Why you should give away all your trade secrets.

A client of mine recently asked whether they should mention some of the software they use on a daily basis in a blog post.  This client is one of my blog-mentoring customers so I gave the question some serious thought.  Should this client reveal to his competitors what systems give him the edge he has over them?  Why should other companies benefit from his years of research and hard-won expertise?  Then I remembered a tale one of my other clients once told me, and seeing as how I love the chance to tell a little story I thought I’d go right ahead and do just that.  So top up your mug, settle into your favourite office chair and I’ll begin.

So should you really give away all your trade secrets?

Well that’s a tough question:  On the one hand there will be lots of people out there who will blog about the same bits of software and the same methods you use, so if your competitors want to find out about them they probably will, but let’s approach this issue from a potentially crazy angle.

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about Honda inviting General Motors into their factory to allow them to copy their super-efficient working methods.  GM took them up and spent about six months studying Honda with a fine tooth comb.  Honda made this seemingly foolish offer because they knew that it would GM a few years to replicate the methods in their own factories, and even then they would only be as efficient as Honda were at the time of the GM visit.  What General Motors wouldn’t be able to replicate would be the developments that Honda were working towards at the time of their visit.  What may have seemed like a friendly offer to share information could be viewed by some as a neat way of Honda ensuring one of their competitors stayed years behind in terms of R&D.

That’s not an answer!

Okay, I’m not here to give you answers, only alternative views and opinions.  The alternative view I’m going to offer you right now is based on a solid bit of marketing theory  – don’t sell by method; sell by result.  Your customers use your services and / or buy your products because they desire or require the end result.  Some may find the method interesting, and sometimes you may have to describe the method to ensure the customer understands the value of your offering, but on the whole people buy on results, not methods.

So should you give away your trade secrets?  Well the honest (and admittedly lame) answer is ‘dunno, what do you think?’.  I’m only half-joking here- if you think your potential customers will be impressed by your methods then by all means reveal them (you may not be giving your competitors the advantage you think you are).  But before you reveal what’s behind the wizard’s curtain to the whole world have a think about just one thing  – think back to the last five major purchases you made, did you arrive at the decision to buy because of the method or the desired result?