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What if you had juicy information about competitors?

Many of us belong to industry associations and we end up in conferences and trade shows with time to devote to competition. Some of them are old friends; some even from former partners. It is natural to want to associate with these people for many reasons, certainly social ones. Most CEOs want to get information about their competitors in the most subtle and obvious way. And of course, most are willing to exchange information for information.

In my old industry, I became an informal, centralized source of knowledge about the earnings of each of the many competitors, with particular skill in asking the right questions in order to obtain the information. How many employees does the company have today? Are you profitable again? Can you guess what percentage of your revenue comes from recurring sources such as maintenance revenue?

In return for answers to these many questions, I was usually able to guess the gross revenues of a company at a few percent and I guessed I guessed the CEO. His reaction would guide me to increase or decrease my estimate appropriately. He would be a little surprised by the fast mathematical work, and I would still have another piece of the puzzle that helps me assess the total size of the industry in annual revenue and the growth and the size of competitors.

All of this has been extremely helpful in strategic planning and marketing, though, to this day, I do not think these CEOs were aware of the value of the information so easily given. And none of this is especially considered a trade secret, in violation of the tacit commitment between competing CEOs that there is a limit to such exchanges.

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On the other hand, a salesperson or marketing manager would often show up at the door of my office with a complete set of documents from a competitor, including price lists, a proposal with Clearly displayed discount percentages and a list of features. strengthen the proposal. The source of this information was generally the purchasing decision maker for a friendly customer or a customer candidate. The issue is an ethical one, since the competitor has certainly not provided the information, which would have been the breach of confidentiality by the competitor's employee and the cause of his dismissal.

What's a CEO made with this wonderful and rich information that has fallen at his door without cost or obligation? Few people would destroy it and ask everyone to forget that it was still in their hands. Most would absorb information and warn those who saw it not to repeat to anyone in their hands. If you have been in business for quite a long time, you have seen your share of this information on the gray market. My advice is to be very careful, to think about the rule of thumb, never to use this information publicly, and certainly never to reproduce it, much less to disseminate it internally.

With respect to information sharing, CEOs and officers are bound by the duty of their company not to share trade secrets with anyone who has not signed an agreement confidentiality, including with consultants. For the CEOs of the board of directors, it's a big part of the "duty of care," a legal obligation of board members to protect the company's assets first and foremost, any of these assets being the trade secrets of the company.

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