At a meeting, a few days ago, I spoke on this profound topic to some hundreds of business executives—who gathered to listen to me for about two hours at our business school. It was an interesting and a revealing moment. I showed them what Delilah-competitors are looking for in their varied businesses. I showed them that they are not after how their advertorials are being aired on television and radio stations. And they are not after their brochures and logos. What they are after is what makes their companies what they are, their trade secrets!
What exactly then is a trade secret? In synopsis, it is the information that drives economic-value from not being generally known to the public and which its owner seeks to keep secret. A trade secret could be technical information or know-how; coded internal business information including marketing and finance strategies; customer lists; software, computer programs and source code; formulas; or external business information on, for example, suppliers and competitors. Formula examples of trade secrets include the recipes for Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken, as well as the Google algorithm!
For the umpteenth time, trade secrets come in many shapes and sizes—from computer programs to manufacturing processes to supplier lists and many between—but they all have one thing in common: they are key to your competitive edge. This is what your competitors are after as “Delilah” was after the strength of “Samson.” Once they can access your trade secret, what gives you competitive advantage, then your business-strength is gone forever!
Once your strength is accessed by your competitors, then you become ordinary as other companies. Your uniqueness is gone. What sets you apart is gone. What makes you stand-out is gone. What makes you birth unusual results is gone. What attracts high-paying customers to you is gone. This is why you need to keep your trade-secret close to your chest. If this issue is that serious, then how can you protect your trade-secret?
To start with, have you ever thought about what would happen to your business on the condition that a competitor does copy your proprietary business plans or supplier lists? What if they do get their hands on your customer data or manufacturing processes? The results could be disastrous. This mistake will definitely cause you to lose your business-edge. This is why you need to take the issue I am raising at this moment very seriously.
There are some real disasters that your business could face if you do not protect your trade secret now. What are they?
Number one: lost sales. Customers flock to you because you have something special they want. If another company gets its hands on it, you could lose your luster and cease being the “go-to” choice for customers. Think of it this way, if other beverage companies could create sodas using Coca-Cola’s secret formula (a valuable trade secret), many current coke drinkers would start to buy from the competitor, especially if it is cheaper.
If you are losing sales, you are losing profits. And this could lead to the death of your business as it leads to the death of Samson. Immediately your trade-secret is revealed to your competitors, it means your days are numbered in business. Once your trade-secret is known, your eyes (vision) are gone like the eyes of Samson were removed. As blood is to human beings so is trade-secret to the life of your business. Your trade-secret is everything when it comes to business survival.
Also, once it is revealed, it is going to degrade the reputation of your brand. On the condition that another company creates a competing product using your secret data (a valuable trade secret) or market products to your proprietary customer list (a valuable trade secret), you won’t be able to exercise quality control again.
Furthermore, it is going to impact negatively on supplier costs. How do I mean? If your trade secret is leaked, the demand for the same resources or supplies you need to create your products—will increase, as competitors start buying them, so they can build competing products. If you do not want this to happen to you, do everything legitimate to conceal your trade-secret. This is very crucial.
As I begin to coast home, you have worked hard to develop the trade-secret that drives sales and profits for your business, so be vigilant and protect them. You can avoid having one or more of these disasters befall you. In the same vein, a trade-secret cannot be something others already know or could easily figure out about your business. You should also have a company-wide trade secret policy in place and make sure all your employees are familiar with it. Require all new employees to sign a confidentiality and invention assignment agreement when they start work. This is very important. Companies that have their trade-secrets kept for hundreds of years do have the software of this policy installed.
Lastly, no one knew what the hair on the head of Samson did stand for until he revealed it to his enemies. No one knew the secret behind his exploit and productivity. He revealed it to someone he loved, not someone he was lusting after. Nothing and no one reveals your secret and strength more than what and who you love. In this day and time, watch those you love but hate you so much. Delilah is an allegory and she represents those you love but hate you. There are employees you love passionately but hate you badly. And there are people you have been a channel of blessing to but hate you without a reason. Going forward, watch those you allow to enter your core-circle of relationship. Keep your strength a secret. And keep your trade-secret a secret. This is your meal-ticket. Till I come your way next week, see you where successful leaders are found!