I went to a cold networking event this morning. I call it “cold” because it was my first event with this particular organization and I didn’t know anyone there. This is unlike my weekly BNI meeting, which is “warm” because I’ve been a member for almost two years and know everyone in the room.
Naturally, the first question you hear at a networking function when you meet someone for the first time is, “What do you do?”
Some people nail it. They capture their value proposition clearly and concisely. They inspire the other person to ask more questions. They start to build an actual relationship.
Others don’t nail it. They either give an abrupt, non-specific answer or ramble incoherently. In other words, they do everything but answer the most basic question someone can ask of a businessperson.
Meanwhile, the person who asked the question stopped paying attention. They’re already looking for a way to escape.
Guess which people get remembered and become referral partners.
It seems like a simple question, but too many professionals butcher the answer. This is an important part of your marketing and branding strategy that requires preparation.
There are certain things that every professional should keep in mind when crafting their response.
Don’t Stop at the Label
When someone is asked what they do, they often provide a label based on their profession or industry.
Financial advisor. Heating and air conditioning. Physical therapist. Electrician. Content writer.
Well, that’s the label. But that doesn’t answer the question you were asked.
What do you do?
When you stop at the label, you’re telling the world that you’re no different from every other person in the world who shares that label.
There’s nothing wrong with using the label. It’s a natural, initial response when someone asks what you do. But if you want to be remembered, you have to say something to make that label relevant and meaningful to the person who asked the question.
How to Make Yourself Relevant and Meaningful
When you’re asked what you do, try to answer one or more of the following questions in one simple sentence.
What problem do you solve or need do you fill?
People don’t want your product or service. They want to know how your product or service can make their lives better.
What outcome do you deliver?
Help people understand how they’ll feel when they experience the results of using your product or service.
What is it about what you do that’s valuable or unique?
Again, you have to get people to think beyond a label so they can start to understand the difference between you and your competitors.
The answers to these questions take the conversation to a deeper level. Wheels start turning. The person you’re talking to may already be thinking about how they can use your product or service or refer you to someone else who can use it. At the very least, they think you’re a person worth getting to know.
Of course, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Use relatable, everyday language that people use in actual conversations. This is a big one.
The only thing more annoying than an endless ramble is a lame attempt at sounding smart by using big words and jargon.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Explaining what you do seems so simple, which is why it’s often taken for granted – and the explanation is so often flubbed.
Answering any or all of the questions above requires careful thought and preparation. You need to get beyond stale marketing clichés and think about what really matters to people who want and need your product or service.
Here are a few examples from people who were obviously prepared at my last BNI meeting. They started their 30-second presentations by nailing the answer to the question, “What do you do?”
“I take pictures of people being themselves, not looking at me and smiling.”
Kim from Kim Schmidt Photography could have waxed poetic about how she captures precious moments, yada yada yada.
Instead, she explained her philosophy as a child and family portrait photographer and conveyed the value of her service in the simplest of terms.
The photography studio at the mall is fine for a lot of people, but that’s not Kim’s approach. People hire Kim because they want to see authentic emotions in their photos, not “say cheese.”
And she communicated that as clearly as she possibly could in one simple sentence.
“I help companies that are worried about their old IT assets ending up overseas or in a landfill.”
Ed Beitel of Securis could have launched into a laundry list of services related to hard drive shredding, e-waste recycling and data destruction.
Instead, he spoke directly to a pain point of companies in heavily regulated industries that have to be extremely careful about how they dispose of old IT assets.
Think about it for a second. Someone in the finance, healthcare or pharmaceutical sector probably won’t say, “Gee, I wish I could find a company that can securely and responsibly dispose of my assets.”
But they probably talk about things related to their job that keep them up at night. And now people know what to listen for during those conversations so they can send referrals to Ed.
“I can help you make sure your medical expenses don’t drain your wallet.”
Raise your hand if you have no idea what Aflac does, even after seeing that damn duck quack a million times.
Both of my hands are up. Well, they were until I met Victor.
Victor Crain, an independent agent representing Aflac, could have tried to compensate for years of ineffective corporate marketing by explaining how Aflac’s supplemental insurance fills gaps in traditional health insurance plans.
Instead, he tapped into a very real fear that so many of us share. If you become seriously ill or are injured in an accident, how will you pay your bills?
Victor also hinted at the outcome – having money left in your wallet after you get through such an ordeal.
I think it’s safe to say Victor’s explanation of what he does would inspire follow-up questions from quite a few people.
So… what do you do?
It sounds like a simple question. But if you don’t put enough thought into your answer, that’s where the conversation will end.
Build relationships and earn referrals by speaking the language of your target audience and keeping your answer clear, concise and relevant.
I’m a content writer, marketing consultant, lifelong New Jersey resident, husband to a beautiful wife and father to two beautiful girls. I love playing with my daughters, a day at the boardwalk, sarcasm, craft beer and grilling. I despise beating around the bush, synchronized swimming, Toddlers & Tiaras and onions. Most people don’t know I used to be a radio DJ and once wrote, produced and voiced a commercial for the TV show 24. Two places I want to visit before I die are Ireland and Norway, the homes of my ancestors. One place I never want to revisit is my first apartment because my creepy landlord, Monty, freaked me out. That just about covers it.