How to Answer the Most Brutal Question in Business

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Module 1: How to Position Your Brand to Sell
Section 2: How to Create Messages That Sell
Post 4: How to Answer the Most Brutal Question in Business

You’re at a networking event. You just got introduced to a fellow entrepreneur. You exchange niceties.

And then you ask a simple question, “What do you do?”

How long will it take them to answer?

Too long – if they’re an average business owner.

But you’re not average. So when someone asks you what you do – the most brutal question in business – you’ll answer in seconds, not minutes.

It will take you exactly one sentence.

Attention spans are shorter than ever. People don’t read; they scan. They ask but often don’t listen.

Twitter built one of the most popular social networks on messages with 140 characters or less. Elections are often won (or lost) with a sound bite. We live in a sound bite world.

So think “sound bite” and people will vote for you with their dollars!

3 characteristics of a sound bite that sells

A great sound bite accomplishes three things in seconds:

  • Positions you

When crafted properly, your sound bite positions you in the mind of the recipient – they should clearly understand what you do. So avoid complex words and jargon.

  • Distinguishes you

We’re making an important distinction here – your sound bite doesn’t need to fully differentiate you. However, it does need to distinguish you.

Here’s what we mean: It needs to set you apart from your competition, but it doesn’t have to place you miles away from them. Which brings us to our third point…

  • Naturally arouses curiosity

Done well, your sound bite will leave the recipient wanting to know more. The best evidence is…

They ask you a question!

It’s the outcome you want. Because a question means they’ve “opted in” – they’ve given you permission to fill in the details.

You’ll respond naturally – by answering their question. You may answer their question with a question so you can fine tune your answer.

We call this the social connecting model of selling: Conversations create connections. Connections create customers. Customers create cash flow.

Business today aren’t built on presentations. They’re built on interactions!

Most people haven’t caught onto this yet. Sadly, many never will. But you will! Which means…

You don’t have to sell. Just have conversations that resonate. Then, a connection will form naturally. Build that relationship to gain a customer.

It’s money in the bank – and it comes in the best way possible:

You help people you love to serve by doing what you do best so they get what they want.

The sound bite formula

We just gave you the formula in the last paragraph. But let’s spell it out even more clearly – when asked, “What do you do,” use the following formula to craft your sound bite:

I help [who] [do what] so they [get what].

Note that you start with the word “I” which signals you’re answering the question directly. (You may use the word “we” if you’re not a solo entrepreneur.)

Then you use one of most powerful words in business: help. You don’t sell. You help. Helpers are heroes!

Next, you shift the focus – from “you” to “who” you serve. You’ll resonate better this way. It’s “what’s in it for me (WiiFM) to the recipient.

Now you’re ready for the core. Frame your “do what” as a benefit leading to the BIGG benefit. The BIGG benefit is your “get what.”

We’ll use ourselves as an example. Here’s our sound bite:

“In 90 days, we help business owners and professionals build a brand that sells so they achieve personal, professional and financial success.”

Let’s look at each of three blanks you need to fill in:

  • Who

While we’re sure some experts disagree with us, we recommend that you keep your “who” fairly general. Let the recipient form their own opinion at this point. You can clarify later in the conversation.

So in our example, “who” is obvious: “business owners and professionals.” We’ll soon talk about a powerful way to drill down further and when to do it. You’ll find it below.

  • Do what

This is the core of the answer to the question about what you do. But note how we distinguish ourselves.

The core is “build a brand”. It resonates with people by itself. But it doesn’t have the same punch without the distinguishing factors: “in 90 days” and “that sells”.

Those two things set us apart. “90 days” is tangible. “That sells” shows bottom-line results without working so hard – your brand sells for you.

  • Get what

Here’s where you put in your ultimate benefit. As you think about what you do for people, think about why you do it – from their point-of-view. Remember WiiFM!

What is it they really want? It’s what you really sell as we discussed in the last post. You’re just putting it into words which resonate.

Your sound bite on steroids

So far, we’ve discussed crafting a sound bite for the masses. But there’s a secret to making a BIGG impact with it.

Don’t wait for people to ask you what you do. Ask them first.

If they beat you to the punch, try tossing the question back. This must be done delicately or it will feel forced. Accept the fact you may not always be able to do it. But when you can, say something like…

“Well, before I tell you what I do, I’d really like to hear what you do. Would you mind going first?”

We’ve never known a person to turn down that offer. So now you can listen and learn. You’ll be able to classify them.

  • Category 1: Are they your ideal customer?
  • Category 2: Do they serve your ideal customer?
  • Category 3: Do they know your ideal customer?

