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Sharing New Business Ideas, Trust and NDAs

Sharing new business ideas can be a scary proposition for the idea originator. Here are the kinds of worries people typically ask me about when it comes to sharing their 'baby' with someone else for feedback and possible implementation help.

Do you feel corporations are fair?

I have an idea that could be worth millions to a company. Should I drop it in their suggestion box and hope they pay me?

Should I build a business around it and help them indirectly?

How about getting legal agreements in place and then meeting with the company under an NDA?

How would you protect you business concept/idea? Non-competition agreement? Joint venture contract? Trademark or registration?

[Originally published March 1, 2016]

Ethics In Sharing New Business Ideas

My answer begins with the statement that business is business, and that is a different world than personal relationships. Loyalty stands for very little, unfortunately. If you find a business associate who values loyalty, try to stay in touch with them.

An NDA/non-compete and a licensing agreement should keep you protected, if you're going the road of giving the idea to someone else to execute.

Let's talk about execution.

This is how an idea's value can really be measured when you bring it to someone else.

How interested are they in executing it?

You have to know this before you meet and disclose the idea.

And then you still have another factor to consider: honestly (or morality). We can do this with a 2x2 grid demonstrating four possibilities in a sort of "Idea Sharing Risk Table":

sharing new business ideas

They are interested and honest.

They are interested and dishonest.

They are uninterested and honest.

They are uninterested and dishonest.

Four Quadrants of Sharing New Business Ideas

Are you starting to see why it's important to know how they rank on these two factors before you reveal your idea?

We're in negotiation now. Which, by the way, is selling. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. What I am sharing is selling advice.

You had better have your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) figured out for each of these four possibilities.

Copyrights, trademarks, patents are all helpful, but they are not bulletproof protection.

Especially patents.

Utility patents, for something like a zipper on an article of clothing being termed as a "device pocket", are the kind of thing Mark Cuban goes berserk about the silliness of. They're the veneer of protection.

Regular patents only protect execution (see how we're back to that word again?) specifically the way you have explained it.

So 3M has a patent on Post-It (tm) Notes.

The patent is for a lightweight strip of glue running across the top of a small piece of paper.

If you can come up with another way of temporarily securing the note to other objects without using lightweight glue, 3M's patent is meaningless. You can just go do that.

That's why when you disclose your idea, the NDA is not really protection. If they can figure out another way of executing your idea, they're home free.

If they are interested and honest, they will tell you so. They are ready to get started, will play by the rules, and you can expect to be paid properly. [SAFE]

If they are interested and dishonest, they will tell you it's an airy-fairy idea, they don't like it, it won't work. But they were quick to agree to the meeting. And they kept asking you questions about how you planned to execute the idea. [DANGER]

If they are uninterested and honest, they again will tell you so. It may be hard to book the meeting. They keep bumping the date. This may be a good opportunity for a reality check, and possibly getting execution ideas from someone who knows how to do the work but isn't going to get involved in it. [SAFE]

If they are uninterested and dishonest, you are going to get the run-around. The meeting will take forever to get, or get booked and run so fast it's like poop through a goose. They may ask a lot of questions to "hedge their bets"...but they'll never execute. [SAFE]

As you can see, most of the time, you are safe when sharing new business ideas.

Risk and Execution When Sharing New Business Ideas

Remember, execution is rare.

You can be sharing new business ideas all you like. People are already busy with their own ideas, which they believe to be valuable. They are unlikely to remove resources from those to execute your new idea.

So overall, you are relatively safe from being ripped off...especially if you are careful who you share your idea with.

How long it takes you to book the meeting, the process they want to follow, how they ask and answer questions...all these will show you their level of honesty. Easy come, easy go. There should be some rigor involved in setting up an agreement like this. Honest people will probably want to see you put some skin in the game, too.

2021 Update On Sharing New Business Ideas

In the five years since this post was first published, I've continued to see a great deal of nervousness in sharing ideas between new connections. Especially with technical concepts, the new business owner or founder tends to believe someone is going to "steal their baby". But this is a sign of the founder being a newbie. It immediately shows the other party that you are inexperienced and they will probably avoid working with you.

On the other hand if you are experienced and really feel you have reason to be nervous in sharing your ideas with another person, that's a sign you shouldn't be doing business with them. Should you have to "lock things down" and try to protect your intellectual property in a relationship as you go into it, would you truly be surprised later on if the other party found a way to wriggle out of those terms? How things begin is likely how they're going to continue.

Remember that most of the time you're safe to share. In those cases where it feels unsafe, trust your impressions.

>>Jason Kanigan is a business strategist concentrating on operations improvement, entering new markets, and sales training. Book a consultation with Jason here to discuss your specific situation.<<

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Tell Me Your Price: How To Stop People from Asking and Disappearing

Tell me your price! Perhaps the most common question salespeople get from prospects. And why? The answer is simple: the prospect does not know what else to ask.

