You’re in New York for a conference, and you just jumped in the elevator in the MetLife Building to go visit one of your favorite clients. The doors are about to close, and I’ll be damned—the CEO of one of your largest target accounts steps into the elevator. You exchange pleasantries, and they proceed to ask what you do; you now have 30 floors or less to convince this whale of an opportunity that they should take the conversation further.
What do you say?
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What is an Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a brief and highly persuasive speech that is intended to spark further interest from the receiving party. This can be in the context of who you are, what you do, what you’re trying to sell, or almost any message in which you are trying to quickly convey a high degree of value.
In the context of sales specifically, it’s intended to be in the value proposition of your organization or a specific product/service offering. A true elevator pitch will also meet all of these criteria:
- It should be roughly 30 seconds (never longer than 90);
- it should be easy to understand;
- it should come across as exciting;
- it should convey all of the key brand/product attributes;
- it should be tailored for your audience;
- and lastly, it should have some type of hook to push the conversation further.
If you want to skip the reading, check out my podcast episode on creating perfect elevator pitches.
Is the Elevator Pitch Still Relevant?
Let’s face it, there are a lot of critics out there. Those who believe there is no place for the elevator pitch in modern sales might say things like:
“Elevator pitches aren't engaging.”
“Sounding rehearsed isn’t impressive.”
“Your pitch might not be relevant in certain conversations.”
But, I would remind any of these critics that:
- If your elevator pitch isn’t engaging, then you have a bad pitch
- If you’re in the sales business, you make a living off of repeating the same content to different people, so you’re probably already a master at breathing life into repetitive phrases
- You need to have a repertoire of elevator pitches. One pitch is never going to get you by, so you should have different pitches for different conversations
The elevator pitch is never the entire story, it’s simply a gateway to the next level of the conversation. Elevator pitches are also meant to be organic. Just because you crafted a certain pitch, doesn’t mean you have to follow it word-for-word. I would also remind critics that the audience is changing in business negotiations, as business leaders are getting younger, and these younger generations place a high precedent on efficient communications. By saying more in fewer words, you have a pristine opportunity to impress prospects, particularly in these younger age demographics.
The 6 Step Elevator Pitch Formation Process
I’ve been in the sales space for the better part of three decades, and it’s taken a ton of practice, a ton of failures, and a ton of refinement to arrive at this process. However, I believe that if you follow these six key steps, you will be well on your way to creating high impact pitches that really resonate with prospects.
1. Watch Top TV Commercials
Yes, I’m encouraging you to turn the TV on. What you’ll notice is that (whether you personally like the product or not) these 30 second advertisements are highly effective in delivering a clear message. That being said, not all ads were created equal. But a great ad will likely captivate you whether it’s a product that you thought you were interested in or not. And before you know it, you’re in Sportcheck buying some new Nike gear.
This effect is not unique to the TV industry, and neither is the style of language used. As your pitches develop, you may be able to help prospects identify unmet needs that they had never considered before stumbling across you.
2. Identify Your Goal
Every great business strategy has a goal, and every great elevator pitch should also have a clear goal. Convey exactly what you plan to accomplish for the prospect. If you’re pitching yourself as a job applicant at a networking event, your goal might be for an employer notice you and want to learn more. However, if you’re delivering a pitch in the sales world, your goal will probably sound like one of the following:
- To set a meeting;
- to shift someone’s perspective;
- or simply, to take the conversation to the next level.
3. Explain What you Do
Even though you’re pitching a product or service, you still need to establish yourself as a knowledge expert. In other words, explain how you, specifically, are going to contribute to meeting that goal, and do it in as few words as possible.
Some examples would be as follows:
“From working in the media space for the better part of 20 years before making the transition to digital, I understand the unique challenges that media companies and media sales reps face.”
“As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed the struggles that local businesses face first hand, and I started my company to give those businesses access to the same tools that the major players in their markets have.”
4. Deliver Your Unique Selling Proposition
If you truly have a compelling product or service offering, then you should have some type of sustained competitive advantage in your respective marketplace. So, what is it that you have that no one else in the market can compare to?
Once you determine what this is, make sure you are able to convey it effectively. Some key tactics would be:
- Framing it in terms of loss
- Making it personal—apply it to the prospect you are interacting with
- Use an example to highlight functionality/performance
5. Engage With a Question
An elevator pitch should be the foundation for ongoing conversation, so end off with a powerful question to engage that prospect and take the conversation to the next level. This question also gives the prospect a chance to interact with what’s been said and share their insights.
