Working together helps ensure that suppliers don’t think solely about their product – their narrow piece of the puzzle. “You have to look at the total solution, and a lot of the solution is in the process,” says Jordan Haar, southeast regional sales manager for Vectorply. “It’s about constantly pushing the envelope by taking more feed lines out, more consumables out and reducing the cycle times required by manufacturers.”
Although team members from 3A and Vectorply don’t share office space, they are in constant communication and, before the COVID-19 pandemic, often met in person at customer’s facilities, trade shows, golf outings and other venues. Developing strong professional and personal relationships with fellow suppliers breeds innovation, says Levy.
Tips to Foster Teamwork
Composites industry professionals involved in collaborations echo a statement made by Levy. “The more collaboration we have, the brighter the future will look for our industry,” he says. But believing in the concept of collaboration is quite different from making cross-industry partnerships work in day-to-day operations. Here are eight tips for finding partners and cultivating collaborations:
- Let your customers be your guide. A close examination of your customers’ products may lead you to potential colleagues. “If you go to enough customers and see a trend, such as a particular gel coat they like, you may realize that gel coat will make your product look a lot better,” says Knipe. “It makes sense to call that gel coat supplier and find out how you can collaborate. If I can approach a company and say, ‘I think together we can increase our sales,’ who doesn’t want to do that?”
- Find a partner with shared values. Sharing a vision for a product isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. “We want our partners to share our passion for engineering services, product quality and overall responsiveness to the customer,” says Levy. “If the partners we choose to collaborate with don’t share these values, we can suffer. Our only sustainable competitive advantage is our reputation.”
- Understand your company’s intellectual property and unique strengths. “Once you know that space, you can protect it and that gives you comfort to reach out and speak with potential partners who can help fill gaps and advance solutions,” says Miloagă. “This also gives you strength internally because once you identify potential collaborations, you still have to propose those to your company and get your team’s buy in.”
- Take care of the business nuts and bolts. This may include drafting and signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before beginning work together. You also should agree in advance on project priorities, milestones, responsibilities and timelines.
- Keep the lines of communication open. “Just like in every situation in private life or in business, the three most important factors to keeping a relationship strong are communication, communication, communication!” says Grosskreutz. Be honest and open, even when you disagree or problems arise that could derail a relationship.
- Socialize outside of the business setting. It helps to strengthen relationships over a shared dinner, round of golf or, these days, a happy hour Zoom call. “Rather than just being two companies collaborating because of customers’ needs, we are friends,” says Levy. “That ultimately benefits the customer because there is a lot of team building and support required to provide service to them.”
- Invest in shared tools and processes. To help create a seamless workflow between partner organizations, it helps to use the same tools. These might include design software, cloud sharing platforms, key performance indicators, financial models and more.
- Get down to business. “In the end, strong collaborations are not built on exchanging ideas and drinking coffee, but on implementing joint projects directly from the meeting room into the tech center,” says Fischer. Make sure you have a clear vision of how the work will be carried out and metrics in place to track progress.
In the end, industry collaboration takes time, work and resources. But the effort is worth it not just individually, but collectively.