The famous elevator pitch. It’s a genius term to describe a situation that every professional in sales, business development or fundraising will be very familiar with. From introducing yourself to a potential business partner or customer on a networking event, over a phone conversation with the decision maker you’ve been trying to get on the line for weeks who only has a brief moment to spare, to actually meeting your company’s foreign-based CEO in the elevator – there are numerous situations that call for us to be on top of our game, on the spot, well articulated, and getting across the most important facts and arguments that will hook the other side enough to want to follow up with us.
Before talking about the importance of it, I have to admit that a lot about this idea goes against how I usually approach my clients, customers or anyone I work with. It starts with me not liking elevators per se, I actually try to avoid them as much as I can. Every time the doors close and the cabin starts moving, you feel like you’ve entered a different world, physically close to strangers, where everyone feels awkwardly in the spotlight, watched, judged and uncomfortable. 30 seconds that can feel like an eternity, trapped in a box, trying to pretend you’re incredibly busy with your phone, or staring at the suddenly incredibly fascinating little leather applications on your shoes. Secondly, I don’t like the idea of having to “pitch”. Time pressure, competition, monologue – none of these helps having a value-driven conversation that I would deem a successful and solution-oriented business proposal. Usually, you don’t even have the time to understand what you’re pitching for, what the other side’s interests are really invested in, and what pain points will make them listen to what you have to say.
Nevertheless, the exercise of crafting a powerful elevator pitch, one that you could convincingly throw out when waking up in the middle of the night, is incredibly powerful even beyond its immediate use in the situation. Because, needless to say, in order for it to be powerful, you will need to have full grasp of exactly what makes you special, different, helpful and, most of all, absolutely convinced of the value of your product, service or idea. This is why I say even if you will never have to use your elevator pitch, having it ready will put you on a different level of confidence and understanding of your own business through your customers’ eyes, and that’s what truly and ultimately matters!
Now, before I run you through the same three steps of advice I give all my coachees when putting together their individual elevator pitches, I want to remind you what an elevator pitch is not. It is not a commercial, it is simply a powerful introduction to who you are and what you do. A teaser. You’re not selling yet, because you really can’t sell yet, as you have no idea about the other side’s situation and pain points. You’re only trying to gauge your counterpart’s interest in order to have a full conversation at a later point.
Alright, now here we go.
Step 1: Preparation – Understand your counterpart, then understand your added value!
Who will you likely be talking to? Who is your typical customer? Try to really put yourself in their shoes to anticipate any types of pain points they might be having. The elevator pitch will have to evolve around them, not around you. From the moment you start talking, just assume that the one question that will keep ringing in their head is “what’s in it for me?” Only by having a clear understanding what their current challenges might be will help you answer this question from their perspective. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to make yourself shine in glory. It’s not about that. It’s about giving your counterpart a glimpse into how you could potentially solve a problem for them.
Step 2: Getting at it – Write it out, highlighting the key points!
Yes. I would advise to write it out. Should you read it out? Definitely not. But it helps to spend some serious time to craft the best version of it before you put it to practice more freely. But before we start crafting, let’s go through some basic rules that you want to cross-check it on, while and after you create it.
Keep it simple! A good elevator pitch will last no longer than 30 seconds, which will be about one paragraph, straightforward, containing no more than 5 short sentences. Make sure they are easy to understand. No long-winded explanations. No unnecessary fill words. Straight to the point!
Throw in some emotion! But strictly avoid superlatives like the best, the biggest, the fastest – these are bold claims that, frankly, all of your competitors will already use – to their disadvantage. Remember, this is not a commercial. You will risk your counterpart to check out very easily. So, no drama please. Just some positive vibes. Words like “success”, “engaging”, “growth”, “motivation”, “thriving” et cetera will make your pitch sound much more vivid and in motion. Don’t underestimate the power of this – it can make or break your elevator pitch.
