Your Company Does What, Exactly?

“We provide robust, enterprise-wide solutions to decision-makers at multi-location facilities across a broad set of vertical industries that are facing an overarching set of business challenges.” I couldn’t help myself—I broke out laughing before he finished the sentence

“We provide robust, enterprise-wide solutions to decision-makers at multi-location facilities across a broad set of vertical industries that are facing an overarching set of business challenges.”

I couldn’t help myself—I broke out laughing before he finished the sentence.

I was at a business function, glass of wine in hand, looking to meet a few potential business connections that might be a good fit for an upcoming client project. I had read his name tag and politely asked what his company did, since I didn’t recognize the name.

He frowned at me, clearly displeased at my reaction.

“You’ve just described a million organizations,” I explained. “Why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me, in laymen’s terms, what you do.”

He looked puzzled.

“Pretend I’m a 5th Grader,” I explained, “and your child has brought you to class on Career Day. Now, tell me what you do.”

He looked relieved. “Oh … Our company helps other company’s blast emails to their customers or prospects.”

Yup. I suspected as much.

It seems this guy has sat in the company’s strategic planning meetings and been told that the 5th Grader description was too “low brow” and they needed to enhance their marketplace positioning, if they want to be taken seriously, or play in the pool with the big boys.

Unfortunately, with so many small businesses popping up every other day, it seems this problem is multiplying. I’ve visited too many websites that position their services, on their home page, in such a complicated way that I’ve no clue what they really do. And why? What is everybody so afraid of?

Afraid that a site visitor thinks they’re too small? Not capable of handling the needs of a large, complex organization? Unable to think and work in vertical industries?

Here’s a little insight from a buyer of business goods and services: Your website is your storefront.

  • Step 1 is to make sure your windows are properly dressed to appeal to the traffic that’s strolling by.
  • Step 2 is to make sure that if they open the door and enter, it’s crystal clear that they’ve come to the right place.
  • Step 3 is to provide a logically organized set of links to other places on your site where the visitor might go to find more information. Back to the storefront analogy—if I walk over to the shelf with books on it, chances are I’m looking for a book. If you’re lucky and I ask if you have a particular book, you shouldn’t be leading me over to the clothing section. It’s more likely that I won’t ask … and it will certainly never occur to me that I might need to look for a book in the clothing section. It might make sense to put your book in BOTH sections of your store, if that book was about fashion.

Take a critical eye to your own website. Better still, ask someone who is NOT familiar with your company to take a peek and tell you, in their words, what your organization does just by looking at your home page. You may be surprised by their interpretation.

The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?