Editor’s Note: Part 11 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 10 talked about the time I left my job for a competitor and rescinded the offer. This time, a story involving industrial espionage, the SVP of HR and way too many lawyers.
If I could show the leads from the lawyers’ lists were gone from our system,
we’d be on a path to redemption.
we’d be on a path to redemption.
The day had started innocently enough. I was hosting our company’s public relations firm at the office, as we worked with our product marketing and management teams on interacting with press. At a break, I stepped outside of the conference room and found the longtime senior vice president of HR waiting for me — usually not a good sign.
“Louis, please come into my office,” he said, with a tone that made it obvious this wasn’t really a choice. So I followed.
We entered his office, only to find another man in a suit was waiting. The HR SVP shut the door behind us, and then turned back to me. “Louis, on the date of (whatever it was), did you upload a list of contacts to Salesforce.com from (an account manager)?”
“I Don’t Recall”I paused. In my marketing role over the last few years, I had used Salesforce.com practically every day. It was our customer contact tool that hit all aspects of our business, from prospecting, to forecasting and demand generation. So it sounded like something I’d do. But I couldn’t tell him yes or no without looking.
I heard the words escape my mouth as bluntly as Oliver North in the Iran Contra hearings: “I don’t recall.”
But I promised to check — not knowing exactly what they were expecting to find. Somewhat shaken, but mostly mystified, I opened up Salesforce.com, logged in, did a query, and found I had uploaded a list of contacts into the system on that date. But it didn’t have any significance for me than any other list or date. It was just one of the regular requests I’d gotten from our director of Sales Operations, who often asked me to do the imports or set up reports in the system that she was responsible for, but didn’t completely understand.
So I went back to the SVP of HR, a little more nervous now, and said that yes, I had uploaded the list on that day. So what was going on?
Unwittingly Aiding Corporate EspionageIt turned out that, unbeknownst to me, an account manager acquired a customer list from his previous employer, complete with contacts and titles, and shared it with his inside sales representative — whose job it was to email and call these prospects to sell them our products. The ISR then sent the list to the Director of Sales Ops, who forwarded the request on to me. So while I had been fulfilling a standard request, I was, in effect, aiding what amounted to corporate theft.
The SVP of HR was clearly not too excited with me about my role in the upload. But he was more annoyed by the director’s not investigating the source of the list, and her not being in tune enough with Salesforce.com to do the upload herself — not to mention his being beyond furious with the account manager and ISR who had put us in this mess. Unsurprisingly, the suited man in the HR SVP’s office was on the company’s legal team, and our competitor wanted us raked over the coals for the impropriety.
Immediately, on the spot, the account manager responsible for obtaining the list was fired. The ISR, whom I considered a friend, was also fired, knowing what the contacts contained and calling against the list. He packed his personal items into a box, took a very lonely stroll trough the parking lot — and I never saw him again.
Running Queries to Solve the Whole MessNow I was back in the HR office. Having somewhat absolved myself, our efforts turned to limiting the damage. The press training boondoggle I’d been working on with the PR team was practically a memory at this point. I told them they could leave whenever they were done as I was busy, but didn’t tell them just why I was now occupied.
The HR SVP, and our attorney, wanted to know if I could find all the records that had been uploaded from that list, if I could find out what action had taken place — and if possible, could I remove those records from our company database. Of course, the answer was yes, so long as I knew what questions to ask Salesforce.com.
I started to run the queries, with both him and our attorney looking on. I ran a query showing what Leads had been added to Salesforce.com by my account on that day — and came up with a few hundred. A few clicks on each lead would show if they had been called, or emailed, if any meetings had taken place, and if we had any resulting sales pipeline in our forecast from the illicit list.
I produced reports that showed how many records were in the system, with both he and the attorney taking note of what I found. I was told to take no action on those records, and to be ready to come back into the office at the crack of dawn the next morning to begin the purge.
With Great Data Comes Great ResponsibilityAfter a night to repeatedly think over the previous day’s events, I got up early, dressed much better than normal, grabbed my work laptop and headed back into the office to join the SVP, that same attorney, and surprisingly, about a half dozen more lawyers, who represented the competition, and had been sent to confirm we were in compliance. We entered the boardroom, centered with a long table seemingly carved from a massive cedar tree, and I had the projector all to myself.
Whether I could perform the next tasks correctly were central to showing if we were acting in good faith.
My task was clear — explain to everyone in the room what had been uploaded, show how it could be extracted from our main database, and then destroyed forever in a way that was unrecoverable.
After an opening introduction from the HR SVP, I fired up Salesforce.com, ran the same queries as the day before, highlighted the records, and started the purge. As I’d delete 100 records at a time, the attorneys for all sides would mark it. I’d pause for agreement to continue and move to the next set of 100. Soon, the records were out of the main DB, and into the Trash.
Then, with everyone around the table nodding in agreement, I emptied the system’s Trash, so the records were truly gone. Then, the attorneys flipped through hard copy printouts of the offending names and cherrypicked customer data to see if could be found. “Jane Smith of Acme,” they might say. I’d search. No records found. “Evan Jackson of Key Labs?” No records found.
The Salesforce.com database was clean. I was pretty much off the hook — having shown I had the capability to both get us into the mess and get us out of it. But it didn’t mean our company was found without fault. Those prospect companies on the lists were added to a “Do Not Contact” registry that fell across our entire sales organization for at least a year forward, and had us saying no to many different potential sales opportunities as a result.
In the next few years, the SVP of HR left our company and later became the Executive Vice President at a pre-IPO firm that eventually went public and made him undoubted millions. The director of sales operations didn’t last long, finding her role replaced by her predecessor, who was returning to the company — later telling me how stunned he was that personal keepsakes he’d left in his desk drawers remained untouched while he was away. I stayed another five years or so, exceptionally more skeptical now about importing any leads to Salesforce.com from any source that Marketing didn’t explicitly gain ourselves. And that ISR, according to LinkedIn, seems to have recovered and since enjoyed a solid career in sales management.
The experience was not one I had expected to have when taking such an active role with our customer relationship management system, but with great data comes great responsibility. When it came to proving ourselves in a room full of lawyers, we had survived.