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The Worst Thing About Best Practices

by Mike McLaughlin  |  
June 21, 2005

A colleague asked me to preview a sales presentation for a customer, and at first glance it looked like a winner. The presentation was short, and it laid out the problem in clear, crisp language. Plus, the product and the implementation team were a great match for the project. I thought, "how refreshing—a jargon-free, informative proposal."

As I reached the section of the presentation describing how the team planned to complete the work, I groaned inwardly: the primary selling point was to rely on the use of "best practices"—supposedly to ensure an innovative solution and a smooth implementation.

"You don't really mean this, do you?"

"Look, the customer says it right here in the request for proposal," my colleague said. "They asked us to bring best practices to the project. We won't win without them."

I resisted the urge to scream.

Few "tools" are more widely abused these days than so-called best practices. It's no wonder that most banks, supermarkets, airlines, retailers and professional services firms look astonishingly similar—they've been busy copying each other's best practices for decades.

What's most alarming is how ingrained their use has become in the language of marketers, salespeople and customers. Best practices have joined the long list of meaningless phrases like scalable strategies, seamless integration and transformational initiatives.

It's a rare sales team that doesn't roll out the best practices—or that closely related cousin, performance benchmarks. Best practices have become a corporate trump card because they supposedly show the best way to do whatever needs to be done.

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Michael W. McLaughlin is the coauthor, with Jay Conrad Levinson, of Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants. Michael is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the editor of Management Consulting News ( and the Guerrilla Consultant. For more information, visit

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