Your Pants Are Down and You Don’t Even Know It

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes an article entitled “Businesses Say Theft by Their Workers is Up”, by Sarah Needleman.
Theft Graph
The theme of the article is that in “these tough economic times”, more employees are padding their expense accounts, stealing office supplies, etc.

Ms. Needleman quotes Bob Riordan, leader of labor and employment practice group Alston and Bird, as saying the best defense against employee theft is prevention. Mr. Riordan suggests codes of ethics and video monitoring where appropriate.

What struck me as I read is that no where is information piracy or security mentioned.

No offense to Ms. Needleman or Mr. Riordan… its a fine article but, its almost 2009 right?

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably in the sales or marketing game. So, other than sales people adding an extra lunch or two to their expense account or walking away with a box of pens, what are the most valuable assets that sales and marketing employees have access to?

Its information about your customers, prospects, sales methods, pricing policies, marketing strategies, etc.!

The fact is that whether the economy is up or down, most businesses have minimal to non-existent security policies for information related to customers and marketing. I know. When talking to business owners interested in SalesNexus’ online contact management system, I’m constantly hit with this irony:

The greatest fear most business owners have when considering a hosted contact management or CRM system is the security of the information. So, I always ask them where they keep that information currently. Inevitably, the answer is that its stored on each sales rep’s computer in Outlook, ACT!, Excel, etc. and maybe there is some master copy of all this on a server in the office. The next question is “Who has access to that information now and would you know if they made a copy of it or modified it maliciously?”.

Point is that information about your customers is currently in the hands of your sales reps and you probably don’t even have an up to date copy of it yourself. You are currently at risk for one of the most damaging frauds that could possibly hit your business!

So, if a sales rep is considering an offer from your competitor, do you think he’s making a copy of the information? If the sales rep leaves or you fire them, how will you “pick up” the relationship with your customers? How much information will you lose when the sales rep is gone? How much information will your competitor gain when they hire that rep?

In my view, the potential risk to your business in piracy or damage to your customer information is far greater than anything an employee could do by stealing office supplies or parts from the warehouse.

Of course, a hosted contact management system is not the only solution to this risk. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Automated backups – be sure that each employee’s computer is being backed up daily and that you’ll have access to the information if the sales rep, their notebook computer and their cell phone or PDA dissappear one day. www.carbonite.com is an easy and affordable solution that offers corporate accounts your control.
  • Frequent, consistent and mandatory updates to a master list of customer and prospect information by all customer facing employees. This could be solutions like ACT! or Goldmine, hosted online solutions like SalesNexus.com or Salesforce.com, or just excel sheets submitted by reps that someone merges into a master list. Important note – be sure you put some teeth into this. A rep planning to leave is likely to “forget” to submit their information. Make paying commissions contingent on compliance with the policy.

Your business’ existence is based on the relationships you have with customers. Information about those customers is a strategic asset. Protect it with the same vigor your do your physical and financial assets.