What often happens in the real world is this: people ask, "So, what's your price?" If you tell them, the conversation is frequently over, isn't it. They disappear. They got what they thought they were looking for, and went away with your information. You never hear from them again.

Afraid to raise prices tell me your price

What were they doing? Every buyer, whether they consciously, deliberately do this or not, is making a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is to compare the various options and see what the buyer can get for the lowest price.

Sounds okay, doesn't it? Where's the problem?

Tell Me Your Price and the Vanishing Prospect

In this video, I explain what the critical problem is with the all-too-common "Tell me your price" buying method:

 

Especially in RFP (Request for Proposal) situations, where there's zero dialogue between buyer and seller, and the seller has to respond to RFP documents with bid documents of their own, there's a lot of guessing going on.

Early in my career I worked for a firm in the power generation field that made control panels. RFPs would arrive and I, in my sales engineer role, would respond by preparing a bid document. The RFP would say something like, "The panel shall measure voltage." Okay. I can do that in several ways, each with its own plusses and minuses. An analog dial will do the job: it's cheap, but it is not incredibly accurate. A digital readout on a PLC unit (kind of a precursor to the computers we're familiar with today) could also do the job: more expensive, but more accurate. Those are just two of the options, and it's up to me as the salesperson to figure out which is best for that client. And maybe best for my bid! Maybe I want to position us as the lowest cost provider, and to accomplish that I pick all the cheapest ways to meet the feature requirements.

Sounds good, right up to the point where the buyer engineer reads my bid documents and says to themselves, "Aww what a bunch of junk! I don't want analog gauges! I want a high level of accuracy in our readouts."

But that is something I will never hear.

The RFP process is the same thing as a caller asking, "So, what's your price?" and then vanishing.

Without dialogue between buyer and seller you never get a clear idea of what everyone wants out of the transaction. You never hear preferences. You never get the chance to discover how you as the seller could really delight the buyer, with some feature they didn't know you had and you didn't think was important enough to mention.

2021 Update:

Thanks to the global situation over the past year or so, buyers are more willing to invest time and energy getting on a phone or video call to share their requirements. This is your opportunity to learn directly from the customer what their actual needs are...instead of guessing. Take advantage of it.

Go out of your way to make use of this renewed interest in personal contact, and use the opportunity to not only develop trust but also discover what your potential customer really wants and means. Ask them, "Would you like to get on a quick call to discuss, so I can be clear and make sure I'm offering you on the right things?" Respect their time. Keep the discussion to 20-30 minutes maximum—you can always have another call later when they find they enjoy speaking with you.

Don't let these easy opportunities slip by, and don't quote based on guesswork.

>> To book a call with Jason Kanigan and change your sales process to give you the edge in price-sensitive situations, click here. <<

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You Become Your Customers [As a Salesperson]

You become your customers, so beware!

Most people starting a business have an "I'll take what's available" mindset. They got this from job hunting, and the problem with it is that they're choosing their opportunities from the things they can currently see.

Now we've discussed how critical your Reticular Activating System is when it comes to filtering all that data out there down to the survival-relevant few. That better level of customer is standing right there next to you, but you can't see them because your RAS blocked them out!

The same thing happens with salespeople. They land the new job, settle into their role, and get told by the old hands, "Here's our target market."

After all, it has always been so.

open sign, open for business, choose your customers, sales tactics, positioning, target market, define target market

Photo by Amina Filkins from Pexels

Now if you're an operational excellence guy like me, those are trigger words. Any time I hear, "But we've always done it this way," I get curious. "Oh? According to whom? For how long? Why?"

But especially if you are a business owner, and a new business owner, realize that you have far more control over your target market than you may have realized.

Most people abdicate this responsibility.

They go out into the market and take what comes.

How You Become Your Customers

Price level? We've discussed this for years, how people make up a number that fits their money tolerance.

The size of their standard customer's business? Whatever they encountered first and got accustomed to. Now it's ingrained and "obvious".

How those buyers pay? Are they always 30 days late from the invoice?

And here's the serious problem.

You accept this.

Whatever they give you, you take.

Their behavior alters your behavior.

After awhile, you've forgotten any of this is in your control. It just "is".

They pay 30 days late? Well, now you pay 30 days late. That's just how it is.

You become your customers.

So choose wisely.

Don't take surface appearance's word for it.

Dig.

Get to know your marketplace.

Look for niches, levels, types of customers that aren't readily apparent.

Look for bundling opportunities of products or services, ways to add value, how you can really impress your ideal customer.

Don't simply accept the first thing you run into out there.

You have far more control over your target market choice than you think.

What would happen if you made a list of the desired qualities of your ideal customer... and then instructed your RAS to start filtering for that?

>> Jason Kanigan is a business development and conversion expert. Want Jason's help in defining your realistic, ideal target market? Book a consultation <<