“So, tell me, what do you do?”

Networkingwomen

A question posed by attendees to each other as they network – whether at a formal event sponsored by a local business or at a more casual event sponsored by a chamber of commerce or other membership group.

My response has changed over time. Partly because I get tired of saying the same thing all the time, mostly because people simply don’t understand. Not everyone! Not every time! Which is why I have a second or third description handy.

For instance, when talking about my research business, I will say: I am an information professional often hired by I am an information professional often hired by business to locate specific information about markets or industry or emerging technologies. Some will get it, others will give me the “huh?” response. To which I will reply with more information: for instance, a client of mine hires me regularly to find statistical data about his industry so that he can add that information to presentations that he gives to business owners in the industry. But if I were to start with my client wanting statistical data, the assumption by the other person is that I’m a business analyst. Sometimes a response I get is “oh, I do my own research” which is not a problem because I try to turn that into a conversation with a response like this “how interesting. Which premium databases do  you like best? I tend to lean toward Hoover’s and Lexis Nexis, but sometimes find that going straight to Forrester’s provides me with the info I’m looking for.” If they really do research then they’ll understand and enter the conversation, if not, then I have found an opportunity to educate them on the various resources available to researchers.

Another instance is when I’m talking about how I am a Marketing Consultant and Trainer. I will say: I create marketing strategies and plans, troubleshoot current marketing efforts to find and fix gaps and problems, and focus on making sure the marketing is bringing in sales leads and customers. Inevitably I’ll get a response of “oh, do you make websites?”  Um, no. Though that is something I offer so I’ll say “why yes, our programmer is on hand to create a website if one is needed. Or to improve an existing website if that is what is needed.” It’s the flexibility that counts, so when someone asks a specific question, like “oh, so you do SEO?” or maybe they’ll say “I tried Google AdWords once and didn’t have any luck with it at all” or even this telling statement “My website is just a brochure site, so I don’t do anything with it”. Yikes! Either way, I am now a part of a conversation that allows me to provide a bit more detail about what my business offers, which results in my determining if who I’m speaking with is a potential client, a possible referral partner, or an addition to my business network.

Both examples are simple but happen often. To network effectively I have found that being flexible, listening to the other person’s response and being able to respond appropriately is vital to starting a relationship. Sometimes we do business together, sometimes we’re able to refer business to each other. Either way, being able to continue the conversation beyond that 30-second elevator speech is an exercise in flexibility.

What do you think? Ever find yourself getting stuck in your elevator speech? How are you doing in the flexibility department as it relates to business networking?