I’m adding “detecting industrial espionage” to my LinkedIn skills

by Graham Dodd on 16/08/2013

Industrial espionage comes in various formats and its detection is a skill one acquires over the years.

Sometimes it could be considered flattering, commonly its infuriating, frequently downright annoying and occasionally it can be funny.

The flattering

In the formative months of TLC back in 1996, I remember being invited into a Soho based media buying agency to talk about their furniture store client’s quite extensive, existing door drop activity that I knew was being placed by a major competitor.

The guy I saw was very hospitable, but stumbled at an early hurdle when I asked why he had approached a small, fledgling agency with such large activity, particularly when we personally had never had any dealings before?

The real answer I never received, was of course that his preferred supplier with whom he obviously had a good relationship, had probably asked him to get me in and see what my new company was offering.

The meeting went nowhere really and he became increasingly embarrassed, to the extent that he suggested lunch, which he even bought!

My attempts to follow the meeting up went unanswered to the extent that to this day we have never spoken again and that says it all.

That’s continued to happened over the years and more recently, when and after we launched SMART-Drop.

Sometimes you look at the delegates paying to come to your seminars and think “wow”, but trying to engage with them after the seminar is an impossible task.

It may be I’m slightly paranoid and they genuinely wanted to learn about new door drop opportunities and perhaps they saw no value in SMART-Drop in comparison to the service they were currently receiving, which is fair enough if that’s their opinion, but few people have ever actually said that to us.

Even now the service is a unique product.

Generally, if people fail to answer emails or telephone calls, don’t respond to offers to run free data and generally just ignore you, so you do wonder why they came in the first place?

That’s apart from one very rude direct marketing agency MD just before Christmas, who told me in no uncertain terms SD did not work – but I know his agency and clients have never used the service!?

But that’s another story.

The infuriating…

… is most commonly an extension of the flattering, when you are actually invited to formally submit a proposal to an agency or client who perhaps you have not enjoyed any previous dealings with.

If you can negotiate a face to face meeting to explain the rationale behind your proposal, or at least discuss the proposal on the telephone, you can often gauge their real level of interest.

And its not unusual for us to generate a view that our proposal has actually sparked a degree of interest that the agency or more likely the client, was not expecting to experience.

That’s commonly because of our lateral thinking and the wider content of our proposals in comparison to some of our competitors, which quite often requires us to push the boundaries with potential suppliers.

But sadly, it often again all goes quiet and the “interested” agency or client again no longer replies to emails or takes telephone calls and with no explanation all communication is cut.

Apart from one case of an Account Director at a large London media buying agency, who actually told us she sent our proposal to her contact at one of our large competitors, whose view was that the proposal would not work – how did she expect them to react???

The downright annoying…

… is an extension of the infuriating.

When at some point in the future, a supplier who we had involved in the pushing the boundary discussions, contacts us to ask which client were we talking about, because a company operating in the xxxxxx business sector has just had an order placed which looks remarkably similar to our brief.

So your ideas are arguably “stolen” and implemented by a competitor who probably did not even think of them in the first place.

I really hate that and sadly its becoming more common.

SME’s increasingly appear to make contact to obtain the benefit of your knowledge and experience, but are not prepared to pay for it by placing the order with you, so steal your steal your plans and implement them directly with suppliers.

But, the funny…

… is when you are virtually certain you are being set up, perhaps slip a red herring into the proposal and some months later a competitor mentions it in conversation!

Partly (in closing)

Industrial espionage takes many other formats.

We know there are recipients of our monthly enewsletter who obviously pass it on to our competitors, because competitors occasionally again make reference to the content, sometimes within days of publication.

I’m astonished at the number of people I’m LinkedIn with at their request, who are again senior people in their companies, but who then never answer messages or emails?

I’d just like to know why you extended me an invitation in the first place?

It may of course be flattering on the basis that we are constantly the source of industry news and trends our competitors (their “preferred” suppliers) may fail to provide.

I’ve now taken to asking people why they want to link with me before accepting if I don’t know them.

Its amazing how many people don’t even reply to that simple question!

Which I suppose does bring us back to flattery?

Anyone who knows me well, also knows I am still passionate about the industry I’ve worked in for over 40 years.

I’m also passionate about educating clients about door drops, which is why I still speak at five GI Solutions seminars a year and would happily contribute again to a DMA event if I was ever invited to.

I’m always happy to help and advise anyone thinking about door drop activity, but please don’t abuse or waste my time.

This article was written by...

– who has written 85 posts on Letterbox Consultancy for Door Drop Marketing.

Graham Dodd is the founder of The Letterbox Consultancy - he has over 40 years of experience in the door drop industry and remains at the forefront of innovation in the business.

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