There is an old Egyptian proverb: "Your answers tell me how clever you are. Your questions tell me how wise you are."
Recently an old industry friend emailed me and said she was getting back into the business and was wondering if I would share with her my "elevator" speech. As most of you know, an elevator speech is that memorized little thirty-second or fifty word piece of bait that weʼre supposed to dangle in front of someone when they ask that inevitable question, "So, what is it that you do?" It derives its name from the amount of time you have in an elevator for a conversation. The idea is that you toss them that bait so you can hook ʻem, reel ʻem in and net ʻem before the elevator doors open. Maybe at least be able to exchange business cards and have a warm call to follow.
She was surprised when I told her that I donʼt have one and donʼt really believe in them. Iʼve been to seminars and workshops on how to craft a winning elevator speech and there have been books written on the subject. What I usually hear (and see) is a smug little recitation that sounds like a mission statement and a look on a face that is begging for me to tell them how clever they are. Those who have "crafted" their elevator speech often wait in eager anticipation for the fateful question, "So, what is it that you do?" Then they leave the elevator in disappointment that the fish didnʼt hit the bait. What happened?
The ubiquitous question, "So, what is it that you do?" is the precursor to the equally empty, "How are you?" After youʼve met someone, the "what" changes to the "how" and both questions are usually asked with equal curiosity and sincerity. Perhaps I could create a series of books, speeches and seminars on crafting your answer to "How are you?" (Iʼm just kidding.)
Obviously though, some of us are bamboozled when not prepared for the ever- popular, "So, what is it that you do?" question. We leave the elevator kicking and berating ourselves for what we said or left unsaid. Instead of crafting a lame, one-size-fits-all, buzzword-laden response, prepare yourself by knowing yourself.
1) What problems do you solve? What excites you about your chosen profession? How can you simplify the askerʼs life?
2) How are you different from anything or anyone else in the marketplace? Come on now! You donʼt have better customer service. You donʼt care more. You arenʼt more honest or have more integrity. You canʼt source better than anyone else. If there were a trade show where you were exhibiting along with every single one of your competitors, how would you stand out?
3) Why is your difference important to your customers? How are you more relevant to the needs of your customers? What are you doing that makes you a part of their team? How do you allow your customers to be a part of your company?
You need to be addressing those three questions with yourself every day. You need to be asking your customers the right questions to find out their pain points. This is the hard work. This is the hard work that pays. This work gives you honest, authentic, customer-focused answers to the question youʼve been waiting for, "So, what is it that you do?"