Are All Business People Dishonest?

Are All Business People Dishonest? opinions  thinking success speaking speaker Seth Godin selling refund profit philosophy money mindset marketing marketer Marcia Yudkin Larry Winget human forum feedback ego decision customer copywriting copywriter continuity choice Blog benefit accountant Seems I’m ranting a lot these days, and a little more opinionated than the norm. Perhaps it’s my broken back, which is killing me, that’s making me more sensitive or irritable. I don’t know.

But something someone recently said in my copywriters forum irritated me. And it’s not what this person said specifically, but the mindset behind it that’s bothering me.

In a thread about an Internet marketer who was recently arrested (yes, it had something to do with forced continuity, but it had more to do with refusing refunds and avoiding customers than it had to do with forced continuity itself), one member said:

“There is NO such thing as an honest business man. (…) Ask any accountant.”

Now, I have no clue as to why this person said this. And my opinion here is not about this person specifically. Again, it’s about the thinking process that some people have when they make such assertions.

Personally, I believe this view of business people is skewed, off, and wrong. It’s destructive, too.

In fact, copywriter Marcia Yudkin said it best. In her reply, she said this gem: “I feel sorry for you. That is a terrible philosophy to hold, hurtful to you and hurtful to the honest people who deal with you.”

Well said.

I know what the original commentator was trying to say, but I wouldn’t have said “dishonest.” I believe the word choice is wrong because of the implication. Are all business people really dishonest?

Saying it that way can be easily misconstrued. And it can also be easily misinterpreted, too.

That’s the power of words. That’s what makes us copywriters, too.

We choose our words carefully. The words we use can be incredibly powerful — both good and bad.

If “dishonest” is referring to communications, I’ll be the first to admit that we do exaggerate from time to time. We try to put our product in its best possible light. We focus more on the benefits than we do on the downfalls.

But you know, that’s not reserved to business people only.

We do it when we try to explain a movie we love to our friends. Or when we bolster our ego talking about a great deal we got at the local store. Or when we court a potential life partner.

It’s human nature.

Words have emotional impact. Even with the most logical, analytical people out there. Our choice of words can make or break the sale, whether the product is good or not. Just as words can make or break relationships, court cases, even wars.

For example, real estate agents will say they sell “homes,” not houses. Dentists will say they create beautiful “smiles,” not “teeth.” We tell stories to communicate a product’s purpose or brand. We use words that paint vivid mental pictures.

(I recommend Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars.” By the way, Seth is referring to the power of telling stories in marketing.)

But to say all business people are dishonest, and even implying that one should ask any accountant, is a terribly skewed vision of the world. And I’m speaking generally, not just about business itself.

Business people do try to make maximum profit with every transaction, and they will try to do it at the least amount of expense.

That’s business.

The difference is, the honest ones will do so at the service of others, while the dishonest ones will do so at the expense of others.

Making a profit can be seen by a lot of people as “dishonest.” I’m a capitalist through and through, and I believe in win-win. I don’t see anything wrong with mutually beneficial transactions, which is what business is and should be, in my opinion.

We sell products and services that benefit our customers. But just as much as we are responsible not to mislead, lie, or deceive, customers are just as responsible for their own lives, their own decisions, and their own actions.

What I have a problem with is, some people do see any kind of marketing, or any kind of selling, as dishonest.

And for some reason, that bothers me.

For example, in the same vein as “all business people are dishonest,” some have said, in the recent forced continuity debate, that all marketing is unethical.

They say that a product should sell by itself based on its own merit. And that marketing and selling (and to that I would add copywriting) exist because it’s the only way to sell a poor product that can’t sell itself.

Oh, really?

If so, then we must be all psychics, because we should know about all the good products in the world. We should rely only on word-of-mouth — we all have friends who will tell us what we need to know, right?

And we should all buy everything that “is good” (even though “good” is subjective and personal) solely because they alone merit our attention, our patronage, and our money.

Forget about life getting in the way.

Forget about competition.

Forget about our innate fear of loss.

Forget about the state of the economy.

Forget about the need for marketing to help better decide how we spend our money.

And forget our natural proclivities to want to be secure, to procrastinate, to avoid making bad decisions, and to save our money to buy only what we need — not what we want. (Goodness forbid we buy what we want, not what we need!)

Obviously, that’s wrong. At least to me, it is.

My opinion?

(Here comes the rant.)

In my experience, people who think all marketing is unethical or that all business people are dishonest are usually people who feel everything should be free.

Now, I’m not trying to start a political debate regarding capitalism versus socialism. I’m talking about people who have a sense of entitlement, especially those who whine and complain all the time.

People who bitch about businesses exploiting them are just as much trying to exploit businesses themselves by always trying to find, or haggling for, a good deal.

This is called “projection.” (I’ll come back to this in a moment.)

People who feel that they deserve great products and great customer service (which is a given and expected) but for the least amount of money possible.

People who feel they should get the most by working (or paying) the least.

These people who have a sense of entitlement blame others all the time, never take responsibility for their own circumstances, victimize themselves constantly, and whine all the time about how unfair the world is.

To them, not only are all business people dishonest and all marketing unethical, but also everything costs too much. They automatically assume that all marketing is a scam, and that they, in turn, will do their darnedest best to scam businesses, too.

They will suck them for freebies. They will never buy anything. They let coupons and deals dictate their lives. And they will be the first ones to pounce on any mistake a marketer makes — such as a grocery store accidentally pricing an item too low.

They’re the ones who think, “if it’s that good, then it should be cheap… Or free.”

