Wednesday, September 29, 2010
A Matter of Trust
It seems like I have been asked to sign more non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) before companies are willing to discuss what they consider product futures than ever before. Usually I just go ahead and sign them because the reality is: a) If I disclose anything that is considered proprietary or confidential I am pretty much out of business anyway and; b) I have nothing of any great value the companies can come and take that is of value if I get sued and they win. This seems to be extending out to my clients as well though, including needing to sign an NDA to get expanded answers to questions posed in an RFP response. That, IMHO, is just plain wrong.
Companies are putting way too much weight on NDA's these days than they even should. From a customer's standpoint it's more an integrity issue than anything else- in essence saying up front "we don't trust you"- and frankly if you don't trust the clients to provide them with information they need to make informed, objective decisions then why should the clients trust you with $2M+ of their cash and the next five years of your system in place at their site? It's a trust issue- if you don't trust us then why should we trust you?
I fully understand the need for NDA's when you are laying out the five year product development road map relative to new features, functionality and partnerships but not to discuss standard T's and C's that you know every single competitor already has a copy of. This also holds true to discuss more mundane things like where you lie with developing a VNA. That isn't road map stuff. This is stuff we ask of every vendor and is one of my mega pet peeves I also outlined in my last article on AM. While we aren’t asking vendors to fully open the kimono I also don't want to be charged to see a lil' leg either....
Whenever I’m asked to sign an NDA the clock is ticking and someone is paying for it. I usually provide the first hour of discussion with a potential client for free but if you want me to sign an NDA….tick, tick, tick…
The reality is if I want to find out the companies’ roadmap I need to go no further than RSNA. I just look for the guy who took the shirt he bought at Wal Mart out of the package less than an hour ago, has a tie that sits 2” below the unbuttoned top button of the shirt and still looks uncomfortable. That would typically be the engineer who the company lets out of their cubbie once a year going to RSNA as their “reward”.
I recall an event several years back with a larGE company that still has me smiling. I walked into the booth wearing a prominently displayed press badge and was asked by the engineer if I had any questions. So I asked a few, and he answered everything perfectly. The more I asked, the more he spilled his guys- I mean answered. He must have loved interacting with someone who was close to his level because when he saw I knew a little bit about what he was talking about the more engaging his behaviors became. In the span of 20 minutes he has laid out the next three plus years of the company’s roadmap for me. I thanked him for his time then went to locate one of the big Kahunas I had known for years, starting out my discussion with “I don’t want anyone to get in trouble because what happened was done innocently and without knowledge of the ramifications sharing this data, but you may want to temper the enthusiasm of a few of your people.” The more I discussed what was presented the more the blood drained from this individuals face until he looked like Casper the friendly ghost. True to my word I didn’t publish anything or even discuss it with anyone. The next day when I went back in the booth no one said a word, instead directing me to the marketing people who gave me the same shtick I could have obtained from a press kit…. If you want the truth, talk to engineers. They are truly babes in the woods and a veritable font of knowledge as well which is why I much prefer to talk to them instead of anyone else. You want hype? Talk to marketing or sales. You want the truth? Talk to engineers. Just don’t betray their trust because like babes in the woods they don’t know any better.
Billy Joel sang about it being “A Matter of Trust” in relationships back in 1986 but his outlook from nearly a decade earlier was probably much more accurate in his song “She’s Always A Woman.” at least when it deals with women. Just call me the cynic I am….I was surprised to read that “She’s Always A Woman” is actually a love song that Billy wrote for his then wife, Elizabeth., even though I, like others misinterpreted the words as being misogynistic or sarcastic. Perhaps that is just because I can relate to the lyrics and misogynist emotions oh so well but, alas, I digress. Elizabeth had taken over management of Billy's career, and was able to put his financial affairs in order after Billy had signed some bad deals and contracts. She was a tough and savvy negotiator who could "wound with her eyes" or "steal like a thief," but would "never give in." Because of her tough-as-nails negotiating style, many business adversaries thought she was "unfeminine," but to Billy, she was always a woman. Despite that Billy and Elizabeth eventually divorced in 1982, with Christy Brinkley and others added to the list of women in his life thereafter.
The bottom line is that trust is what is important in relationships, not NDA’s so please stop asking my clients and I to sign NDA’s unless we get a full kimono shot for at least 10 seconds. Etta James sums it up so wonderfully in her song “Trust in Me”. Give it a listen: