Sharing what you know can pay hefty dividends

Not so long ago, we thought of information as a prized possession that was to be guarded closely. Today, those who are willing to share their knowledge can gain a competitive advantage.

As with so many things, the arrival of the digital universe changed everything. Now, when we want to know about nearly anything, a few keywords typed into Google produce pages of material. Granted, you have to sift through what you find and determine what appears to be legitimate, but much of what you want to know is out there, just waiting for you to ask the right question.

In a remarkably short time, that technology has created a transformation in how we arrive upon our impressions of organizations. As we seek knowledge, we gravitate toward sources that share information freely.

Think of the times you’ve been frustrated trying to find information online. You visit site after site, only to discover that what seems like remarkably basic information cannot be found, and frustration with the owners of the sites grows.

While planning some home remodeling work, I wanted to know how much I should budget for it. It was a common task – one for which rough numbers should be readily available. As I visited site after site, I grew frustrated. They were full of glowing product reviews and pretty photos, but little else. Finally, I found a site that explained how to ballpark the costs. Care to guess which contractor I’ll call first?

I knew I’d find the information eventually – it was just a matter of time. The company that made it readily available demonstrated that it understood customers and wanted to help them. Similarly, sharing information will build confidence among your customers.

Some companies may be afraid to share because they don’t want competitors to see the information. With matters that are genuinely proprietary, that’s a valid concern. But business owners and managers tend to exaggerate the secrecy of information. In most cases, the hush-hush details they fret about are already circulating widely in the marketplace. How well do you know your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses against what you offer? Think they don’t already know the same about you?

So what should you share? Start by thinking about the process your customers use when selecting a vendor like your organization. What types of information do they need to make a decision or to compare you to a competitor? That’s important, because if they’re making that first cut online, you may not even be aware that you were in contention for their business. You can even steer them your way by developing an online guide to choosing vendors – perhaps something like “5 Points to Consider When Selecting a Veeblefetzer Manufacturer.”

Ask your sales and customer service staffs what questions they hear most often, and assemble the answers into an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on your website. They’ll probably find that they’ll answer those questions less often.

Don’t forget “old” documents that may still have value to others. Thanks to PDFs, it’s easy to post copies of product manuals, brochures, newsletters, press releases, articles written about your organization, and similar items. (Be sure you have the legal right to post the materials – and obtain permission where you don’t.)

Simply put, if there’s a chance that someone will need it, make it available. After all, storing it online may require minimal space and cost, but that one piece of information may be the one that gets your foot in the door with the customer you’ve always wanted.