Authenticity in Business and Other Lies

February 14, 2008

Being Authentic
Image by Jay Cox

Have you ever been given the following business advice before – “be authentic”, or “all you need is a competitive” advantage? It’s all a huge lie, and there are a few more “business lies” that are frequently spouted by the so called “gurus”. Read on to discover what they are.

Be Authentic: This is an overused phrase and I see it on business sites all the time. Anyone who tells you that you must always be authentic in business is a damn liar. It’s impossible. You’d need to be a saint.

People can and will be a pain in the butt and if we were completely authentic, we’d tell them. And we’d lose a lot of business.

Picture this – one of your best customers has appointed a new manager. He’s an obnoxious prick and you wish you didn’t have to deal with him. What do you do – tell him exactly what you think of him and risk losing the work, or “be nice” and put up with him?

I’m sure there’s some self proclaimed saints who would argue otherwise. But the smart thing to do is put up with it, if you want to stay in business. So, I would advise you not to be authentic – be as authentic as you can be.

Anyone Can Do It: Another overused phrase. You see it a lot in business book titles. And the author never actually believes that anyone can do it; they say that so they sell more copies. Maybe if they put in brackets: (It Probably Won’t Be You) it would be more honest. But honesty doesn’t sell business books.

All You Need Is A Competitive Advantage:
You do need a competitive advantage but this is not all you need. You need to keep an eye on your competitors all the time, because they’ll be keeping an eye on you. And if you become too complacent, you’ll wake up one morning to discover that they’ve had several better competitive advantages for the past 12 months.
Michaelangelo - The Best
Image by Dom H UK

Be The Best And Customers Will Come:
This is another big fat lie. The average human being doesn’t have a radar that enables them to find “the best” of anything. If we did, we’d never have a bad meal, or buy a mediocre product. Make sure your product or service is good and spend the bulk of your time marketing it. You’ll get far more business than your excellent competitor with poor marketing skills.

No Publicity is Bad Publicity:
Yet another ridiculous cliche which has come back to haunt many foolish business people. The truth is, some publicity can be so bad that it will kill your business. Just ask Gerald Ratner. Sixteen years ago, he was fired from the family business for telling the media that Ratners sold crap. The publicity ruined him – Ratners is no more and Gerald is still feeling the pain 16 years on.

Are you a saint who believes you should always be authentic in business? Do you agree, or disagree with any of these points? Or can you think of other snippets of useless advice that you’ve been given on business?

Related Posts

20 Ways To Achieve Business Success in 2008
Fat Bloggers, Lies and Libel

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20 Responses to “Authenticity in Business and Other Lies”

  1. Ian Denny on February 14th, 2008 1:13 pm

    Another great post. Instead of the usual back-slapping, hope you don’t take offence if I take issue on one item?

    Don’t worry, it’s not a biggie. I love the authenticity – that’s so true. But you do also need to manage that sort of person out of your client base.

    They will bring everyone down and create misery – best to go and find a client th replace them, and then be authentic with that’s person’s superior. I did this once with the owner of the company who was the pain.

    You’d be amazed to hear that he agreed! And we started to deal with someone else instead of him and kept the client.

    I get the point on being the best isn’t good enough. When you are the best, people will seek you out. But only because the people happy with you, who know your the best will do the advertising for you free.

    But it would be plain stupid not to market that fact and publicise it while it lasts. Because it usually doesn’t last and someone will overtake you. So combined with your other point about keeping an eye on your competitors, you still need to aim to be the best to get the “free” marketing from word-of-mouth.

    Ian Denny’s last blog post..E-Mail Marketing For The Cash-Strapped Small Business Person

  2. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 1:38 pm

    Hi Ian – yes you would need to weed out your bad customers – you know that is something I’m firm about. But in this case it was a good customer and the new manager was a prick. There is no way you’d want to ditch a customer just because you didn’t like their new manager.

    True on word of mouth, but you’d have to do something really unique to get business from word of mouth alone.

