When people ask “What do you do?” they don’t really want you to go on and on about yourself — even though they’ve asked. The key to engaging with prospects is not to talk but to listen. You want to keep the conversation about them, while still delivering enough about your business to sound exciting, intriguing and memorable.

Even the classic elevator pitch can be too long-winded and gimmicky for an informal introduction. In a world of ever-decreasing attention spans, less is definitely more. So how do you find the balance between brief and memorable?

When asked about your company, what do you usually say? The most successful answer is one that is authentic and designed to position you in the marketplace. Try forming your own answers with help from this simple, four-step questionnaire:  

  1. Who you are?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Who do you work with?
  4. What is unique or memorable about you?

Example 1:I work with family-owned businesses, helping them pay less in taxes and protect their assets. I specifically work with those who have serious profit problems: big profits.

Example 2:I own a marketing consulting firm, which employs seven people, all of whom are focused on helping companies find more clients and advocates. I’ve worked with an NBA basketball team, U.S. senators, financial advisors and mutual-fund companies. I’ve even closed a sale while upside down in an aerobatic biplane at 3,000 feet.”

Both of these simple, repeatable statements of value convey a quick and clear definition of what you do, the benefits you offer and who you work with. They also include something unique or memorable. (People assume that profit problems are bad, but then realize that big profits are never a problem. This person has communicated in a memorable way that she works only with successful companies.)

By focusing on a short, clear, memorable description of your company and the compelling benefits of working with you, you’ll find it easier to open the door to an unending stream of new referrals, clients and sales. A typical mistake: letting your prospects figure you out themselves. To avoid this, take the time to focus your messaging. It’ll bring a dramatic return on investment far superior to any other single thing you can do.

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Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. For more information, go to www.redzonemarketing.com.