Updated: Oct 16, 2020
If you were asked the following question, what would be your response? 'What do you do’ or what area of business are you in or something along those lines.
Based on my 40+ years of business experience across organisations of all sizes most people will say something bland such as Solicitor, Accountant, Consultant etc. which fairly much closes off the conversation unless the person asking is in need of that particular service at that particular time. Without realising it we have been given an opportunity to talk about our skills and knowledge and if we can say something that engages the person asking, then we have created a business opportunity.
Now I am not talking about jumping into sales mode with your elevator pitch but saying something that may invite them to ask another question. Let me give you an example, you are an Accountant whose clients are sole traders or SME business owners. ‘What do you do’? is the question and the answer could be something along the lines of ‘did you know, 000’s of people fail to use their full tax credits every year, I make sure our clients are not one of them'. If you are an Accountant particularly at this time of the year when income tax is due there is a fair chance you will catch peoples attention. It may not be an issue for them but they could be in a conversation with a friend who identifies that they are having problems with their returns. By saying just the word Accountant, many may perceive that you only work with large corporate clients, using a response as suggested or something more defined narrows down the focus and lets people know that they may be candidates for your services.
Let me give you another example, when asked what you do, you say you are an IT Consultant. Now that is a very broad description that I have heard time and time again and my experience at networking events is that nobody asks another question after hearing that answer. However, if you were to say that we increase profits in organisations that use time sheets, or, we streamline project management systems for Solicitors now you are being more specific. Again it may not be for them but they may know someone who could benefit from your offering.
For those of you in the corporate world the challenge is even greater because you may have people disconnected with the frontline coming up with ideas that fail to resonate with the employees. (see article 1 Organisation, 2 Cultures, 3 Solutions - https://www.alecwdrew.com/post/1-organisation-2-cultures-3-solutions )
for example, I was working for a large organisation helping their people Communicate with Confidence (https://www.alecwdrew.com/communicate-with-confidence) and very quickly discovered that part of the script from the marketing department was a barrier. When asked, those on the course said that they were uncomfortable being asked to say something that was not strictly correct. We resolved the issue by rewriting the script which was agreed by marketing as more reflective of what they were trying to communicate in the first place. What key messages are your employees asked to deliver without being consulted.
Sticking with large corporates I asked the Head of Learning and Development in a large financial organisation what do you do just out of curiosity. She stuttered her way through a couple of sentences and apologised for not have a more polished answer. She also informed me that it was unlikely that any two people in the organisation would give a credible and consistent answer. My purpose was not to embarrass her as I explained but to to see if my theory about large organisations is generally correct. I have found over my 40+ years that there is seldom a consistent answer that helps employees understand exactly what they do and how that fits into the culture of the organisation they serve. Furthermore, the lack of a simple but engaging answer misses the opportunity for business development.
Finally, may I suggest a small exercise for owners or directors of any size organisation. Ask one of your employees, ‘what do we do’? listen to what is said and compare it to the answers you get when asking others the same question. If there is a lack of consistency perhaps we should be having a conversation in confidence and without obligation. firstname.lastname@example.org