One of the things that happens to a chemist in the sales department is the business of taking odd phone calls. Someone out there will scan the internets for information on some particular substance or product and find the number of your company switchboard. The person at the front desk  will spend a moment with the caller and then connect them with someone like myself.

During my business development time I have been amused, surprised, pestered, annoyed, and yes, a little frightened.  I have fielded calls from a prisoner wanting expert witnessing (his planned appeal was based on a false premise), illicit drug makers wanting bulk intermediates sent to their motorcycle or chrome shops, and crooked characters wanting items on the MCA list sent to their garage operations.

I am not a member of the law enforcement fraternity. God knows these characters have never asked for my help.  There is precious little I can personally do in the fight against drug crime. But foiling those who would profit from poisoning the nervous systems of our citizens is something that can be done by chemists.

I have spoken with misguided people on the dark side of chemistry who are on the fast track to prison. And, I have taken calls from parents of K-12 students wanting energetic or otherwise hazardous materials for their science fair project. In this case, we’ll have a polite discussion about safety and I’ll offer some alternatives.

I have been yelled at by frustrated foreign nationals for my refusal to quote on items on the munitions list or the State Department’s official shit list of bad actors. Some were persistant buggers, but I extracted satisfaction in interfering with their sourcing plans. The front lines in illegal technology transfer or illegal synthetic drugs is not in the offices of the authorities. It is on the phones and emails messages of companies who sell materials or devices that facilitate the activity.

It turns out that knowingly selling substances to suspicious characters is not only morally wrong or makes you an accessory, but it is just plain bad business. Long term stability for you and your company requires compliance with the code. Selling materials that may be used for illicit purposes by unqualified buyers is only an open invitation for trouble.

Trolling for organizational weaknesses happens all of the time and all over the business world. Industrial espionage, attempts at illegal export/import of controlled materials, and raw material sourcing attempts for illicit or controlled substances. You have to keep your head on a swivel and qualify your customers.  

Trade shows are particularly bad for spying and competitive intelligence gathering. Companies who can afford large trade show booths will have an enclosed room to meet privately with potential customers. That way watchful eyes will have a harder time figuring out what they’re up to.

Few experienced business development people are shy about asking questions, especially yukking it up over a business dinner and drinks. When in doubt about giving information, just shut your yap, shrug your shoulders, and grin.

Always be up front and honest when it comes to withholding confidential information. Even, or perhaps especially, when you have an NDA in place.  You do not want to get in the habit of discussing sensitive topics in social settings. Leave that for meetings in the conference room where your cohorts can participate and everyone can hear what was disclosed. Savvy business people on either side will halt conversation on the spot if they believe that proprietary information is being divulged inappropriately.

As to the matter of gaming the system, I’ll offer that it’s always better in the long run to avoid planting misinformation. It is better to be regarded as uninformed or unhelpful rather than as a liar in the sales world. You can eventually slough off the reputation of being a bit uninformed or rude. But once branded as a liar, even in a field of liars, it is a stink that will follow you for the rest of your career in sales.