Avoid Getting Martha Stewart-ed

Many thanks to all of you who responded to last week’s blog about me needing topic ideas. The first responder, Michelle, asked about how to prevent getting your ideas stolen by customers or prospects. And for those of you not familiar with the reference in the title, I have heard that Ms. Stewart is famous for co-opting other people’s ideas and taking credit for them herself. Let me frame this out for you.

You do your research. You find a prospect that you would really like to do business with. Their issues are a perfect fit for your solutions. You make your pitch, in part by saying that you have some great ideas to share. And it works. You get the appointment.

You have a fantastic meeting, build great rapport, and fill the prospect’s head with some new direct mail innovations, or some fancy new fold you learned about on PIworld.com, or some other earth shattering idea. The prospect thanks you and promises to call you “soon,” but you later discover that s/he took your ideas, shopped them around, and sold you down the river for a lower price…or to an incumbent vendor…or to his/her brother-in-law.

It happens, right? Can you prevent it? Well, that is tough.

On the one hand, we might just have to accept that it happens to all of us, and that we choose how much of the idea to divulge and at what stage in the sale.

Or, you could try to get ahead of it. What if you said in the meeting, “I have some real innovations to share with you. My expectation is that if I consult with you on this project and we see eye to eye on the parameters and you like my ideas, that you will agree to award me the project. How does that sound to you?”

Now working as a consultant, Kelly sold digital printing for 15 years so she understands the challenges, frustrations and pitfalls of building a successful sales practice. Her mission is to help printers of all sizes sell more stuff. Kelly's areas of focus include client recovery, retention and acquisition, and marketing communications projects.
Kelly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and, among other notable accomplishments, co-founded the Windy City Rollers, a professional women's roller derby league.

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  • Itsoktoprint

    Tough one, Kelley. On large programs, you have to protect yourself, as the investment in time and effort can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. In those situations, there reaches a point where a nasty non-disclosure has to be presented into the mix. Sometimes its not even the person you are dealing with that is the problem. Sometimes a subordinate working with your prospect who is trying to look good or save their job will nuke you.

    I would like to think that honesty is still a hallmark of business, but empirical data suggests otherwise and with the accountants in charge, getting submarined on price is likely to be more common in the future, not less.

    Trying to box the sale as you have presented is a good idea. If you start to get hesitation, then it may be time to cut your losses or in those cases if you start to get a feeling of distrust, inject the non-disclosure. The company may be fine to work with, it may just be the individual. And a written agreement is good for everyone, especially if you are lucky enough to get to work with the person who replaces the scumbag who tries this later on during the life of the contract.
    Good topic…. :-) :-) Double smileys for you..

  • Howard

    This happened to me and I WON!!!
    I took the potential customer to court. I told the judge that because of my idea, the defendant has probably benefited in the $30,000++ range. I wanted monetary damages based on the ideas that were displayed based on using us as a printer. The print job was around $7,200 but I sued for that PLUS the theft of MY idea.
    The judge awarded my company $10,486. After lawyer fees I cleared about half that amount, but it was worth every penny just to have them pay up!!

  • Howard

    I forgot to mention earlier that most of the damages won in our lawsuit was based on the amount of time spent coddling these people just to be used an a guy with a good idea. That was the biggest factor. Showing how bad they used my company as well as the documentation of how many meeting and phone calls…

  • Sinbad

    I think this is gonna make Martha mad.

    Just sayin’.

  • John

    Great article. I would offer we take on a more consultative role- and CHARGE for that. This way, the idea shopped has been paid for. Plus, it helps define the buyer’s intent and character if they are not given more than the teaser if they choose not to pay. Bundle the production costs into total price and stand firm to any pressure to break it out. So, if they agree to execute- the base fee for the concept is included. If not, you still have a purchase agreement to sell the concept. Takes the emphasis away from the transaction and places it on the overall relationship.