  3. Mrs. Micah on February 14th, 2008 1:52 pm

    That Ratners story is fascinating. The last thing customers want to feel is taken advantage of. A remark like that helped bring down a major investment analyst in the early 2000s, because (among other things) he actually admitted in notes (written makes good evidence) that certain funds he was praising were “crap.”

  4. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 1:58 pm

    OMG Mrs M – that is terrible. It served him right. If I had invested in those funds I think I would have slapped him.

    Gerald Ratner was an idiot. Apparently, he has just brought out a book about his story. But the guy was such a plonker that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read it.

  5. Hunter Nuttall on February 14th, 2008 6:11 pm

    My favorite business lie from executives: “our greatest strength is our employees.” How is it that every company thinks they have the best employees in the world? Shouldn’t there be a limited supply of them? Just once I’d like to hear an executive say “our employees are our greatest weakness.”

    Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..Using RSS To Manage Information Flow

  6. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 6:26 pm

    Hi Hunter – I know what you mean. And a lot of the time they say that right before they pay a load of people off!

  7. Coryan | UTurnAhead on February 14th, 2008 7:27 pm

    Excellent list. There are so many old business cliches out there that mislead people trying to make their business work. Your list does a great job of exposing many of those lies.

    Coryan | UTurnAhead’s last blog post..15 Highly Annoying Coworker Behaviors

  8. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 7:31 pm

    Hi Coryan – thanks for dropping by. I think the trouble with some of this stuff is that it’s been repeated that often that people aren’t usually aware they’re passing on false info.

  9. jsanderz on February 14th, 2008 7:45 pm

    Another fantastic list,
    you wrote “Be The Best And Customers Will Come” how that takes me back to a time when I had a mountain bike shop, I give the best service and advice in the area, there were times when I did little things for free.
    What I learned over the years, was that people often go for the cheapest, not always the best.

    jsanderz’s last blog post..Change Your View, Change Your Composition

  10. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 7:52 pm

    True – some people do Jsanderz. And I think it depends what area you are based in too.

    We have postcode areas that we refuse to do work for because they won’t pay our prices, or else they’ll try to get out of paying!

    No joke, we had one woman on the phone yesterday who swore. She had a leak but it was an f…. leak p,,,,, water all over her floor. Luckily we didn’t have to think of an excuse not to go because she said she’d rather her f…….. house was wrecked than pay our emergency call out fee. Definitely false economy.

  11. Barbara on February 14th, 2008 8:29 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    Anyone Can Do It is a joke. You’re right, the authors are playing off of peoples vulnerabilities to sell more books. Some people are not cut out to be in business.

    Being the best does not guarantee an unlimited supply of customers. Not only that, but if you advertise as being the best, you will be spending a lot of time staying ahead of the competition, as they will always try to be “one up” on you. Like you said, if you consistently do a good job, referral business will keep you going.

    I have also heard the “bad publicity is better than no publicity. It may bring your name to the forefront, however, it could sink you fast.

    I agree with Hunter about companies saying their employees are their greatest strength. That’s done more to try and boost employee morale. However, if the time comes when they have to layoff half of their people, are they going to say “we lost half of our strength”…I doubt it

    An executive might say their employees are their greatest weakness, behind closed doors, but you will never hear that said publicly. .

    Barbara’s last blog post..Bloggers Fall Prey To Instant Gratification

  12. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 9:08 pm

    Hi Barbara – I read a book by this guy who said anyone can do it – it was Duncan Bannatyne. And it was an interesting book, but I can’t imagine many people I know taking the risks he took.

    Talking of the employee thing – I read about Walmart making the public believe they looked after employees well in terms of health care benefits etc and all the time, they were deliberately getting rid of those who were getting older, or ill, so it was cheaper for them.

  13. RacerX on February 14th, 2008 11:36 pm

    Build a better mouse trap – Is just not true either. It has to also be:

    Found- If they can’t find it it doesn’t exist
    Affordable – No sense making a $500 mousetrap even if it is best
    Market Share is king – the leader can ram something down that is 80% of the best and still dominate (Windows anyone)

    Great post!

