Why I Always Ask Prospects To Explain What Their Companies Do

Whether there’s a mission statement or not, prompting founders to explain their value prop in natural language can help elucidate their true purpose

Asking company founders to outline their organization’s vision in unscripted language can be a powerful way to gain clarity on an organization’s vision. Photo: Wikimedia

Over the course of the past five years working as a marketing communications consultant, I’ve spent a fair amount of my time holding early and later stage conversations with all manner of startup founders.

Typically passionate and excited to talk about their businesses, this is often a professionally rewarding activity — even if, if I’m to be honest, my conversion rate for startup prospects doesn’t always match that of larger companies (startups may be full of energy, but things tend to get lost in the shuffle too!)

My sales process is functional if not particularly imaginative.

As I have shared plenty of times on this Medium page, I made the shift — roughly a year ago — from an outbound-led process to an inbound-led one. After prospects are sufficiently interested by something about me to want to schedule a Zoom call, I direct them towards an embedded Calendly form.

There, I ask them the classic questions. Who are you? Who do you represent? Why are you thinking about engaging in thought leadership (example)? There are a couple of BANT questions in there too and then prospects are free to place the booking.

“Can You Explain What Your Company Does To Me?”

The preparatory phase for any giving meeting — on my end — involves checking out the company’s website and looking up the professional background of the party who booked the meeting.

Nevertheless, I virtually always ask my prospects to explain (verbally) what it is that their companies do fairly early in the call.

Here are a few reasons why I’ve maintained this practice over the years.

It Helps Me Spot Obvious Branding Mismatches And Compare What A Company Really Does With What They Talk About Doing

As a marketing communications practitioner, I see my job as:

  • Identifying what makes a company unique and special
  • Finding ways to communicate it that are engaging and impactful and which will, hopefully, cut through the noise made by competitors. This is the communications part of the gig — which is actually the majority of work that I get involved with
  • Focusing those communications on the target personas which the organization is pursuing — because simply creating noise without a strategy to back it doesn’t tend to lead to very successful results. In practice, this involves a lot of time spent looking at value propositions and messaging. As well as how to steer prospects through a marketing and sales funnel through inbound.

When I look at organizations’ branding through the lens of PR, I also spend a lot of time delving through Google search results to ascertain the state of play for an organization’s image on the outside looking in. What would your average person think about this organization? And one of the first places they’re likely to look is that company’s website.

This is the first reason for asking a company founder to explain their organization’s purpose. It allows me to quickly identify basic branding problems that are created by the often large gap between what an organization actually does and what it tells the world that it does.

It Helps Me See How Does Somebody With Passion Explains Their Business Mission

Often, marketing websites — nay, marketing generally — is somewhere towards the bottom of a new startup’s to-do list. Sometimes, they’re even drafted by agencies as sort of placeholders that give a rough semblance of what the company does. At other times, companies create websites primarily because they just want to have any old web presence rather than none at all. In short, they think that it makes them look more “legit.”

The problem with the above is that such copy is often conceived and written in a sterile environment. Or by outsourcing partners who mightn’t have a full grasp on the nuances of the business they’re trying to promote.

This is another reason why getting a download on a business’s USP from the horse’s mouth — the founding team itself — can often make an enormous difference in honing in on what a company is really about.

It Answers The “Man On The Street” Test

One of the great advantages of working as a consultant is the ability to work with a variety of companies and industries.

While I have my specialties, even with tech, I inevitably end up speaking to founders from industries that I’ve never dealt with before. This is the best way to expand into new verticals and markets, after all.

From a MarCom (marketing communications) standpoint, such conversations are often particularly valuable.

Because when I come to a discussion with almost no background knowledge about an industry or the challenges its participants face, it give me a very good idea whether your average “man on the street” will have a chance of being able to understand it either.

Of course, many companies — especially those selling B2B — aren’t targeting your average man on the street. Rather, they’re trying to communicate with a specialist audience and readership. Nevertheless, an axiom of effective communication is that it should be readily intelligible. If a business’s key collateral falls down on this litmus test, there’s a good chance that a lot of people checking out the website are feeling similarly bamboozled.

The above reasons are why regardless of whether I think I understand what a company does from its website, reputation, or marketing material, I always make a habit of asking startup founders — or those representing their organizations — to tell me, in their own words, a little bit about what they do.

Essential to the success of this exercise is that the communicator doesn’t feel under any pressure to make their company “sound good” or to get a scripted elevator pitch across. If they have any rehearsed lines, direct them to put them out of their mind.

In order to really get a firm grasp on what a company is doing — and what it’s doing differently — you need to listen patiently while the representative describes their company’s vision, uniqueness, and value proposition in his or her own words. Leading questions can help to tease out the nuance.

This is one part of the lead warm-up conversation that can make a big difference to assessing whether a potential working relationship is likely to be a successful match.

Because to be happy working with an organization, it helps to at least understand what they’re trying to achieve!

Marketing communications consultant interested in tech, Linux, ADHD, beer, async, and remote work (in no particular order). RosehillMarcom.com