Some tricks for asking highly engaging questions include:
- Keeping them clear and concise (you don’t want to confuse the prospect)
- Keep them open-ended—to an extent
- Don’t jump to a yes or no question (ex. Do you want to schedule a meeting?)
- Do make it personal (ex. Does your organization struggle with x?)
6. Put it all Together and Practice!
You’ve got roughly 30 seconds (90 at most) to patch this all together and make it flow. Although 90 seconds might seem like a substantial amount of time, I promise you that it’s not. It’s going to take a sizable time investment for you to get one of these pitches to a point where it is easy for listeners to digest, where it rolls off the tongue fluidly, and where really resonates with prospects.
It will also take practice to adapt your pitches to varying audiences, and modify pitches for various products or offerings. The more you develop as a salesperson, the more you will find that you have built a repertoire of elevator pitches. Oh, and never be afraid to scrap a pitch if you come up with something better. The elevator pitch is meant to be a living entity, not a fixed variable.
When to Use Sales Elevator Pitches
Naturally, you can’t drive an entire sales call, or an entire presentation with elevator pitches, and there are certainly situations when you want to steer clear of the elevator pitch entirely. So, here are some of the occasions that present prime opportunities to use your new elevator pitches:
- Trade shows
- Sales calls/presentations
- Major introductions (individual/group)
You know I like to get out there—so just for fun, why don’t we include some examples of when not to use your elevator pitches:
- At the gym. This is the last place that anyone wants to hear your verbal resume.
- At the pub down the street. You’ve got to turn that sales mentality off at some point.
- At family gatherings. Leave your uncle alone.
My Fort Worth Example
If you’ve never been to Fort Worth, Texas, I strongly recommend a visit. Fort Worth really has the Texas charm locked down—you’re going to see horns hanging from a truck in that town.
Anyways, I was in Fort Worth working with a newspaper organization that was struggling in making the transition to digital, and I developed a pitch for them to use on their clients/prospects. This pitch was developed on the fly as I witnessed these newspaper reps come under fire from half of the people on the phone lines.
The organization that I was working with was in the news business, but in the process of transitioning to selling digital services to supplement their traditional revenue streams. With little experience in the digital space, these reps were selling solutions that they didn’t fully understand. The result was unsatisfied customers that were beginning to question the effectiveness of the solutions they were being sold.
These clients were being sold traditional and digital advertising as well as a number of supplementary digital solutions, such as listings, reputation management, social media management, etc. The problem was that most of these clients were primarily purchasing advertisements and neglecting the other digital tools, and then not seeing the ROI that they had hoped for.
The answer here lies in the digital marketing stack:
In order for those digital advertisements to pay off, these local businesses needed to invest in all elements of the new marketing stack, or else their advertisements are simply pointing their prospects towards their competitors.
For example, if you’re a local business owner, a potential customer might see your dry cleaning ad in a local paper and recognize a need, but they probably won’t remember your name five minutes later. That evening, they’re going to hop on their laptop and search “dry cleaners in Fort Worth,” and get a list of results that includes you and some of your closest competitors. You have a three star review average because you’ve been neglecting your online reputation, so this prospect is now going to choose your four star competition.
I needed to bridge the gap in a way that would help educate the reps and also mitigate the worthy concerns of these prospects.
Here’s what I came up with:
“Your advertising isn’t working because you have a poor virtual doorway. Your customers are going to do their research, so if you just cover these simple things: listings, reviews, and social media, it will allow you to beat out the competition because you’re going to have a much more appealing virtual doorway than your competitors and this is going to supercharge your advertising performance. If you don’t capitalize on all of the components in the marketing stack, your competitors are going to slide in and eat up all of the business that your advertising dollar is creating, because their virtual doorway will be more appealing. It’s as simple as that. Oh, and by the way, I’m offering to take care of all the leg-work for you and send you a report every month to demonstrate that it’s working.”
Hey critics, the elevator pitch hasn’t died, and the best in the business are still leveraging this critical sales tool. In fact, I speculate that there will be a resurgence in the popularity of the elevator pitch with younger generations as they place a much higher precedent on quick and efficient communication.
Just remember, six simple steps:
- Watch top TV commercials
- Identify your goal
- Explain what you do
- Deliver your unique selling proposition
- Engage with a question
- Put it all together and practice!
Use this format as a basis from which you can begin to build up your arsenal of elevator pitches so that you can enter any sales environment confident in your ability to convey value.