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It is not just in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies, or in most James Bond stories, that the effects of commercial and industrial espionage can be seen. It has had real life effects on people, prosperity and the very survival of companies. Whoever has ownership of information, ideas and intellectual properties also has the power to dictate direction, and wield great power. The end result being that a companies very existence, can hang in the balance. Espionage is now used to gain the advantage and the most common targets are the computer and automobile sectors.
Espionage involves the use of any means, many very high tech, to acquire information that can keep someone else from having a competitive advantage. Ex-military types or former government agents, who are trained in the art of intelligence gathering techniques, are usually employed. The ideal situation is for the legitimate holder to not know that the intellectual property has been removed, so that a competitor can deploy strategy and counter measures to blunt any advantage that has been held and be in a position to gain an advantage him or herself. Many times it is a foot race to see who can bring innovations to market first.
With the stakes being so high, there is an inherent risk to divulge some of the actual experiences that I have had and the techniques that we have deployed. I freely choose to now share this with a few close friends. Not only how we did it, but also to what degree, was my involvement. I know that they are still asking “how did they do that”?
We used the “Glass” method.
Many years ago, as I entered the corporate workplace, there was a lot that I didn’t know. An early one was that not all offices are created equal. The one that Tim had was given only to the senior salesman. It was one of the few located on the showroom floor. It was between the fleet manager and the sales managers office. It was also back-to-back with the owner’s office. I would find out later that this was its best quality.
Tim always kept a glass on the table in his office. Whenever there was a meeting in the owner’s office, Tim would actually hold the glass up to the wall and listen. Tim of course would dispense and edit information as he saw fit. We all thought it was great to know all of the company plans. We never knew exactly how much of it was Tim’s editorial, anyway it made us think we were in control. The owner used to get mad at the managers and accuse them of leaking information to the sales force. Management was always amazed that news got to the salesmen before they had been released from their meeting. If Tim was away, it was up to another salesperson to seize the opportunity.
In a sales environment, there can be a lot of jobs dispensed that are just busy work. Keep the sales force busy and they won’t be lazy and do all of the bad things that they normally do. Cold calling was always one of management’s great “keep busy activities”. I really enjoy meeting people face to face. I am more than capable on the phone, both incoming and outgoing. But the one thing I hated to do was to write letters to people. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I wrote. (How ironic)
I was one of the top-producing salesmen. I had a client base. I did a lot of the extra things around the lot that others wouldn’t do. So when the managers came out with the latest edict, I was unhappy. We were told that we had to write five letters a day, five days a week. Their idea was that a friendly personal letter would convince a customer to come buy a car. I flat out refused. I went about my day doing everything but my letters. I was asked to do letters, I was told to do letters, and I was threatened that I had better do my letters, all to no avail. I figured that I would win this war of wills. I thought that it would just go away like most other programs did.
One morning when I was off, the owner called the managers into his office. Linda, our lone female salesperson went into the sales office and grabbed the glass and listened. The tone of the meeting was heavy. Were they doing everything possible to ensure success? When the question arose about the mandatory letter campaign, it was met with the explanation that not everybody was participating. Something had to be done!
Linda immediately called me at home. “They are going to fire you today” is the first thing Linda told me. She went on to explain that they were going to make an example out of me. I knew what I had to do. I had only a short time until I was on shift. I hurriedly addressed 25 envelopes to customers. I only folded a single piece of paper in each one. In to work I went.
I walked straight up to Robert, the General Sales Manager. “Here are my letters for the week” I told him. He just glared at me for a moment. “Who told you?” was Roberts pointed question. “You did” was my reply. “NO! Who told you”? He asked again. “You did, you told me to send my letters and I am” I again replied. I could see the steam rising. One more time Robert asked, this time a little more nose to nose, “WHO TOLD YOU?” “Bob you did” I said in my most earnest tone. “You told me to write letters so I did. Is anything wrong?” I asked. I think he wanted to hit or fire me. He walked away and I went about my usual day at work. Anyway, I never got asked to write letters again.
Clandestine operations or high tech eavesdropping had nothing on a well-placed salesperson with a glass. Having co-workers willing to lookout for you is a great asset. In hindsight if I just would have done what I was told to I might have actually sold more cars. What a dumb place to take a stand and risk my job. I remember things like these when I ask our sales force to do their job. And I write.