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The “what” centers around the value you as the solution provider bring to the buying decision table.


The hardest question for any business owner to answer and along with the correct response to potentially deliver the greatest increase in sales is, “What do you do?”

The reason why this is such a hard question is confusion and time. Small business owners, sales professionals, and business executives confuse the “how” of what they do with the “what” of what they do.

Then time being limited, they fail to generate a compelling 5- to 7-second answer to trigger a response like, “Tell me more” or “Let’s schedule a time to talk.”

The “how” represents the solutions being offered.

These solutions are the products or services that range from retail specialty goods to business luncheons to physically manufactured products to professional services from accounting to executive consulting to marketing.

Now the “what,” aah, that is entirely different and escapes even the best of small business owners. The “what” centers around the value that you as the solution provider bring to the buying decision table.

In some instances, this value can be results, and it is rarely ever features or benefits. However, in most instances, the value has already been predetermined by the buyer or by past clients.

For example, Tony Schifino, who owns AJ Specialties in Merrillville, sells unique specialty gifts and logo sportswear.

His selling of these items is the how of what he does, along with all those other specialty stores.

Now the “what” is that Tony turns the average, boring shopping experience into an exceptional one.

He engages with every customer and his attention to detail from the packaging to walking customers out to their cars makes stopping into his store an absolute delight.

Then he shares on various social media platforms his thanks for your patronage.

Once you have his exceptional customer shopping experience frequenting other establishments is an emotional letdown.

Behaviors and Operations

Another business that works in local to national market place is Legacy Environmental Services Inc., also from Merrillville. The “what” of this firm is about leading transformational community change.

When businesses make more thoughtful decisions about the impact of their behaviors and consequently operations on the environment through the solutions provided by Legacy Environmental, communities experience transformational change.

By understanding the “what” of your business, provides clarity not only for you but for your customers both internal and external.

When small businesses that function in both a local to a global market can succinctly state “what” they do, they will stand out in the crowd, be the “red jacket,” as I have come to say.

Their response to the “what do you do?” question will have people engaging with them; wanting to learn more about them and reflects the two-fold purpose of marketing to attract attention and to build relationships.

Additionally by understanding the “what” of what you do provides clarity not only for you but for your customers both internal and external. Clarity reduces effort and increases results.

So if you are in real estate, you do not sell houses. What you may do is to make family memories.

If you are a restaurant, you do not sell food. What you may do is provide quality time for friends and families to share their daily events.

Or if you are in accounting, you do not prepare tax reports. What you may do is create peace of mind free time.

Discovering the “what” of what you do is an investment of time including trial and error. And, there is always the chance that someone else may hear your well-researched response and copy it.

This means you must always be forward-thinking, ahead of the flow or in the words of Wayne Gretsky “skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.”

About the author

Leanne Hoagland-Smith

Leanne Hoagland-Smith

Leanne Hoagland-Smith has over 25 years in sales. Her true joy is selling and…

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