How Do You Integrators Protect Your Intellectual Creativity?

This has bothered me for years. Please excuse me in advance, but this is going to be a question, or series of questions, and it is also going to be a rant of sorts. I cannot tell you how many times in my career I or my company have designed a unique solution to a problem only to have the customer shop it around (as their idea) after we presented it. I am sure it has happened to every integrator there at one time or another. There really is very little that can be done about it technically. There are times (public dollars) when a large purchase has to be put out for public bid because of the dollars involved. It is law. I have no issues. But private purchases don't have the same requirements. There may be corporate policies that require it, but there are no laws that do. Shouldn't that customer have some consideration of some kind to the "problem-solver"? Shouldn't they be compensated in some way??

I read a different discussion about "reasons sales were lost" and one customer had a rightous answer. Some integrators don't listen. I think she was spot on. But this is to some degree that rant in reverse. Very, very recently (obviously) I employed existing technology, but different thinking to enable a customer to get exactly what they wanted and needed, AND save them approximately 60%. Other vendors were asked to the sight, listened to the customer and told them to hire an engineer, and yes, "call us when you have some plans, we would be glad to bid the job". I didn't do that. I used unconventional methods, solved their problem, only to have my thinking shopped around to the lowest bidder. I didn't charge for my design (I probably should have), nor did I charge for acquiring the equipment and the testing time (all shot now). I mistakingly thought I was dealing with someone with integrity. Once again, everything has a price, including integrity.

As a rule, I do write proposals with part numbers and cost; a detailed quote. It is easy to shop it around. Also, as a rule, I have found that almost all customers eventually ask for it, so I just furnish it upfront. I am not ashamed of my prices. So here is one question? Which method offers more protection? Detailed costing or lump sum? I have considered switching to a lump sum proposal, and only agree to furnish detailed costing once the agreement is signed to help eliminate some of the shopping. And would you furnish any part numbers at all with a lump sum method or just say "here is our solution, here is the price; once you sign the contract, here are the details"? If they won't agree to it, then I don't need them as a customer anyway.

Another question; is there any way, and I have looked at a lot of them, from a technical perspective, to furnish a quote that can't be printed or screen captured? Programs like "Snipit" or "Snagit" can capture a screenshot and I can't figure out a way to stop it. "Print Screen", "Print" workarounds, and PDF passwords only offer so much technical protection. At some point, a built-in tool like "Snipit" just allow anyone to capture a screenshot and emailed to as an RFP.

I saw a good video recently on transparancy (someone here provided the link). It convincingly made a case to be very transparent about the way you do business; publish equipment and prices too. Yes the competition will have a built-in advantage, but your competition does not pay your bills. But this is different. I have taken a lot of time (money) to solve a problem no one else wanted to touch, only to have the customer shop the solution. In 30 years, it has happened countless times and I have never figured out a way to stop it, or curb it.

The aforementioned Purchasing Officer in a different thread correctly made the case that some vendors do not listen, or think they know more. What do you do with what I consider unethical customers. Unethical may be an over-statement, but it sure feels that way. There is something unprofessional about it at a minimum. The worst offenders are committees that think they are doing what is in the best interest of their group by saving the group money. They are not professional buyers or purchasing agents who typically have some ethical, professional behavior.

There is no consideration or compensation for creative thinking at all, and it has gotten incrementally more prevalent every year. It is to the point that while I enjoy what I do, I could go mow grass and be just as happy. There have been other threads that asked "should younger people get into this business"? Today, I would say go do something else. No matter what it is, protect your creative thinking.

If nothing else, I have gotten this off of my chest. And no, I don't mind putting my name on it, regardless of who sees it. I would appreciate input though. My time and talent does translate into dollars. If you don't think a person's time or talent is worth anything, just say so; you won't offend me. I would rather go donate that time to the DAV or Habitat, or spend it with my family. But please stop pretending.


Restaurant employees will tell you it's a great job if you didn't have to deal with the public. There is no single solution. If the project was designed and you are responding to a bid you may be requested to itemize everything. I used to hide an item or two that would ultimately make it work in the "accessories" costs without detail if I felt a little unsure. I would lump sum and typically state the manufacturer if I was a lot unsure. I've hidden my company name in proposals along with boldly posting a "Bid Use Only - Final Design Required" to scare people away. It all depends.

Mark,

Thanks for sharing! Sorry to hear about those challenges but it's quite an insight!

A, above, already provided some relevant links to related discussions / recommendations.

Feedback:

"Is there any way, and I have looked at a lot of them, from a technical perspective, to furnish a quote that can't be printed or screen captured?"

