Situation: A company has received RFPs from two companies who regularly do business with each other, but who are also competitors. The projects specified by the two RFPs might compete with each other. Under the terms of the two RFPs, the company can not disclose the existence of either RFP to the other company. Can you do business with competing companies, and how do you protect the company if you do?
Advice from the CEOs:
The principal concern for the Company will be assuring that there is no violation of the CDAs that you have with each company.
Assign the RFPs to two different groups within the Company, with strict instructions that they must maintain their respective client’s confidentiality both internally and externally.
Emphasize the importance of confidentiality in responding to the RFPs to the Project Manager responsible for responding to each RFP.
Respond to both RFPs, but do so such that if both projects are contracted you can disclose this to both companies.
Prepare a set of talking points – the same talking points – to both companies and disclose the situation to both immediately after the project has been contracted.
Let them know what happened, share the timeline, share your obligations under your CDAs with both companies, let them know what you did internally to preserve their confidentiality, and that as soon as you were able – i.e., as soon as both projects was contracted – you informed them of the situation.
Companies commonly get involved in similar situations. The beauty is that you get business under either scenario. The challenge is that you must take all steps necessary to assure that the interests of both potential customers are preserved.
If you can successfully demonstrate to both companies that you have acted in an honorable fashion, they are more likely to trust you to do the same in the future.
Interview with Henry Chen, PhD, Founder & CEO, Cynovo
Situation: A company in a maturing market needs to gain customer feedback to guide product development. They want to optimize Alpha testing prior to investing in tooling. How do you assess product viability on a limited budget?
Advice from Henry Chen:
As the market for tablet devices matures, it is increasingly important to test mass market response to new product design prior to freezing product specs and investing in tooling. Our approach to vertically designed enterprise solutions focuses on four areas: going to the experts for guidance; monitoring the competition and market direction, investing heavily in prototypes, and leveraging speed to market.
Go to the experts; leverage their knowledge and understanding of the market to speed your own development efforts.
Get to know the market gurus who stay on top of the market and are knowledgeable about market direction. These are the influencers who blog, write and publicize new market innovations.
As a smaller company, the route to market in often through alliances. Senior staff at large companies are a valuable resource. One option is to work through large companies’ sales teams to identify senior product people and connect with them.
A good place to monitor market developments is at major trade shows. Events like the Consumer Electronics Show allow you to interact with a large number of experts and to monitor both what the large companies are introducing and their product direction.
Trade shows are unique situations because many experts attend. Some are speakers, and others simply attend to keep up to date with latest developments.
Use trade shows as an opportunity to gather a panel of experts to give you feedback on your design concepts. Experts like to be on top of the market and new developments and appreciate the opportunity to provide input on new products.
Leverage the opinion of younger leaders and experts. In the US and in China, the average entrepreneurial founder is young – often in their low 20s. They are not as cautious as older people who worry about failure. Successful young entrepreneurs are also potential investors.
Give experts time to think about your product. It may take a few hours or even days for them to “get” your new concept.
Invest in prototypes which have a similar look and feel as actual products, though they may lack full functionality. People like to hold a product, gauge the weight, look and feel of the controls, and to contrast different model options.
Large companies are often hindered by internal confidentiality rules. Smaller, more nimble companies may rely on speed to market to allay confidentiality concerns. This gives them the ability to gather more feedback prior to finalizing product design.