How to answer "What does your company do?"

Here's an easy question:

"What does your company do?"

It should be an easy one to answer, right?

But is it? If your job is customer facing, and you're expected to meet and win new customers, you need to have a great answer.

Will Rogers (and others) get credit for the observation that 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression.' Without regard to who said it first, making your first impression a great one is clearly important.

But how? What does a great answer look and sound like?

It should be clear, crisp, concise, well conceived and well constructed. And short, less than 15 seconds long. It's an answer that you know, and you can provide with certainty and authentic conviction. One which provides the person asking with an answer that is highly engaging, that incites them to want to know more, and compels them to deliberately ask more questions.

So...how does your answer stack up?

Is the 'what' question your favorite question to have someone ask of you? Or is it a question that causes you to hesitate, be indecisive, stammer and stumble through?

 

Whether the person asking is:

* a prospect with whom you're meeting in their office for the first time,

* someone attending a networking meeting or trade-show,

* a friend-of-a-friend over beverages at a casual social event,

* the CEO who drops in unannounced as you're preparing to present to a 12 person executive committee in a mahogany-clad corporate board room in which you've been allocated 15 minutes to get their approval on your $1.2M proposal...

your answer needs to be good. Very good. And you need to deliver it well, with clarity and conviction.

So...is your answer a great answer, and do you deliver it well?

If you're like many people, you likely give an answer that is good, but not THAT good.

The quality of the answer is important for every person in your company. Everyone. Everyone needs to have and know and deliver a great answer. Especially sales professionals.

John Holland is Chief Content Officer for sales training company CustomerCentric Selling (customercentric.com). John asks, “Were I to ask five of your salespeople, ‘What does your company do?,’ how many different responses would I get?” (The standard answer is 5 or more).

 

Here's more from John:

"...buyers ask (this question) early in sales calls sometimes to transition from rapport to the business at hand. (The answer) should be the equivalent of hitting a softball off a batting tee. Concise answers help establish a seller's competence."

"How often, however, do sellers provide vague, rambling responses? When this happens, buyers may sneak peeks at their watches. Many lower their expectations for the outcomes of calls. In social settings, long answers make the person that asked the question scan the room to see whom else they may want to talk to, and think about how to cut the ongoing conversation short."

 

The reasons for poor and inconsistent answers vary from company to company. It could be due to underdeveloped onboarding or training processes. It could be ineffective marketing. It could be a lack of alignment between sales and marketing, or a culture that doesn't reward and recognize the value of consistency. It could be that there is a selection quality issue.

Whatever the cause, poor and/or inconsistent answers are harmful to your company.

Inconsistency dilutes the value of the brand, and the value of the organization. The lack of consistency translates into variations in sales team effectiveness. Lower consistency translates to a cascade of undesirable effects: a higher risk of underperforming sales people, which means a lower chance of winning coveted clients, and a lower chance of meeting sales plans and revenue goals...and lower profitability. All bad stuff. 

Here's John again:

"Too often, when consistent, compelling positioning is not provided by the company, salespeople are left to their own devices to develop positioning and messaging on their own. In many sales opportunities, this is the beginning of the end of proper expectations and satisfied customers."

 

Rather than ascribing blame, let's focus on how to fix things.

If you don't have a great answer, start by checking with several (perhaps 5...) experienced and successful colleagues. Do they give a consistent answer? More importantly, is their answer a great answer, that is, one that you find and feel is an interesting answer that would cause a person who asks the question to genuinely want to know more?

So how exactly do you build a better answer?

It's a topic of such importance that it deserves doing whatever is necessary to build a great, defensible answer founded in fact, and tested for effectiveness. Instead of waiting for that to happen, here are several simple tips from John to get started, with few remarks of my own:

1. Start with the words: "We help.."

John answers the 'what does your company (Customer Centric Selling) do' question with: "We help clients improve top line results by defining and implementing standard sales processes." 

Simple. Clear. Provokes the asker to ask more.

 

2. Focus on the outcomes that clients want to achieve

This is a subtle, yet critical point. 

In nearly all cases, people don't buy products. They buy solutions to problems. Are there exceptions? Yes, but few.

Moreover, as you develop your better answer, focus on what your product (or service) does for your prospect, not what it is. As stated above, buyers buy the value of what your product helps them achieve. The more clearly and more effectively you understand the value that your product creates for the buyer, the easier it will be for you to create, develop, and refine your answer.

3. Try to use 20 words or less

If it takes more than 15-20 seconds to answer, you may be losing the attention of your buyer. This is especially true if you rely upon cold- or cool-calling to set appointments. Your answer must be brief and concise, yet interesting. That's about 50 words at a pace of 190 words per minute. If you've done that well, the prospect will naturally ask more questions.

4. Avoid buzz words and jargon

This applies to everyone, but particularly so for those who sell technical products such as IT, engineered products, clinical, or scientific solutions. It's easy to assume that the buyer knows what you know, yet it is dangerous to do so. You run the risk of alienating your buyer or making them feel foolish should they not know every acronym, buzz word or industry slang term that you know. Don't do it.

Structure your answer be simple and clear enough so that it allows and invites your buyer to ask you more. If they use a term first, then you can use the industry shorthand terms; if they start, you can follow. Do your best to avoid buzz words, and risk turning them off in the first 15 seconds.

 

Developing a great answer is well worth the sweat and struggle required to make it great.

Investing the time to develop and own a great answer helps you to be comfortable, confident, and clear, no matter how knowledgeable, large, unfamiliar, or intimidating your audience. Thorough preparation enables you to focus on your audience, rather than yourself. This allows both you, and your audience to listen more intently to each other, which is a key requirement of rapport. 

Learning to answer 'The Question' with confidence, poise and clarity sets the stage for better meetings and conversations.

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Richard Janezic leads Ascenceo, and brings 30 years of award-winning business experience to help founders, executives, investors, and boards of growth stage companies enjoy greater results, financial strength, market share and valuation. Rick also comments on Medium,  Google,  Twitter, and Instagram.