It’s an interesting word, collaboration. It labels something that most of us do without thinking and often take for granted in our personal life. For as long as we have been scratching one another’s backs we have collaborated in performing side by side for mutual benefit.
Pop stars collaborate and enjoy a shared audience, screenwriters and authors collaborate to bring the written word to life, governments collaborate to wield a greater share of voice on the world stage.
I have never used the word ‘collaborate’ as much as I have over the last fifteen years since becoming a serious business networker. In fact it is one of my top ten lexicons when discussing business development. Why this has become such an important word to me is historic-ish.
I am a partner in a market research agency which has been around for over 25 years. During the recession in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s WDGresearch held steady with its regular client base and while larger agencies went under we survived. As we came out of that recession I was able to look back and see clearly that we did nothing to steer ourselves away from the precipice, it was the success of our relationship with our long standing clients that pulled us through. It could quite easily have gone the other way if our clients’ budgets had dried up or if our contact within the company had retired, moved on, been made redundant. The shock of realising that simple truth made us review the way we ran the company, analyse our market positioning, overhaul our client and business development, and steer our own ship.
With an ambition to achieve sustained growth we allocated a realistic budget to business development. Our first step was to increase visibility which for us meant collaborating with many of the businesses with which we had strong associations in the past. We realised we were competing with industry heavyweights so we needed to have a greater offering when taking our business to industry conferences and networking events. The collaborations meant that we could make greater use of digital marketing and we had more to say when presenting ourselves in industry journals.
In the year that followed the change we noticed a significant increase in our average billings because we were able to offer more in-house. We received more cold enquiries, our attendance at conferences and networking brought more ‘warm’ contacts to the database, and ultimately our business grew to more than twice the turnover of the previous year. This allowed us to employ more staff to work on client retention and new business.
Subsequent years have seen sustained growth until the current recession started to bite but our collaborations are still working to mutual benefit and support.
This time around, many of our clients have experienced budget cuts and in some cases redundancies. Business information has changed since the last recession and companies rely on CRM systems and digital marketing strategies to get answers about their customers, shaving a complete corner off the marketing research industry. Consequently our business has evolved in parallel. We have new collaborations which reflect the shift in marketing businesses.
We were fortunate to survive the last recession, but now I know that we control the success of WDG Research and the mutual support received from and delivered to our partners in marketing services is the backbone needed to get through this one.