If you have been paying attention to the news in recent days you may have seen footage of the great white shark attack on former world surfing champion Mick Fanning during the final of the J-Bay Open off South Africa’s coast on July 19. Twitter has also been alight with a photo of rival Julian Wilson sprint paddling to help. While both surfers were unharmed and ultimately shared the event's first place title, Wilson's bravery is a poignant reminder that true heroes do not win at all costs.

In business, helping competitors has its place, as well. That's according to Chris Barbin, CEO of Appirio, an IT consultancy that helps companies build apps and migrate to cloud-based enterprise solutions such as Salesforce. Here's what he says you need to think about when it comes to partnering with the competition.

It may make sense when there's a huge new opportunity in your industry.

Last year when Apple launched the Swift development language Appirio partnered with competitors IBM and Booz Allen Hamilton to offer $500,000 worth of challenges on the Appirio crowdsourcing platform, which drew 4,000 Swift developers in eight weeks. "On one hand we could compete with IBM and Booz Allen. On another hand, we're working side by side with them because there's a new technology that hit the market and we're all trying to evangelize crowdsourcing at the same time," he says.

A competitor with a larger offering can help you better serve a customer.

What if a customer comes to you because you have some, but not all, of what it needs? Partnering with another company–even a competitor–can help you get the contract while garnering experience that will ultimately make your offering more complete. "It's the parameters of sweet spot. What's your core market, your core offering and how does it overlap or not with a potential competitor?"

You need to strictly define the working relationship with a competitor turned partner.

Ideally, this means having customer access and customer-facing resources. What wouldn't work: Another company managing the entire customer relationship with Appirio merely adding bodies to a project's organizational team chart. "We don't have to run the meeting but we want to be present in the meeting," he says. "We wouldn't want to be just behind the curtain."

Published on: Jul 21, 2015