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November 12, 2013

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The Shocking Truth about Sharing Company Secrets

by Tom De Baere

sharing company secretsA few days after I had trained some people about sharing on social media, I received an email from an account manager.

He was afraid we would be sharing too much details about what we do with customers. He was afraid we would give away to much information to competitors. And I heard the same remark of CEO’s holding back on press releases about customers wins because it could hurt the business.

This is an often heard dilemma: you make great new customers, you create fantastic webinars for customers, you do thought leadership speaking slots, and make customer cases. But by sharing this content publicly you are afraid you are providing valuable information to competitors. And that might hurt your business.

I do understand these reasons, I used to think the same. But companies that keep thinking like this will soon be gone. If you don’t want that, you’ll have to make a cultural shift to being open and authentic.

Let me explain you why…

Afraid to share your Customer Cases

Online, social and digital are changing everything. Advertising used to be more effective, but today people have the luxury to completely ignore your advertising and go for the information they want and need.

Every time when I see an opportunity to make a great customer “win” public, or I see a great story of what our customer service department has done for customers, I ask the account manager or CEO to make it public. If you have not made this cultural shift, these people will give you a hard time. They’ll say your competitors might go after these new accounts. They’ll say your customers won’t approve their case being published.

Although I do understand the difficulties that can appear in getting approval from customers to publish their stories, there are always ways to do it. If you have to, just publish it anonymously. I refuse to understand the argument that competitors will go after your new accounts. That’s crap. It’s the job if the account manager, and the whole company to make sure that doesn’t happen.

These kind of arguments are shortsighted, and typically come from sales people who think short term.

The benefits of doing this is are much bigger: exactly these kind of stories make customers decide whether you are the right supplier or not. If they cannot identify themselves with the type of customers you are having, they won’t put you on their short list. It is exactly these kind of stories which convert buyers from being aware of what you have, towards really looking into what you have for sale.

They want to see these stories, because it gives them a feeling of “I can trust this company, because they have solved my problem before.” And if they cannot find these stories at your company, the’ll go elsewhere.

A cultural shift is what you need.

Hiding Content for Competitors

Companies that have not made the cultural shift think that publishing webinar recordings or conference presentations, intended for customers and prospects, is a bad idea.

Running webinars or doing speaking gigs at trade-shows are a big effort. I am sure you are spending many hours in preparing these presentations, not to speak of the promotion needed to get people to actually show up and listen to what you have to say. But this effort is what is required if you want to build a quality brand, position yourself as a thought leader, and drive conversion. I am cool with that.

Like I did, I am sure you go through the effort of screening the subscription list to make sure there’s no one from the competition. Aren’t you ? And when the speaking gig or webinar is over, you are happy that 50 to a few 100 people have turned up. Right ?

Absolutely not ! You should be publishing this webinar or presentation online, and promote it like hell.

Are you scared that competitors might get access to this information? Let’s not be naïve: they must already have found ways to get access to that information using fake e-mail addresses, or sneak into your gig with fake registrations.

Research has shown that when you put content freely available on your website, you get between 10 to 50 times more downloads! What do you prefer? 100 people that see your content or 50 times more? My suggestion is be to be smart about how you provide the content for free, and make sure you motivate people to share the content.

If they really like the content, they will share the content. And you’ll reach even more people.

Hiding content behind registration forms

Another thing I see happening a lot is that companies put this type of content behind registration forms. Why are they doing that?

  • Because they want to grab the contact details of somebody you do not know, and who actually does not really want to give his contact details away because he knows he’ll get unsolicited e-mails? That’s like meeting somebody at a cocktail party and asking for his business card before you even have talked to him. Think about yourself: do you like giving away your e-mail address to strangers?
  • Because they are afraid of not generating enough leads? In the current economy you won’t force people into buying because you have his email address. The only thing that works is gaining their trust, giving them proof that you are the right vendor, and then the’ll buy.

Understand this simple thing: buyers will give their email address to you when they are ready. At their moment of choice the’ll indicate they trust you enough to disclose their identity to you.

Am I suggesting to give away everything for free ? No. I suggested you to be smart. Be smart about how you provide your content for free. You need to understand what content needs to be freely available. And when they trust you enough, they’ll gladly give away their identity to get other content from you. Because through the free content, they know you are a company which most probably can help them.

A cultural shift is what you need.

Making the cultural shift to start sharing “company secrets”

Have we forgotten the old truth that before people buy from you, they first need to trust you? Gaining this trust is done by showing you deserve their trust. And the key to gaining their trust is sharing. Sharing that you care. Sharing that you want to help. Sharing that you know your stuff. Sharing who’s behind your company.

You could say sharing means being open. And that’s exactly what it is: you are being open and authentic to your customers. And that openness will be rewarded with their trust.

In essence, you need to share what your buyers need and want, depending on their current relationship with your company. In a previous blog post I wrote what information they need in every stage of their relationship with your company: Killer Content along the Buyer’s Journey: A Practical Guide to Monetize Your Content

The benefits of being open are clear:

  • Being open creates trust: the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that “peers trust peers”. When they share, this adds to the trust customers put in your brand.
  • Being open makes your company human: C-level, employees, managers and others share what they know. When companies show their human face, you know who is behind the company, and it becomes easier for customers to trust you.
  • Being open makes you competitive: publishing key content for customers will position you as a thought leader. This gives trust to buyers that they are choosing the right company that will help them move into the future.
  • Being open helps customers buy: by providing your customer with the right content in every stage of of their buying journey, they have less questions or doubts about whether your have the right solution for them.
  • Being open gives you credibility: if they can find numerous examples of what you have done, there is no reason anymore to doubt your ability to act upon their problems.
  • Being open gives authenticity: if you are consistently open, you also become authentic. There is no reason for customers to be suspicious anymore.

 

Are you ready to make this cultural shift? If not, what is holding you back? Let me know in the comment field.

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere

 

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Image credit: The Coca-Cola Company

  • Anabel De Vetter

    Great post Tom! I totally agree with being open and authentic, yet I believe putting content behind a form doesn’t mean you’re ‘hiding’ content. Why? Because often you’ll download something, think “oh this is interesting, must remember that company” and then somehow forget about it. When a company keeps in touch with relevant info, I don’t mind. As long as they make unsubscribing easy, but that’s a different topic!

    • Hi Anabel, thanks for the comment. My point is: the problem with forms is that often people do not want to go through the hassle of filling the form, if they are just exploring. Only if you really want something, then you’ll fill the form. How often have you had the situation where, hey interesting, but no, I won’t fill the form, no time.

      Research has show that you get 20 to 50 times more readers for your free content. Depending on where you position the content in the buying cycle, it is not a good idea to put “awareness” content behind forms.

      I also call that fast content versus slow content. Fast content should be free, out in the open, so it can be consumed. The fast content should point to slow content, or have call to action to get them to register for something.

      Progressive profiling in marketing automation systems has made the threshold to fill in forms much lower, that much is true. This makes registering and follow-up from a vendor perspective much more easy.

      Warm regards,

      Tom