04/05/2013 12:08 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2013

Being Honest Means Business

I just read a conversation with a man who owns a small pool-installation company, and how he saved his business by doing what so many businesses are reluctant to do: be open and honest about what he does.

Funny, that. As Marcus Sheridan said, in a conversation with Mark Cohen of the New York Times, "I just started thinking more about the way I use the Internet. Most of the time when I type in a search, I'm looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don't get a lot of great search results because most businesses don't want to give answers; they want to talk about their company."

You've all seen such sites: "The company is committed to blah, blah, blah, with a reliance on its valued employees, blah, blah, and its dedication to blah, blah and blah." No one reads this crap anymore because it's all such hogwash.

But Sheridan decided to address potential customers' questions head-on and, get this: be honest.
Of course, he took this tack after seeing his business almost implode after a particularly hard stretch when several customers cancelled jobs that were worth about $50,000 each. His company, River Pools and Spas, had been spending almost a quarter million dollars a year on advertising -- radio television, internet -- but he was still getting stiffed by jittery customers in an uncertain economy.

When he decided to address head-on things like costs, drawbacks, warranties, upsides, etc., in informational content and videos -- content marketing -- he turned around his business. He even recommended competitors in his area, which strengthened his own credibility.

What people want nowadays is honesty. They want to be told the truth. They want to be able to make their own decisions. They want you to speak to them as intelligent customers rather than as patsies for your overblown marketing rubbish.

Marcus Sheridan learned this. He understood the tenor of the times. We're in an age now when people care about what's relevant, not what's pie-in-the-sky. They want community over harebrained individualism. As I wrote in my book, "Pendulum," which I co-wrote with Roy H. Williams, society swings back and forth form an individualistic "me" cycle into a more civic-minded "we" one: "We" is looking for problems to fix. Consequently, the focus of every "We" is to identify problems and catalogue them.

Which is what Marcus Sheridan did -- as well as address them in an honest way for his customers, who responded by bringing his company business.

We all want that refreshing honesty that we still seem to get so little of from business. When a business is open with its customers, it always seems like a ray of sunlight on the cloudy day of commerce.

But that's what we want: brightness. We usually get obscurity.

Is yours a company that's open, or one that sticks to an old script?