Are you entrusted with proprietary information? It’s very easy to innocently divulge confidential information just in passing.

Years ago while calling on a small construction company the owner’s wife (let’s call her Joan) told me a story that emphasizes the significance of what you share with others and the potential consequence of breaching client confidence. They were bidding on a tender (quoting on a job) and in construction it’s common to provide a deposit cheque as part of the submission to prove you have the financial backing to complete the work. Joan had gone to their local small town bank with the paperwork and the deposit cheque.

When Joan handed the teller the cheque she looked at it and commented how ironic it was that someone else had come in earlier that day and processed a cheque for the exact same amount to the same company. Thinking fast on her feet, Joan acted surprised and at the same time asked for the cheque back stating that she had forgotten something. Joan left the bank adjusted the paperwork and prepared a new cheque which reflected the revised amount in her tender bid. After the bid was closed and the contract was awarded, Joan contacted the bank manager, explained what had transpired and the manager fired the bank employee. The teller was fired because she didn’t stop to think about what she was saying and who it could potentially hurt.

If a shrewd businessperson senses that you are naïve they will intentionally pump you for information that they can use to their advantage. When I was hired at Yellow Pages I signed an agreement stating that I would never share client information with another individual. If it was public knowledge like information in an existing phone book advertisement then there was no problem conversing about it. However, when one business owner wanted to know what another had committed to doing for an unpublished directory it was a taboo discussion.

It did occasionally occur that one advertiser asked what display ad size a competitor had decided to do for an upcoming book. When this happened I would explain that by discussing this I was placing my sales career with the company in jeopardy and that we were legally bound not to discuss what one advertiser was doing with another. I would also back this up by stating I’m sure you would be very displeased if you thought for one second that I was openly discussing any of our conversation with any other businesses, especially a competitor. I would follow this up by saying, “Let’s just do the best we can for you.” This made sense and even if they really wanted to know they were pleased to know I had integrity and wouldn’t be sharing their private business with others.

My friend and business associate had a fall out with a supplier over a year ago. In an attempt to patch things up the sales representative from that company recently visited my friend and his partner and treated them to lunch. During their visit they conversed about various business related topics and eventually the discussion gravitated towards some of his competitors. His sales representative’s accounts were all his competition and she spoke very openly about several issues that he considered proprietary.

The deeper the conversation went the more he clamed up. Although she thought that sharing the information would help restore the business relationship, with each statement she lost credibility and the likelihood of repairing the damage done. He wasn’t sure what her intention was, but whether she was hoping to get him to like her or regain his confidence, the strategy failed miserably. Loose lips really do sink ships!

“I can keep a secret; it’s all the people I tell that can’t.”

Author's Bio: 

Since founding Elite Training Systems in 2001, I have partnered with dozens of sales organizations in varying capacities to elevate individual and team performance and increase overall revenue generation and profitability. Through the delivery of public workshops and customized on-site training, I have educated thousands of consultative sales professionals using personally developed training programs. In addition, I have authored three books on the disciplines of professional selling which are available in retail stores across Canada. My company has been contracted by several organizations to develop and build customized sales training programs for internal client usage. I have worked in a one-on-one coaching capacity with hundreds of individuals to sharpen mindset, elevate sales skills, broaden business knowledge, enhance managerial abilities and implement proven strategies and processes for personal and professional success.