Asking "what do you do?"

How do you answer the question …

“What do you do?”

This is a question that many people struggle with and getting the answer right is ever more pressing as networking events are increasingly popular aspects of business these days. It is also a question that is being asked in the on-line world of LinkedIn.

Add to this the situation where you might be commenting in a discussion thread on LinkedIn where you want to communicate what you do as well as contributing information to the discussion topic. This requires a more subtle approach where you are effectively answering a question that has not actually been asked but may be implied in the original discussion topic.

In answering decide what effect you want to create – just answering, commencing a conversation, or perhaps the very early stages of starting to prospect for business.

Here we provide a few tips on the way you might respond to the question “What do you do?

Context. It is very important that you consider the context in which the question is being asked. For example, if you are at a conference where the topic is data security on mobile devices, it is reasonable to assume all attendees will have an interest in some aspect of that topic. This should be used as a guide and your answer should focus on what you do in the context of the conference topic/focus. Be aware of course, that if you are a supplier in that field, you maybe conversing with a competitor.

You also need to be aware of other contextual factors that might help you provide a meaningful answer. For example; it may leave the other person cold if they come from a banking background and you tell them all about what you do in the shipping industry.

Clues. Under context I provided a couple of examples of information that might condition your answer; conference subject matter and the industry of the person asking the question. These and other clues can help you make the answer meaningful and personalised. Some other examples are; location, company size, job role of the person asking.

If you know the location of the person asking you can include in your answer a word of two that positions you as having a footprint in the area or understanding specific regional issues and challenges. Being aware of the size of the enquirer’s company means you can further personalise your answer demonstrating that you understand the challenges of; start-ups, SMEs, global or public companies. In crafting your answer, knowing the other party’s job role is also very useful; a CIO and FD are each likely to have their own perspective (field of interest) which your response should address.

Tips to build your own answers:

  • Decide on the tone you want to adopt; formal/informal, serious/humorous, provocative, audacious, etc.
  • In an attempt to be clear, people try to provide so much information that their message is lost because it becomes too complicated. Keep it short, sharp and sweet.
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, or big words. You may think it sounds smart but in many cases it will be a turn-off. Beware of acronyms in particular; their interpretation may not be the one you intended. Simple is better and less is more are good guides to keep in the back of your mind.
  • Avoid drivel such as “I have a passion to understand your pain points so before answering may I ask you …?. Much too Uriah Heep-ish!
  • Avoid words such as unique or claims such as “we are the leading …”unless you can prove it. I once met someone at an event who turned the standard company message into a point of humour which proved to be a great conversation starter. I asked what he did and he replied “We are one of the top 5 … this of course means we are fifth!
  • Avoid making unsubstantiated claims such as we save time and money. Unless you absolutely know you can do this in every case it is a dangerous claim to make when you do not know their circumstances; even if it is true it is unlikely to sound very credible to someone you have just met.
  • When thinking about your answer it is good to have it in mind as a newspaper headline or a tweet – you have limited space to get your point over. What you say in answering the question is a very high level summary of what you would say if you have 30 minutes to answer the question but typically; if you can’t answer in 30 seconds you probably can’t answer in 30 minutes either. Your answer should work at every level.
  • James Potter (The Linked In Man) recommends that you effectively answer this question in what you say about yourself in the headline of your professional profile on LinkedIn. This makes the information available with any contributions you make on LinkedIn.
  • Remember they have asked you what you do. They may be asking just to be polite or they may really want to know so whatever you choose to say it must attempt to address the what. Even if it was just a polite conversation piece you may have the opportunity to turn it into something valuable for both parties so make sure your answer piques the interest that may be lying dormant. To achieve this, your answer could tell them ‘what you do for them’ in terms of the results you have achieved for others in a similar circumstance.
  • You need to be concise and try to structure your answer so that it is the beginning not the end of the conversation. If you are able to answer what but preface with some how that will help to create the impression that you are someone they should have a longer conversation with. For example; “We do … and, as a result, our SME customers typically gain … improvement in customer satisfaction”. By focusing on the potential outcomes gained it is less likely to sound like a generic answer. You have managed to tell them what you do, the type of customers you work for and the benefits they have gained from working with you.
  • The key is to be brief, show your value, and open up a conversation. One way to open up the conversation is to follow the answer you have provided, such as that in the previous point, with an open question such as “How do you measure customer satisfaction in your business?

