The Worst Business Advice

5 minute read

The Worst Business Advice

I thought about the worst business advice I ever heard when Matt Heinz asked me to participate in his ‘How I Work’ series. He asks a few questions about your working environment, your favorite life-hack or timesaving tip, and so on. One of the questions on the list was: ‘What is the best piece of business advice you ever received?’ and I answered that along with his other questions.

It brought to mind for me the worst business advice I ever heard:

Just Do Your Best.

Those four words, if adopted by a business leader, describe a one-step guide to mediocrity; a place to go if you don’t know where you are going. In business, it is the recipe for the living dead.

There is a world of difference between “Just Do Your Best” and “Be The Best”.

If you’re doing your best, those who love you care.

If you are the best, the market cares.

When you’re competing in the neighborhood quiz, playing on the soccer team in college, or going head-to-head with your brother’s girlfriend in the karaoke competition, doing your best is just what you do. It can be great fun if you’re the neighborhood’s most knowledgeable quizzist (just made up that word). Your quiz teammates care. You definitely get extra bragging rights for knowing that Alaska is the least densely populated state in the (people often say Wyoming, but that’s #2.)

Your father might stand a little straighter, puff out his chest, and be proud when you nearly score the winning goal in soccer final, even if it hits the post and goes wide. You tried your best.

Your best friend will smile if your rendition of My Heart Will Go On evokes that Leonardo DiCaprio / Kate Winslet moment on the prow of the Titanic, complete with wind-machine and sound effects, even though when you tried your best to hit that high note, you sounded more like Kermit than Celine.

If you’re doing your best, those who love you care.

If you are the best, the market cares.

Ask Eddie Van Halen, or Richard Branson, or JK Rowling, or Buddy Rich (no you can’t; he is dead), or Marc Benioff, or Larry Page, or Bono, or Peyton Manning, or William Shakespeare (no, he is dead too), or Jeff Bezos, or Lionel Messi, or Lewis Hamilton, or Beethoven (he is gone too, so no), or Marc Zuckerberg, or Usain Bolt, or Beyonce, or Elon Musk.

People take their calls.

If you are (among) the best in the world at what you do, your market cares.

The secret to being the best lies in the answer to these three questions:
  1. What do you do really well?
  2. How small can you make your market?
  3. How hard will you work?

I address the first two questions in my recent book Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World. Only you can answer the third question. That’s a personal choice.

What do you do really well?

I start with what I call the Customer Value Question:

What business problems does your (ideal) customer have that you solve better than anyone else?

In order to answer that question, you first need to understand the profile of the customer your business and yours products have been designed to best serve. Then you can figure out your unique sustainable advantage.

How small can you make our market?

We all have limited resources, so it makes sense to apply those resources where we can get the best return.

  • First limit the market you target those companies for whom you can provide unique value.
  • Reduce it further to those you can easily access and support.
  • Then refine that my determining the likelihood of the prospective customer being successful with your product, and only target those who are likely to be successful (if you want a long term business)

Continue defining and refining your Ideal Customer Profile, and reducing the size of your market, until you have identified a market in which you can be the best. You may need to make a few changes to your offering or how you go to market to make this viable – but by first making the market as small as you can (and remain viable) you learn how to be the best in a market you understand very well. Then you can grow from there.

Think about the last time you lost a sale you thought you were going to win. You might do your best to win a new customer only to lose to the competitor at the last stage. Being second best sucks.

“Just Do Your Best” only works in business if you happen to “Be The Best”, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Being the best is really a decision of where you focus and how you execute.

I describe a framework for how you might go about this in my recent book Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.

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