In a business-to-business networking (B2B networking) situation, your response to this ostensibly easy question can set you up for success or dismal failure. It seems we have three options for answering the question. You can pick up your business card and read your title verbatim, talk about what your company does, or indicate how you can help the audience.
B2B NETWORKING: READ THE TITLE ON YOUR CARD
Anyone in business for more than a week has stacks of business cards. To organize these, some compulsive individuals have three-ring binders with specialized plastic holders for business cards, called “untabbed business card pages.” (Avery 76009).
Titles serve a ride range of functions. If you work for a large organization, people will live and die by a few words printed on a business card. For some people, the title indicates a compensation level and position relative to others. For others, it reinforces their ego or, perhaps, their light-hearted personality. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s take a look at some actual titles from the world of software development to see how this approach works.
This title could be confusing at a networking event. To me, the title indicates a huge company with a marketing department with several divisions. Perhaps one division does horizontal marketing and then another division does marketing in a vertical manner. The phrase “vertical marketing” is so vacuous that it can mean almost anything. Is this vertical marketing for people who work above the fifth floor?
Because the title has “manager” in it, one would assume that there is a group of at least four that needs guidance or a manager. Apparently, there are half-dozen groups responsible for vertical marketing. Out of this group of managers, there is a person who is the most experienced, the senior manager.
On the other hand, the title may have nothing to do with reality. This could be a title that someone makes up.
The world of software development has taken some common words and twisted them into specialized connotations. For example
Much like the previous title, this looks like there is a room full of architects designing an office complex. A stretch, but it is possible that a specialty of some architects is something called “solutions.” Now, out of this specialized group of people who provide amorphous “solutions,” we have a person with years of experience in this field. According to this card, this person, is the “principle.”
In high school students are taught “principle” is some kind of truth and “principal” was the person who could get you kicked out of school.
The reality is that the word “architect” here is has nothing to do with edifices, and everything to do with software development. “Solutions” is a catchword that trended in the software development community in the early 2000’s and is getting outdated by the hour. If you are the only solutions architect in your company, then, technically, you can’t be the lead (principal, not the principle).
If you have several three-ring binders full or cards, you may read titles like “Corporate Development,” “Founder,” “Director,” “Director of Knowledge Resourcing,” or even my personal favorite,
When you meet someone you may only have a few seconds to respond to “What do you do?” Perhaps you should consider the problem/solution approach.
B2B NETWORKING: COMPANY RESPONSE
How about a quick statement of what your company does? Every organization solves some kind of a business problem. Going to Los Angeles? Your problem will be to find a place to sleep. Flat tire on your car? You need to call AAA.
Let’s apply this approach to the world of software development. Let’s say your company provides software that helps accrediting bodies process applications for compliance and you are the Vice President of Sales.
Rather than using that self-serving title, you should state clearly what problem your company solves. For example, “My company helps educational organizations provide compliance.”
For example, when your daughter applies for the engineering school at Clemson University, there are accrediting bodies who assure that the courses are appropriate for the engineering field.
Now, this may work well if you are meeting people at ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, but not for a more general audience. In this case, you may want to consider a more tailored response.
B2B NETWORKING: AUDIENCE RESPONSE
Early in your career, you may be locked into a specific job category with defined, specific responsibilities. As you gain experience, your responsibilities may increase. So, the response to “What do you do?” will vary over the years as well as with the audience.
For example, you may have started off as a software developer, progressed to being a project manager, added headaches with being a portfolio manager, then more headaches with managing a group of people, and then perhaps a director of a department. You have worn many hats. Let’s say your success in healthcare regulation software may lead you into the world of being on the leading edge of knowledge of providing virtual physician visits.
When someone asks what you do, you can give a thirty-minute answer. Although a half hour answer will not do justice to the wide range of knowledge you have, you don’t even have three minutes. Perhaps fifteen seconds is all you get, at most. If that is the case, then you must prepare several answers that will be appropriate to each audience you interact with.
Project Management Institute
If you attend a networking event for Project Management Institute (PMI), you know the audience will be people who carefully look at large software development projects and make sure they complete on time and under budget. In this case, you may want to respond with a statement that is 100% accurate, but will connect with the audience.
Perhaps something like, “We work on projects that help physicians reduce workload.” Right off the bat, you selected a term “project” that will resonate with the audience. If they respond with “tell me more,” then you have the green light to indulge some more, but certainly not a 30-minute monologue.
Let’s say you attend a chapter meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HiMSS). In this case, you may want to apply the terminology that particular group would use. You may say, “My company works with hospitals to make sure they comply with standards.” This may describe the same occupation as the PMI, but when you select the terminology that the event participants are familiar with encourages an understanding of your value proposition.
Each vertical market has specific terms they use. Your job is to detach yourself from your preoccupation with your life’s struggles and try to look at your position from someone else’s eyes.
When not searching for the elusive Yeti, John Gilroy puts on workshops to improve face to face communications. If you have any challenges with intergenerational transfer of knowledge, contact me. email@example.com 703-627-3830