Leading Your Business With Integrity

Across the country this fall, Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards are being presented to businesses in local communities, regardless of their size, because they "exemplify the BBB's mission and principles, which include honesty, commitment and accountability." Regional BBBs showcase companies that go above and beyond, focusing on those that conduct business ethically instead of praising a company based on its profitability or popularity. Annually, the Better Business Bureau presents the International Torch Awards in Washington, DC, which are designed to celebrate "the long-term value of trustworthy and honorable business practices." In 2009, Target Corporation and American Honda Motor Company were two of the recipients.

Dictionary.com defines integrity as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." The word integrity today is synonymous with transparent marketing. At the heart of your business practices should be your core values. What is important to you? What matters most when you conduct your business daily? Do you care how your customers intertwine with your business? What is their role in your success? How do you want your employees to present themselves as they represent your brand? How do you represent your brand? If you were considered for the International Torch Award for Marketplace Excellence, you would have to demonstrate your "superior commitment to exceptional standards that benefit its customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and surrounding communities."

Could you do it?

One of the first steps to leading your business with integrity is trust. Even the Better Business Bureau's slogan is "Start With Trust." If trust is not at the core of your best practices, how are you going to move your business forward? If you are honest and accountable for your business actions, you will become a sought-after leader with whom people want to do business. Trust lays the foundation for great relationships. Transparent marketing is one way to build trust and integrity.

Marketers are often accused of deception, using tricks of the trade to imply one connotation, but mean something else. They use advertising, a play on words and deceptive tactics that lure customers to the door, only to then disappoint. Today's customers are much savvier. They have a no-tolerance policy when it comes to false advertising and marketing. They want to know exactly what they will receive and demand that marketers simply get to the point quickly; otherwise, they'll move on to a company that will. This not only applies to your customers, but to end-users as well.

As transparent marketing evolves, we're seeing less of the traditional ways of marketing a product like print or TV ads, and more viral marketing online with social networking, blogs, and real-time reviews. Customers are marketing your products and services for you. Word of mouth has become king. Now more than ever, your integrity is at stake. How are you going to preserve it?

– Don't lie. It may sound ridiculous to even state this, but your mother taught you not to lie. So did your teachers. There are different forms of lying, and none of them belong in your business model. Be open and honest with your customers. If there is a problem that you can't solve, say so. Then go find the answer and bring it back to your customer. If you make a mistake on an order, admit it. Then fix it. Learn from the mistake, move on, and don't repeat it.

– Tell the whole story. Telling half of the solution or story is the same as telling a half truth-or half lie. If the big picture isn't completely rosy, paint it anyway. Your customers will appreciate you explaining the benefits and potential pitfalls of carrying a new product or working with a different solution.

– Determine why you might be considering avoiding the truth, and then solve the problem before you present it to your customer. By getting to the root as to why you might even consider compromising your integrity, you allow yourself time for inward reflection as to what your shortcomings are as a VAR. Once you've determined those weaknesses, you must decide whether or not they are worth fixing, or if simply being honest about these weaknesses might actually benefit you in the long run.

Ultimately, you want to do business with customers, vendors, and yes, even your employees, who encompass and believe in the same core values ​​that you do. Share your story with them. Show them that you intend to do business with them based on integrity and transparency. Don't just offer a keyhole view of your world-keep your door wide open. You may feel vulnerable, and the whole concept of transparent marketing may seem a bit scary. but your integrity is at stake. It's time to take the risk. The rewards are well worth it.

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