I have never used them, but there are a handful of 'secured PDF' offerings, like "LockLizard" or Vitrium that you might want to review. However, both of those seem to be really expensive (hundreds per month). Maybe others know better options.

"I cannot tell you how many times in my career I or my company have designed a unique solution to a problem only to have the customer shop it around (as their idea) after we presented it."

As we discussed in Stopping End Users from Shopping Quotes, you could make them verbally or in writing agree to not share before receiving it.

The other broad approach that is worth considering is to strengthen your brand. By this I mean, take steps to signal to prospects that you are a 'guru' and that they need to listen to you. Unfortunately, many times incompetents become 'thought leaders' because they are good at self-promotion and geniuses get overlooked because they are not. If you can make a bigger show about your credentials, awards, placements in local newspapers, etc., it might give them more trust and more appeal to stick with you.

Another question; is there any way, and I have looked at a lot of them, from a technical perspective, to furnish a quote that can't be printed or screen captured? .

No, although there are ways to make it more tedious, for sure. But even if there was a way to prevent a capture, nothing prevents someone from re-keying your entire document into a new one. Even if it means a little typing for them its still less work than coming up with all the actual content. And in the case of using 'different thinking' like you did, someone can steal the most important part of your proposal without copying a word.

So instead of trying to lock down your document I say open it up and let it go where it may! Indeed, turn the tables on unethical customers and make your proposal's promiscuity an asset instead of a liability, like this:

Embed a Web Beacon in your outgoing proposal. If you are not familiar, a Web Beacon is typically a 1x1 transparent gif embedded in a web page or an email to provide tracking information to the content creator whenever the document is accessed. If forwarded the document tracking will continue with the forwarded document also.

In addition, by using multiple beacons you can ascertain when your content is being dismembered and distributed to third parties, simply by emedding one beacon as part of your company header and another in your line item detail. If you only see one beacon you will know you got cut and pasted without your company name being included.

I must warn you though, depending on what email they use and other varables, it may not always be able to tell when something is being copied, but it works to some degree in the majority of cases.

This way you can at least decide to ignore a customer who is re-shopping you, or confront them, or use the information to you advantage in a different way. In any case its helpful to know how and where your document is traveling.

As for the ethics of it, I don't think its a problem as long as your boilerplate states that you use beacons to track your document. And it is YOUR document.

Btw, we get emails all the time with beacons. A typical use is a emailed newsletter that adds one in their content to tell if you are reading it or not. If your not reading them they might stop sending them or take some other action.

There are many websites that make it pretty easy to do. One that I have used is getnotify.com, but there are others.

Just a thought.

.

Another question; is there any way, and I have looked at a lot of them, from a technical perspective, to furnish a quote that can't be printed or screen captured? Programs like "Snipit" or "Snagit" can capture a screenshot and I can't figure out a way to stop it. "Print Screen", "Print" workarounds, and PDF passwords only offer so much technical protection. At some point, a built-in tool like "Snipit" just allow anyone to capture a screenshot and emailed to as an RFP.

Unfortunately there's really no way around this. Ultimately, nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket now (even older non-smart phones have them), so even if you defeat every method of re-saving, copy-pasting, or screen capture... very, very few people won't have the means to simply take a picture of it (whether a majority of them are clever enough to think of it is another matter).

There is no consideration or compensation for creative thinking at all, and it has gotten incrementally more prevalent every year.

I've run into this a few times, but for the most part it seems to be rare, at least among the customers we deal with.

The one customer that we most often have to really stretch our creativity for, fortunately, appreciates ALL the service we provide, and has from day 1. I don't know that any of our jobs for them, after that first one, have gone out to tender. I guess building that kind of reputation is one way to avoid having your ideas shopped to your competition :)

One way we have provented this issue is not to give the customer the detailed quote/design to take with them. What I mean is we will sit down with the customer and show them the full design with part numbers but they don't get to take it home with them. We give them a single line item quote to take with them but we keep the full design until they sign with us. This way they have no way shop the design unless they have a photographic memory. We don't do this for every customer only when we think this might happen.

This way they have no way shop the design unless they have a photographic memory.

Or are a total glasshole... ;)

Two can play at that game :)

I have no doubt that you yourself could 'memorize' the crucial line items off a random quote in all of about 10 seconds, maybe even less for 'certain' manufacturers. ;)

Anyway, I do think its a good idea because

  1. It shows that you value your work
  2. It forces the prospect to deal with you face to face, enabling a quick close
  3. It differentiates you from the competition
  4. Even if a prospect walks/balks, its preferable to a 'death by a thousand e-mails'