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The Value of Collaboration: How Outside Partners Can Drive Growth

An outside perspective can offer valuable solutions in your business.
July 28, 2017

Collaboration with outside partners can contribute to growth, for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike. For these four businesses, collaboration with nonprofits, mentors, peers and outside experts has helped their enterprises connect with the community, broaden their customer base, retain talent, learn about new technologies—and more.

The Do-Good Diner

Three days before Metro Diner officially opened its newest location in Las Vegas, Facebook was abuzz with photos of smiling diners showing off their plates of hearty omelets, towering sandwiches, fried chicken and waffles and more. The guests weren't VIPs invited to an exclusive pre-opening bash. Rather, they were neighbors who showed up to support two local nonprofits centered around child advocacy and social services. Their payment for the food on their plates came in the form of charitable donations.

That community collaboration is standard for Metro Diner, which is headquartered in Tampa, Florida and has 32 locations, with 18 more scheduled to open this year. “We provide everything including the food and drinks for everyone, asking nothing from the charity except to help get supporters in the diner, and we encourage all guests to donate directly to the charity," says Crafton Bryant IV, director of marketing with Metro Diner. “We have had great success with this, raising on average $5,000 per day for our partners."

Bryant says that partnering with local nonprofits accomplishes a number of things over time: a lift in traffic, elevated brand awareness and increased loyalty. “Our managing partners are able to network with other like-minded community influencers and build sustainable strategic relationships," he says. In addition, the nonprofits and community organizations build a long-term relationship with a high-volume restaurant that prioritizes being a valued neighbor and friend of the community. “The partnership must go beyond just financial contributions, it's important to collaborate. In many cases, we end up having team members who volunteer on an ongoing basis for our charitable partners," says Bryant.

Collaboration is a human-centric activity, and it starts with the top. In order to create a company that gets meaningful value out of collaboration, you have to create a culture that values it.

—Matt Wald, president and CEO, Columbus Collaboratory

The joint effort starts a virtuous cycle, and it's something that any business can do. “Take care of your community and they will take care of you," advises Bryant. “Build relationships with organizations that support the local community you do business in."

The Unexpected Mentor

Yaniv Masjedi is the chief marketing officer of Nextiva, a business communications company based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He met his mentor in an unexpected place: on the basketball court. It was 2008, and Nextiva was a new business. On the court, Masjedi became fast friends with a man who had been in the tech space for years. They'd talk about business and, in time, Masjedi learned lessons that would have a positive impact on Nextiva, including its hiring processes. “[Early on] we were hiring people who were not always a good fit. Churn was an issue," recalls Masjedi. The mentor made a simple suggestion: involve co-workers in the interview process, not just managers. That tweak made an immediate impact. “The organization is really all about working well together," says Masjedi, and team interviews affirmed that all players would mesh. Today, Nextiva has grown to 750 employees, hiring at times 30 new faces in a month, and that team approach has helped with retention.

Another piece of advice that the mentor shared revolved around social media. At dinner one night, the mentor noticed that Masjedi kept looking at his phone. It was around 2011, and Nextiva’s customers and prospective customers had begun posing questions to the business on Facebook and Twitter. His mentor gave him this piece of advice: “He said if you’re going to [respond], do it in a way that’s different. Why don’t you make videos instead of replying via text?” Masjedi liked the idea of a more personalized interaction with customers. When the next question was posed, he responded with a quick video. It allowed him to walk through a question—like how to change an outgoing voice message—step by step. Today, all responses to questions posted on social media are answered via a YouTube video. What sounds like an involved process is actually quite quick, says Masjedi. “It decreases the amount of going back and forth. It gets to the point much quicker.”

Masjedi says that when it comes to collaborating, the key is to listen to people who bring a fresh perspective to the business. “Whoever has a great idea, whether it's a customer, employee, outside influence, we listen and we consider and some cases, if it's good, we do something about it." 

The Family-Friendly Marketer

Monica Royer, CEO and founder of Monica + Andy, an organic baby and children's clothing brand that got its start online and also has stores in New York and Chicago, frequently forms digital partnerships with other clothing brands to reach a broader audience. Each quarter, Monica + Andy hosts a “Good Things Begin Here" giveaway geared towards expectant parents. The business collaborates with five to ten children's brands and gives away changing tables, cribs, high chairs, strollers and more. To form those partnerships, Royer says she looks at brands she admires that offer items that would appeal to Monica + Andy customers. She also takes into account the brand’s social media following, website traffic and email database, because the partner brands will be helping to digitally market the giveaway, and one of Royer’s goals is for all involved to reach as many new customers as they can. “The winner walks away with thousands of dollars' worth of the best baby products for their nursery and each brand involved acquires new consumer emails and furthers their social media reach," says Royer. “It is great for all the brands because we get great introductions to new customers.”

For other businesses considering such partnerships, Royer shares this advice: “Make sure to take the time to pick the right partners that align with your brand. If you do so, it's such a great way to expose your brand to new audiences with the right demographic."

The Collaborating Cohort

When Rebecca Moehring, director, analytics services with American Electric Power (AEP) in Columbus, Ohio, has a challenge at work, she knows exactly where to go for answers: Columbus Collaboratory, a technology services and solutions company focused on advanced analytics and cybersecurity. It was founded by seven large non-competing Ohio-based companies, including AEP, to help member companies through the development of technology solutions to common business challenges, and to also attract and develop technology talent in the region.

Through Columbus Collaboratory, Moehring has gotten helpful answers from members on broad questions (“What's the value proposition of customer segmentation?") and more technical queries (advice on deploying a particular programming language). She's learned from working groups as well as “flash sessions," which allow her to pose a question quickly to a qualified group of people via email. She says the diverse perspective of the community has helped her work through a variety of challenges, while also sharing her own expertise. “We've been both receivers and contributors," she says.

Matt Wald, president and CEO of Columbus Collaboratory, says that the cross-section of industries represented at the enterprise allow for a broad exchange of ideas and best practices.

“Our collaboration sessions help collaborating partners share information on focused topics of interest that directly affect business, such as the recent WannaCry [cyberattack] outbreak, using new technologies (cognitive or blockchain), or best practices around lowering risk," he says. “Each of these sessions allows our collaborators to leverage not only the collective expertise of the practitioners who are in the trenches living with the problem every day, but also across industries so that the diversity of perspective allows participants to pick the best ideas."

Wald says that collaboration should begin within one's own organization, and it's up to business leaders to create a culture that rewards collaborative behavior. He shares this advice: “Collaboration is a human-centric activity, and it starts with the top. In order to create a company that gets meaningful value out of collaboration, you have to create a culture that values it," he says. “Beyond setting an example for others to follow, I'd strongly recommend that leaders use incentives to try and change behavior."

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