For many years, and perhaps still today, the fluid power industry has been highly protective of what we consider confidential information. Sales numbers, customer information, technological specifications and anything else we think nobody will figure out if we just button our collective lip. I feel it’s narcissistic, in this day and age, we believe we can guard anything other than our own thoughts.
Let’s discuss a customer contact list, for example. Imagine you’re a salesperson who has diligently inputted customer contact information into your CRM software for decades. That list contains the emails, address and phone numbers of your current and prospective customers, and likely took hundreds of hours to compile. You may even have in the inside scoop on birthdays and kids’ names.
You scoured trade shows your customers frequented, you snuck in the back door to talk to the maintenance team or you cold called and pretended to be someone they just spoke with to get past the gatekeeper. I know the routine – I’ve done it, and salespersons do it to me. But is it really so secret?
I’m sorry to say, it’s not secret anymore. We’re in the data age. If information is out there, it’s out there! It’s so easy to find out who the decision makers are without even putting on pants, let alone sneaking around like a private investigator. Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other platforms combine to serve you not only who the decision makers are, but everyone they know!
Depending on the prospect, it doesn’t even matter anymore that you’re the exclusive distributor to some high-end product line. If the customer’s Rexroth valve bought the farm, they know they can get it from anyone, not the least of which has to be a traditional sales channel. A quick google search by the customer brings up a dozen resellers who beat Rexroth at their SEO game. And those resellers know how to cross the valve over to something in stock. But even if the customer demands OEM parts, any crafty reseller just checks with Alibaba for actual Rexroth valves half the price including freight.
The game has changed, and you’d better realize it, because your customer does. If you’re not solving their problems or stocking what they need, they don’t care about your doughnuts and coffee anymore. In some ways, the reseller business model offers advantages over distributors with “exclusive” offerings. If you call Berendsen for a Danfoss pump, Berendsen would like to sell you a Vickers pump. If you call Bob’s Hydraulic Repair Shop, they can check not only Berendsen but also Hydraulex, Alibaba or even eBay.
It just goes to show you that technology isn’t so secret either. Everyone and their grandma makes imitations of previously proprietary components. Even if a new technology is released with patents, someone will find a way to copy the functionality.
The only real secret in this business is solving problems. The funny part about that statement is that it’s only secret to the persons and companies who think all the secrets are important. If you spend more of your company’s resources solving customer problems rather than filing patents, copywriting stupid trade names or changing CRM passwords monthly, then you beat competitors with customer loyalty. Yes, intellectual property protection is important, but shouldn’t be your raison d'être.
So the next time you hide that schematic or flip over your phone when your friend working for a competitor shows up for your monthly coffee at Tim’s, just relax. You don’t know anything they don’t.