Avoid any unnecessary jargon! I know, that sounds obvious, but believe me, I’ve seen and heard too much to not explicitly make you aware of it. Many sales professionals would argue that a good elevator pitch should contain some industry and subject specific language to sound knowledgeable and educated. But the opposite is the case. Remember, it is not about a full sales conversation where you want to demonstrate detail. Not yet. The more you manage to be very basic and concise about your message, the more interest and follow-up questions your counterpart will have on exactly how that will work.
Alright, here we go. Grab pen and paper and get creative! At the end, I will share my own version to give you an idea of what might work for you as well.
- Opening sentence: This sets the tone for the rest of your elevator pitch, and it needs to be powerful and straightforward to get your counterpart’s full attention. The easiest way to get yourself started is to imagine another person asking you “What do you do?” But please, don’t get fooled starting the conversation with actually talking about what you do. “I’m in recruiting”, “I work as title for ABC company” or “I do IT” is far too general to make a powerful entrance. Instead, talk about the solution you’re offering. Think about one key sentence that sums up the benefit of your work in a creative way.
- Painting the picture: Once you have laid out the base with the opener, you can go into describing how you make the magic happen. From here, the time and attention span are ticking, so limit yourself to one or two sentences, bringing the most important facts and descriptions first. Remember, it’s not about leaving no questions answered, exactly the opposite. Trust the fact that if you caught your counterpart’s interest, they will ask you follow-up questions. Concentrate on the 2-3 most important parts of your work that allow you to reach the mentioned benefit.
- Give proof of your success! This can, but doesn’t necessarily have to be numbers, success rates or examples. If you have them and are able to use clients’ names, great! But if not, work with generalizations: “Many of / most of my clients / my biggest client” works just as well as mentioning a name. But be specific about the success or the outcome that you are able to produce for your clients.
- Close your pitch with a question! This is important. Not only do you want to immediately get a reaction to know whether this could be a potential customer, you also want to reengage your counterpart’s attention to keep the conversation on a high energy level. You can lead over to the question with something like “it’s actually quite exciting to speak about this to you” or “I’ve actually noticed increasing demand for my services in your industry lately”. Then lead right into a question, anywhere from “have you ever had exposure to this kind of service / product?” over “would this be something your business could benefit from as well?” to “you seem very well networked, would you mind if I asked you who comes to mind that could benefit from something similar?”
Bringing it all together, it could sound something like this:
(1) “I enable successful business owners and sales executives to significantly increase their revenue year after year. (2) I do this by first analyzing their current sales performance in depth to identify areas of opportunity. Then I coach them through an individual step-by-step action plan and help manage the change process by training, empowering and motivating their teams. (3) For my main client, a global service provider, I have repeatedly been able to help produce double digit revenue growth in the sales operations I was engaged in. (4) I have to admit I’m not in the depths of your specific business, but could this be something you would be interested to learn more about?”
Got yours together? Now, guess the next step…
Step 3: Practice, practice, practice – refine and perfect it until it flows!
Take your phone’s stopwatch to check if you’re under or around 30 seconds. Call your own cell phone and leave yourself a voicemail. Again and again. Listen to it in random moments, because you will likely catch your counterpart in a random moment as well. Also, preferably test it with a friend that has no idea about any details of the work you do, because that will give you real and honest feedback about where you need to sharpen up and simplify your language.
Now, after all is said and done, be sure to embrace the fact that there is no such thing as the perfect elevator pitch. And that you’re your own worst critic. Don’t be afraid to practice it when given the chance, and change it up once in a while. There’s really not much that can happen, and if you have done your above homework, you will likely already be much better off than before you started thinking about this. You will also notice that you get better at saving yourself in awkward moments. For example, when you hear yourself going off in jargon speak, throwing in a quick “so, what does that mean?” and answering your own question speaking like a normal human being will be of immediate value.
To summarize the most important points again:
- Prepare by understanding your counterpart’s position and potential challenges!
- Write out the elevator pitch with a strong opener, the key success drivers of your business, proof of success and a follow up question!
- Keep it short, straight-forward, avoid business jargon and throw in some positive words!
- Practice as much as you possibly can!
Good luck in all of your ventures!