The value of honesty in business

I often wonder whether or not enough people value honesty within business and when doing business with others. I’d like to think so, but so much everyday experience would suggest otherwise.

It’s like ‘quality’ – it’s something that most of us talk about but really, when it comes down to it, are you prepared to go out of your way to live up to the claims that you make?

There are several areas for me that come to mind straight away and some things that I think should be done differently.


Approaching competitors

Don’t get me wrong, I have friends who work in marketing. There is nothing wrong with having a friendly relationship with competitors. There are several consultants and people within agencies locally whom I like and respect and I could name them here. But then there are others …

I have lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me “I don’t do marketing Graeme … tell me all about what you do and how you do it …” And when I check them out later they do … marketing.

To anyone who engages in such things, I can tell you that people know when you are doing it.

By the way – business growth coaching, consultancy on which markets to target, how to reach them, what products to make and how to communicate etc … That is all marketing.

Recently I even had 3 people from the same company come over to me and attempt this on the same day.

Even more hilarious than this was the incident of the two people from the same company who approached me together and lied about the company for whom they worked!

If you value your reputation and if the company you work for values its brand, simply don’t do this. If you are an employer with staff who do this on your behalf then I would suggest that you take greater care of your brand.

Let me tell you where I believe the line is: You can ask customers and prospects what they think of competitors – what they are good at and what they are not good at. But getting any information from anyone by dishonest means or accessing any material that you are not supposed to have is over the line.
Reading what competitors choose to put in the public domain is fine. Accessing anything else by whatever means is not.


I’ve also lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me “Web content? Just have a look at what others do and give me that.” Why? Are your competitors marketing experts?

This approach simply delivers content across industries that is replete with awful meaningless clichés.

Remember the point of marketing is to be different (in relevant and meaningful ways). And expertise that you provide to your audience needs to be just that – your expertise. If not then they would be better off getting it from elsewhere.

Developing the service proposition

Trying to be the expert in everything will always lead to dilemmas when a prospect asks you ‘Do you have any experience in …’

It is acceptable to take on work and then recruit experts to deliver some of it. But to claim expertise one doesn’t have is pushing it.

If your expertise is in the management of operations rather than the delivery of it then that’s what you should communicate.


This is perhaps the most obvious example of where dishonesty creeps into business. Saying whatever it takes to get a sales opportunity or to close a sale, without regard to whether or not it’s true. Or building up a falsely augmented image of a company, a product or service or even one’s own success.

Many an advisor or consultant and even some big company training programmes come very close to or even openly advocate telling lies to win sales. The stupidity of this approach shouldn’t even need to be explained.

I’ve even seen discussions on social media involving ‘professionals’ imploring others to use dishonesty in selling and reassuring them ‘It works for me.’

Another form of dishonesty in selling comes from misdiagnosing the client’s problem to suit oneself. This can either be in the form of telling them they need something that they don’t need or in falsely claiming to have the solution to a problem.

The answer here is quite simple. Better products and better sales processes. And a more sustainable overall strategy.

Business culture

To some extent business culture reflects national culture. The characteristics that society values are the ones that many members try to emulate. Businesses are built of people.

Within business there are clues all over about what is expected and what is not expected. Do we value ‘results’ by any means or do we evaluate performance by a range of standards? Actually doing something when these standards are not met is a good way to signal intent.

There have been some high profile examples recently of people who have been well respected due to status rather than a closer look at how they do business. And in some cases this has led to re-appraisal of existing views in light of new information.

In my view we should move away from valuing ‘success’ in monetary terms and pay more attention to a person’s journey and what they have actually contributed. And actually, there must be some ways of making money that aren’t acceptable? Those that are exploitative of people or suppliers. Those that bring whole industries into disrepute or even put whole economies at risk. Is legal compliance sufficient or do we have any other ways of appraising ‘fairness’? This is not as simple a question as many believe.

Business culture seems increasingly part of popular culture. But this seems only to pay attention to a particular narrow form of macho, self-confident, even aggressive business persona which seems increasingly at odds with real-world business.

If we really value collaboration then surely we must accept that we don’t all know everything? And we must not be trying to get one over on those with whom we collaborate? I remain optimistic in awaiting such change.

What to do

Last but definitely not least … When considering whether or not any particular way of doing business is acceptable to you, one thing that really doesn’t matter is ‘Does it work?’

Of course many dishonest business practices ‘work’ according to certain criteria that might be chosen. Some people can always be fooled some of the time. But that really is not the point.

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