If the answer is “None of the above,” you may have a new friend but don’t expect much business to come of it.

If they’re a Category 3, then use the sound bite we just discussed to explain what you do. You’ll often find they get curious because they know someone who needs your product or service right now.

But if it’s either one of the other two, you’re in a really good place. (And by they way, meeting Category 2 people is one of the most effective, least expensive ways to build your business. We’ll talk about this more in the final module.)

So let’s talk about how a conversation might go with a Category 1 person. Since you know what we do, we’ll use ourselves as an example.

We ask, “What do you do?”

“I’m an author,” they reply. “I write non-fiction books about business. What do you do?”

“We help non-fiction authors build a brand that sells more books!” We say this with a BIGG smile!

They laugh. And then they start asking us questions!

As we said before, they don’t usually answer in such a concise way. They go on and on. They often don’t ever really say exactly what they do. So in those cases…

We say, “So you write books about business?”


[BIGG smile] “Well, we’re so glad we met – because we help business authors build a brand that sells more books!”

What if they’re in Category 2 – they serve your ideal customers? Running with a similar example, let’s say we learn they serve authors.

We confirm, “So you work with authors?”


“It’s kinda funny – we work with people who work with authors!”

You’re seeing our style here. We like to keep it light, have fun and make people laugh.

But it’s just an example. You’ll have your own style, one which shows your authenticity.

Before we move on, we just want to point out one more thing. Perhaps you noticed – we didn’t exactly follow our own formula!

The suggested formula is: I help [who] [do what] so they [get what].

But we actually put part of our “do what” upfront: “In 90 days, we help business owners and professionals build a brand that sells…”

The timeframe packs more punch upfront. Plus it causes confusion when placed at the end of the phrase: “build a brand that sells in 90 days.” So we put it at the front and it resonated.

The point is: bend the formula if you need to! Just remember – it needs to be clear, distinguish you and arouse curiosity.

Sherlock Holmes will put you in your place

We’re BIGG fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. We enjoy the classic versions, of course. But we also love the adaptations where Sherlock lives in the 21st century, including the BBC’s Sherlock, which runs on PBS.

Holmes meets his famous sidekick, Dr. Watson, in the first episode. Watson has witnessed Scotland Yard seeking Holmes’ help.

Watson says to Holmes: “So you’re a private detective?”

Holmes responds, “No, I’m a consulting detective.”

Holmes differentiates himself just by the title he uses!

He’s not one of the many private detectives. He’s one of a few consulting detectives. He may even be the only one!

Sherlock Holmes will put you in your place, if you just follow his lead:

You can be “the one” instead of “one of many.”

Here’s the good news: It’s easier to do now than ever before.

Why? Because you can reach small niches easier than ever thanks to the internet and social media.

Like Holmes, it often pays to think about two-businesses-in-one. He combines “consulting” with “detective”.

When people think about detectives, they think of one of two occupations: a crime-solving employee of a police department or a private detective.

Holmes doesn’t fit the first category, so Watson naturally defaulted to the second one. But as an industry, private detectives don’t have the best reputation. Plus, there’s no differentiation in calling yourself a “private detective.”

On the other hand, consultants are generally seen as valuable. They’re experts. So Holmes puts the two together to make himself stand apart.

We call what Holmes did the “[this] meets [that]” method. In his case, “consultant” meets “private detective”. The end result is “consulting detective.”

Another way to find your place is to use the “like [this] for [them]” method. You help people frame what you do by providing them with two familiar cues.

For example – if you wanted to start a social network for kids, you might describe your place as “like Facebook for kids.”

You have to be careful with this one – you want to help your audience gain perspective without stretching your credibility. So we would quickly add: “Our users are the people who Facebook excludes, kids under 13. We give them a safe social network where they can interact with their friends.”

But whatever you do, don’t describe yourself as “the next Facebook”, or “the next Google”, or any other well-known brand.

The third way to establish your place in a unique way is the “specialist” method. For example, you may be a home remodeler. You describe yourself as “the 3-day kitchen remodeling specialist.”

Of course, you have to be able to deliver on the promise. We’ll talk more about this in the final section of this module.

But if you can deliver, you instantly spark interest because you’re taking away the biggest pain for your customers – the inconvenience of being without a fully-functional kitchen for weeks.

