deep competency in the new offering area.
    • Hire a consultant to help with next steps. Reputable companies can assist with market analysis and vendor landscape, and serve as an independent option to assessing complex solution offerings.


4. Evaluate for win-win-win — Does the solution benefit my customer, my company and my partner?

Fast forward to what the world looks like if you invoke a new offering. Does your company benefit? If so, how much? Does the customer experience value? Shorter time to market? Reduced cost? Does the partner company achieve a benefit? If all three parties achieve a win, the solution decision is good, but needs to be continually monitored. Pace of marketing, changes in customer needs, and shifts in organizations can alter the landscape quickly, so any solution, whether internal or external, must be evaluated continually.

5. Building a solution — Where to start?

Let’s say your company has had several clients ask about constructing a dashboard that is available to senior management each morning before 10:00 a.m. Several questions immediately arise. Do you have the necessary data, staff, hardware and software to make this happen? Perhaps you have everything except the software. You’ve decided that building a dashboard in Excel will not suffice, so you must partner with another vendor to bring the capability in-house.

The vast number of BI platform vendors can overwhelm your decision process. How to narrow the list? Several factors come to mind. First, develop an evaluation framework. This lists the criteria that will be used to determine the best partner. For example, is the company a direct competitor? What do their current customers have to say? Are those customers satisfied with the product and technical support? What is the pricing model? How long has the company been in business? Can the software be evaluated prior to purchase? What other features are offered? What is the learning curve? Does the software scale to high-volume data? These are just a few of the questions to build into the evaluation framework. Develop a “points ranking” system. Collect the information, assign points to each vendor for their strengths/weaknesses, tally these and narrow the playing field to the top candidates. Then, ask for an evaluation period to test drive the software.

6. Continually evaluate.

Customer demand, new capabilities and company competencies constantly change. Understanding customer needs is foundational to deciding the coopetition puzzle. Simply hiring to achieve a new capability can be only one dimension of the challenge. Partnering with companies that have deep knowledge and expertise and that, in many instances, “white label” their product may be the route to success. Phasing in a new capability is wise. Expect challenges along the way and build case studies to exhibit success.

Knowing your customers and how they behave ranks first in importance for marketers, but keeping your frenemies close can strengthen your offering, meet your customer needs and forge a successful partner relationship.


Written by Lisa Ferry, Director of Customer Insights and Analytics, HackerAgency Consulting Services