Here are a few examples of ways you might consider structuring your answer:

  • “I work with [your ideal/typical customers] who want more [result types] with less [resource types]”
  • “I [action verb] for [target market] so they can [benefit].”
  • “I [action] for [your ideal/typical customers] who [cause/impact] to [effect/result]”
  • “You are familiar with [the problem], well I [what you do] so that [the value you provide].”

All of these will be more useful to both parties when built around the concept of Feature : Benefit : Incentive and followed by an open question, for example;

Customers that use our [what you do/feature] typically gain from improvements in [what they gain/benefit] leading to [what that gain helps them to achieve/incentive]. How do you handle/manage/support [what you do/feature]?

First published on LinkedIn Pulse

Is your pre-sales support fully integrated with the selling and marketing functions?

Ideas on getting them hitched to the same carriage, pulling in the same direction.

Pre-sales support is a wide term but generally it is applied to activities directly connected with helping a sales person to scope a solution, arrive at a selling price and generally to construct the bid once an opportunity has been recognised and the prospect has agreed to receive a proposal from you. The disciplines involved in pre-sales support could include; marketing, HR, technical, R&D, quality, methods & processes and delivery.  Many companies have people dedicated to bid support and these staff will plan, manage and execute the bidding process bringing in skills from other departments as and when required.


silly billies?

The sales people should view pre-sales support as their friends and allies however, I was talking to a sales person recently who said “having sold it to the prospect I then have to sell twice as hard to get the company to accept what the prospect wants to buy”.  It is not unusual for sales people see pre-sales support as the “abdominal no-men”; nothing more than a delay which results in a large increase in the bid price which means they may not get the deal and their associated commission.

The solution to these potential issues is joyously simple:

  • Ensure the sales people understand and appreciate the role of pre-sales support. Sales must understand that if a bid review leads to an increase in estimates and therefore selling price this to the benefit of both your company and the customer’s business – they will be getting the complete solution they are expecting and you will be making a profit!
  • Your value proposition must include a full description of your sales engagement process and the sales people must present this in terms of the benefits the prospect will gain by dealing with your company. Sales people often shy away from this fearing it will turn the prospect away when really the opposite is true provided the presentation is done in a structured and business like manner.
  • Your pre-sales people need to understand your world of selling, to dispel the stereotypical views about sales people and better understand their role as the most important part of the go-to-market process.
  • Sales and pre-sales people must understand and be trained in the complete selling process. Pre-sales need to understand what the sales person has to do to get to a point of bidding and sales need to understand what pre-sales can do to strengthen the bid and increase the chances of winning a strategic or profitable piece of business for the company.
  • If your selling model utilises delivery staff as sales people they will inevitably be involved in pre-sales work and the subsequent delivery. It is clear that this mix of roles and responsibilities has the potential to create a sense of inner conflict, depending on the decisions and compromises involved in formulating the proposed solution. However, that increased understanding may equally lead to a more successful project. It is important that proper management oversight is applied to balance the calls on their time and avoid inner conflicts impacting on the wider aim of winning good profitable business that delights your customer.
one team, shared goal

one team, shared goal

In summary, make sales and pre-sales one team with a common set of motivations.  They all need to be hitched to the same carriage pulling in the same direction.  Always involve pre-sales in sales meetings and ensure the agenda includes topics relevant to both parts of the wider selling team.

Integral Mobile Data

The Outcome:

A well-focused and carefully positioned market offering and go-to-market model.

Working with Performative helped management and the board clarify its strategy for the next stage of the company’s development. It also greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.”    Philip Neame, MD, IMD

The Challenge

Integral Mobile Data (IMD, now owned by Hytec) spent its first four years developing a mobile computing solution that enabled companies to improve customer service and reduce costs by providing mobile staff tailored task-orientated computing power in the field.

IMD engaged Performative to help move the focus of the business onto sales and marketing to grow revenue and to move into a profitable position.

The Performative Solution

Performative initially led the management team through a Market Focus Review (MFR) designed to review and consider:

  • The objectives of the next stage of the business, to provide context for the activities.
  • The business assets – products, knowledge, processes – and consider exploitation possibilities.
  • Target market and customers.
  • The portfolio and its positioning.

Subsequent work focused on addressing the points raised in the MFR and included:

  • An extensive win-loss review exercise, which explored the reasons for IMD’s past success or failure at closing contracts.  This exercise helped in understanding customer perceptions, which fed into defining the true value and positioning of the company and its products.
  • Full definition of the product portfolio and its market proposition.
  • A target market strategy including research into potential target companies.
  • A promotion strategy to rapidly create visibility to a large market.
  • A multi-level sales model to ensure that IMD targeted senior customers and did not sell purely at the technical level.