They try to get the most by paying the least (now tell me, how different is that from the business owner who tries to make the most profit with the least expense?).

People who make such assertions should look in the mirror first.

In a recent blog post, one of my favorite authors and speakers, Larry Winget, talked about banning one of his blog commentators who was toxic, always negative, and went out of his way to badmouth Larry.

This person was so incensed, even to the point of going on Amazon and giving every book Larry wrote a bad review.

In that blog post, I commented that, if only the bad commentators would put as much work into, well, working on their own success, I betcha they wouldn’t find the time to bitch.

They would be too busy being successful.

Larry once noted that the hardest thing one can and will ever do in their lives is to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “It’s all my fault.”

These “bad commentators” aren’t looking in the mirror as they should be. And I would venture to say that people who don’t look in the mirror expect everything else to be one. (That’s what I mean by “projection.”)

Remember the old Einstein saying that, when your only tool is hammer you see every problem as a nail? It’s the same idea, here.

That is, when these faultfinders blame others, they are projecting their own self-loathing onto others.

Similarly, what I found is that those who whine and complain are usually the ones who aren’t happy with themselves, and feel the need to blame others.

And they put a lot of work, effort, and even money into dragging other people down, or into whining about how bad things are (e.g., how broke and tired they are, or how scammed they’ve been).

Why don’t they spend all that energy and money on getting ahead instead? Or dare I say it, into starting a business, and — here’s a novel concept — marketing and selling themselves?

Go figure.

In Larry’s program, “Success is Your Own (Damn) Fault,” he quotes the Sanborn Maxim, which goes: “The customers who are willing to pay you the least will always demand the most.”

While that might be true in terms of money, I think it’s the same with everything else.

For example, “The people who are willing to pay you the least respect will always demand the most.” (And I believe they’re the ones who deserve it the least, too.)

I agree that there are some business people out there who are dishonest. Thinking that all of them are honest is just as skewed as the converse.

But that kind of thinking can be a lot more hurtful and damaging than the simple comment “there is no such thing as an honest business person.” Damaging to oneself as it is to others.

In conclusion, let me quote something Michelle MacPherson said, a marketer I admire a lot, which sums it all up beautifully:

“If you don’t take responsibility for your own actions in life and instead hand that responsibility (in the form of blame) to someone else, you have no power (you’ve effectively given that power to someone else, since it’s ‘not your fault’). If you have no power, you’ll never have success — you’ll just spend your days blaming others for your lack thereof.”

Thanks for listening.

P.S.: What do you think of the new blog design? Just a larger font, more whitespace, and less “busyness.” It’s based on your feedback, which I appreciate immensely.


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5 thoughts on “Are All Business People Dishonest?

  1. Michel,

    I respect you as an ethical and successful businessman and I would like to buy from you and maybe even work with you in future. So I do not want to irritate you.

    Also the purpose of your post was to help people get the right mindset for being successful. Fine.

    But I have read some books on philosophy and spirituality and here are my views.

    Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. A rich man or a person wanting to be rich will always have his vested interests that he needs to put first. If he does not do that he will cease to remain rich. So that will prevent him from telling the complete truth.

    Secondly all salespersons will necessarily present only that side of the picture that helps them get the sale. There is no point expecting philosophical detachment from tham.

    Next – it is a time honored principle in commerce. Let the buyer beware. The buyer is expected to safeguard his own interest by finding out if the product is really good for him. The seller is under no obligation to consider the buyer’s interests beyond a point. The seller’s objective is to make the sale. This has allowed for a certain amount of dishonesty on part of the seller for as long as commerce came into existence.

    Lastly a lot of people think like lawyers (in India I have had the misfortune of meeting many such oeioke and they are the pillars of society here). It is possible to tell the truth with the intention to deceive and succeed in deceiving. I am sute lawyers and politicians are experts at following the letter of the law while acting against the spirit of it. It is not surprising that a lot of business people do the same.

    Bertrand Russell – a great English philosopher said, “All men are scoundrels – at any rate almost all. Those who are not have been exceptionally lucky either by way for their birth and upbringing, or by way of the environment they found themselves in, or both.”

    What is important is that the seller (or businessman) is ethical, goodnatured, cares for the customer to some extent at least and is not out to cheat them or rip them off.

    Sorry for sounding off like this and going completely off topic on what is after all a site about making money. But I thought I’d just post me comments for the heck of it.



  2. 1234takeresponsibility

    The thing you guys don’t get because you are so obsessed with yourselves is that these “whiners” want you to take some responsibility for others. To think of others first. When you market to someone you can influence them to make bad choices. This is dangerous and should be done by first asking yourself “Is this the right thing for this person?”. I know you will hide behind the personal responsibility cop out. You guys always do. Nothing easier than washing your hands of any responsibility in the world for anything else but yourself.

  3. I agree, when you use words with emotional impact to influence someone’s decision, rather than laying out the facts and allowing them to come to their own conclusion, then you are being dishonest. We justify this by calling marketing or business and we objectify this situation by calling these “bad communicators” or saying that they are in the game as well. You are playing a confidence game and swaying people who in all honesty, believe you to be a trust worthy individual. The truth is, you are doing this for your own gains and not for the sake of the individual. But your excuse is everyone is doing it. You even suggested we read the book on it! It is true everyone is doing this is some form or another. We don’t seem to realize the damage we have done until it is to late. But yet, it keeps happening: “real estate crisis”, “education crisis”, “gas crisis”, “?-crisis”. There is some truth to what you are saying, this is ingrained in our culture, but I think you need to look in the mirror yourself and ask where your marketing moral compass is pointed.

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