    RacerX’s last blog post..Personal Finance QuickTake: Fed Ready to Act

  14. cathlawson on February 14th, 2008 11:39 pm

    Thanks Racer – Another good one. I think it’s appalling that people would even think of their customers as mice to trap, but there you go. And what was that other dominant company called again? I think it began with a G.

  15. Ian Denny on February 15th, 2008 4:47 am

    I must say that I do disagree with the better mousetrap. Mainly because I saw a good chunk of our growth happen with us doing nothing.

    It could be seen as a little dangerous to put people off focusing on makeing their product/service excellent.

    The nature of our business meant that it could grow significantly with each new client – contractual, ad hoc and project income was significant with each new client.

    And our clients were doing the recommending.

    I can honestly say that we never advertised. We did do some email marketing which was the other significant part of our growth, but if I was to ignore the impact of a client simply telling another that they had to use us because we were excellent, it would be misleading.

    I do agree with the point that just sitting their waiting for the phone to ring is plain wrong.

    And even though i didn’t do it at the time, you should also ask your customers to recommend you. That may sound like a throw-away remark, but I can’t emphasise how important that is. If you do, you massively increase the likelihood of benefiting from having the better mousetrap.

    You have planted the seed of referrals that may not have occured to them quickly enough or at all in terms of natural referrals.

    You should also explicitly look at the chronology of your client journey. And look for natural stops along the way that would make asking for referrals the most natural thing in the world.

    One such point I recommend which you can manufacture, is to ask for a testimonial for your web-site or brochure – EVEN if you can’t afford either and you don’t have them.

    Having them in the bank is alwayds useful.

    BUT, and here’s the big but, when the customer gives you a great testimonial, your timing to ask for the referral is NOW.



    I was so thrilled by the referral you wrote. I can’t thank you enough!

    Customers like you are the very lifeblood of our business. I’ve sent a little gift in the post as a snmal thank you for your business and kind words.

    I’m also going to get your testimonial framed and stick it on the wall in our office!

    I am really going to push my luck now and hope you don’t mind?

    You see, when a friend tells me of a great new restaurant, you can’t keep me away. I have to try it. And they’re usually right.

    Now f I read a letter like yours, it will make me interested and I’ll dig a little more. But if I didn’t know you, I may not necessarily act straight away.

    The difference is who says it and whether they know you.

    So if you can think of anyone who could use us, I’d love it if you could repeat what you’ve said and also say I’ll treat them especially well as one of your friends.

    In fact, I’ll type out what you said again here, and if you could paste it into an email to a few people you know who may be able to use us I’d appreciate it.

    Here’s what you said “……”

    All you have to do is cut and paste it into an email, address it to a friend and introduce it maybe like this:

    ‘I wrote this for a company I think are great. I thought of you because I think you may be able to use them and get the same great service I did. Here it is….’

    If you can think of anyone else, go to your sent items, open it, click the “Resend this message” option (in the Actions menu in Outlook) and just change the email address and name.

    Thanks Bob. I really appreciate your business.”

    Now if you do this, I promise it will make your better mousetrap spread like wildfire through the jungle of your target market.

    If it doesn’t, and you do exactly as I say, let me know and I’ll eat my hat!

    Ian Denny’s last blog post..E-Mail Marketing For The Cash-Strapped Small Business Person

  16. Giun Sun on February 15th, 2008 3:18 pm

    Great tips Catherine. I agree with authenticity…you can get pretty close, but never can you ALWAYS be authentic. It’s a key element that many often “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk”. Also another good point, any publicity is good publicity..and the more controversial, the sweeter. :D

    Giun Sun’s last blog post..‘Anti-Marketing’ Design Revisited: Your Site’s Design is Visually Beautiful…it’s Perfect. Now Change.

  17. cathlawson on February 15th, 2008 3:28 pm

    Hi Giun – thank you. But, I’m curious about your new post. In fact, I’m dreading clicking in case you’re going to say that I should keep my sucky design and not get the new one.

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