What business are you in, no, what business are you really in?

The remarkable power of your value proposition in everyday situations

What business are you really in?

In the past year, the realities and challenges of your customers have dramatically changed. And many of us have felt the impact of this on our business. What used to sell like hotcakes, suddenly didn’t sell anymore. And often that had nothing to do with the product – but far more with the problem. Once you get that – turning adversity around becomes a lot easier.

It all has to do with having a clear understanding of the business we are really in. How often do we get the question: “What do you do?” Irrespective of the situation, think about what you answer. All too often we respond with the ‘what,’ not the ‘why.’  We’re answering in autopilot. It’s how we are programmed. This tiny difference in response reveals an enormous opportunity for both marketing and sales, not only in pandemic crisis situations but far beyond that. The answer lies in having a simple but compelling value proposition that allows you to explain in seconds what business you are in – and why that matters to the person you’re talking to.

A simple answer can make a significant impact

So, let’s explore the question: What do you do? Here are two possible responses: “I am working for a company that delivers ERP software for services companies” vs. “I am working for a company that solves the problem of delivering projects on time.” See the difference?  With one answer the conversation stops, with the other the conversation starts – and the immediate response is “really, tell me more about that!”. Isn’t that what we want? Now think about if you had a project-led organization, trying to not only survive the pandemic but aiming to come out stronger from it…. This would instantly hit the right nerve and resonate. The difference: A simple shift from the product you have to the problem you solve.

The challenge: you

The question is why do we respond this way? From what I see you can’t blame your colleagues for reacting like this. It’s what we teach them. Just look at your tagline, your website, your collateral… 9 out of 10 this starts with the what, not the why. We love to talk about ourselves – how big we are, the products we offer, the number of clients we have, the growth we are enjoying – it’s all about us. So when we or any of our colleagues get asked the question: What do you do? We answer the way we do – and the conversation is dead.

The solution: Start with the ‘beginning’ or the ‘end’

It’s simple: We’re not in the business of selling a product – we’re in the business of solving a problem and selling a feeling, a desired state, an outcome. That’s where the power of ‘emotion’ kicks in – this drives action.

So, to arrive at this, you have two options:

  • start with the beginning – the problem or
  • start with the end – the outcome.

If you start this way you create a hook – you get people to pay attention and to think ‘is this for me or not.’ It qualifies them in our out. That’s what you want in marketing and sales. The sooner, the better. The sooner your prospect decides ‘not for me,’ the less time you both waste on something that wasn’t mean to be in the first place. The opposite is very true as well: The sooner he/she decides ‘That’s what I need!’, the higher you’ll rank on their ‘want’ list.

What can you do next:

  • Step 1: It all starts with this simple exercise: Decide what business are you really ‘in.’ Be concrete. Keep digging till you find the essence of the problem(s) that’s most valuable and critical to solve for your ideal customer (Think about what could get them fired or what keeps them up at night (given the realities they are in today)
  • Step 2: Shorten this list to the points where can you leverage your product best to exceed their expectations and help them make the biggest difference.
  • Step 3: Now, based on this list, think about the one thing your customers would recommend you for to their peers? What’s the single word you want to make stick in the minds of your prospects?
    Be concrete.
  • Step 4: Now review your website or your most recent sales pitch – How clear does that communicate this single word
  • Step 5: Decide on your next actions: What needs to change

How to further clarify what business you are really in?

The easiest way. Simply book a free call to explore if there’s a fit to do this together.

Otherwise – here are 5 other options


A daily email for B2B SaaS CEOs who want to end unpredictable traction.

About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.