Now that you know the three methods, here are a few things to keep in mind as you think about how to describe your place:

  • Try all three methods on for size
    Don’t limit yourself to trying on just one of the three methods. Try each one of them as you think about your business. Then pick the one you like best.
  • Don’t force it
    Don’t sweat it if you can’t come up with a unique description of your place. If you force it, it will just create confusion. There are plenty of other ways to differentiate yourself.
  • Test it
    We suggest two tests. First – Do you see yourself actually saying it to someone? Some things look good in print, but sound terrible when spoken. If that’s the case, move on to another one – because even if it’s being read, the reader is speaking it in their head!Second – Once you find one you like, run it by people like your ideal customer.
  • Sometimes it’s better to “show it” than “say it”
    You want to raise curiosity, not questions about your credibility. So be careful not to make claims you can’t support.Here’s a great list of words not to use – or at least be careful about using. Remember – actions will always speak louder than words.
  • Roll out the roles
    If (or when) you have employees, you’ll want to help them understand their place within your place. So once you’ve established the place your business operates in, share it with your people.Then roll out the roles! Coach them so they can explain their role when people ask them the “What do you do” question.We’ll talk more about the importance of this in the final module on How to Promote Your Brand Online and Off.

The elevator pitch formula

Can you explain your business to a complete stranger in under a minute? That’s your elevator pitch.

We need to share a personal bias with you – we’re not huge fans of elevator pitches. Here’s why:

  • They sound “pitchy” – People like to buy, not to be sold. Elevator speeches often don’t feel authentic. Plus, great sound bites spark interaction naturally. An elevator pitch comes across as a presentation.
  • They’re too long – They’re supposed to be short, but they’re still often too long. People want to be talked with, not at.
  • They’re full of jargon and gibberish – We hear too many elevator speeches which are full of industry terms, buzz word and clichés. They don’t sound like they way we talk. In other words, it’s not “human speak.”
  • They’re rarely necessary – Normally, the sound bite is a better tool.

For those occasions where an elevator pitch is desirable, here’s a simple formula to create yours:

I’m a/an [place]. I help [who] [do what] so they [benefit]. [story]

Note that we build on the sound bite formula to craft your elevator pitch. Here’s ours:

“We’re brand builders. In 90 days, we help business owners and professionals build a brand that sells so they achieve personal, professional and financial success. We saw too many owners paying too much for websites that weren’t built right. So we created a program which guides them step-by-step through the brand-building process. We take them from idea to focused concept, with a website that can grow as they grow, and a plan to jumpstart their sales without spending a bunch of money.”

It’s 82 words long. We can say it – without sounding like a speed talker and with proper emphasis and breaths – in less than 30 seconds.

We can only think of a few situations where we might use this instead of a sound bite:

  • If someone asks “What is BIGG Success?” instead of “What do you do?”

We may not go through the whole pitch in this case – we’ll pause after the second sentence. But since they’ve asked about our business, we feel the need to establish our place: “brand builders.”

  • Business-to-Business conversations

Of course, there is no such thing as we’ve said before – it’s still a person from Business 1 talking to a person with Business 2. For example – if we’re talking with a person who serves the similar customers, we may go into more depth.

  • If we were raising capital

You have to give potential funders a larger perspective. So the full speech may resonate better.

In fact, we’d probably add a little to it – a brief description about market size, how we plan to reach it and the opportunity we can offer a funder. We could do it in less than 30 seconds, so we’d still be under a minute start to finish.

But we want to emphasize – the shorter, the better. Use the number of words you need to convey your message, but not one more.

As an example, let’s return to Holmes and Watson. We’ll show you the rest of the conversation.

Watson says: “So you’re a private detective?”

Holmes responds, “No, I’m a consulting detective.”

“What does that mean?”

“I solve cases that the police can’t.”

So Sherlock’s formula is even simpler than ours, but its power is certainly not elementary! Here it is:

I’m a/an [place]. I [do what] [who]. “I’m a consulting detective. I solve cases the police can’t.”

In just ten words – you know the business he’s in, who his customers are, and what he does for them. He doesn’t need anymore than that.

It’s a twist on our formula. We point this out to emphasize you can reconfigure our formula to create your own compelling statement.

And the fewer words the better – as long as they fully explain your business, your customers and your benefit.

Test, test, test

So how will you know if you have a sound bite and an elevator pitch which does that? Test. Test. Test.

Ask people in your network, your friends and family and most importantly, your ideal customers.

Don’t get discouraged if it takes a little time. This is a process. So keep thinking and testing. You’ll find the combination that sells!

Next Step

Congratulations! You’ve finished the reading for Section 2 of the first module. Here’s what to do to next:

  • Complete Part 4 in the Create Messages That Sell Guidebook (plus any parts you haven’t done earlier).
  • Then you’ll be ready to move on to Section 3 of this first module – How to Use Images and Colors to Sell.