As a salesperson, you have to take every opportunity that is presented to you.
Whether you have a 20-minute meeting, a five-minute walk-and-talk, or the few seconds before your prospect decides to hang up the phone, you need a pitch for every occasion.
How do you build all these different things?
Start with your elevator pitch.
What is an elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch is a brief, hooky summary of your offering. At somewhere between around 30 seconds, and elevator pitch is meant to be about the length of a ride in an elevator, though, of course, you can deliver one almost anywhere, any time. (I say almost because I have heard of people pitching while their prospects are in the bathroom.)
Conducting an elevator pitch
In that short space of time, you have to convey enough information to get an invite to a full meeting. But the idea is not to fit as much detail into your 30 seconds as possible. It’s about presenting an idea that intrigues your prospect in a package that they like.
So, as well as crafting the perfect elevator pitch, you also have to ensure you are:
- Speaking clearly and concisely
- Being friendly and respectful
- Conveying enthusiasm with your tone and body language (i.e. nonverbal communication)
An elevator pitch comes in handy in hundreds of situations, and you may need more than one depending on what you’re selling. Whether you’re pitching a product, your company, or even yourself, the goal is always to front-load the most important information – a bit like the opening paragraph of a news story.
Then if your prospect has time, you can expand on the details, and that is how you grow an elevator pitch into a longer presentation.
Writing an elevator pitch – where to begin
When you’re put on the spot, it can be hard to do a good job of distilling your offer to one great soundbite. That’s why we recommend you write your elevator pitch before you need it – and learn it by heart.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your elevator pitch isn’t going to come pouring out of your pen like magic. You can brainstorm pithy phrases and heroic taglines and stitch them together, but the result would probably be meaningless. It’s not going to give you the connection to your prospect that you want.
Your time is better spent writing something chunky (and probably not very good), and then editing it down until you have your pitch.
With that in mind, try writing down a long-form introduction to your product, including:
- My name is...
- I work for...
- We make/provide...
- It does this function...
- Which solves this problem.
Got it? Ok, now get out your red pen.
Work out what’s most important to your prospect
Your instinct will likely be that every elevator pitch should include your name. However, this is not always necessary. You know your name. You don’t need to memorize it. And in any case, you might not need it – you may have already been introduced.
If you do need it, throw it in at the most appropriate time, but don’t let your elevator pitch be bogged down by admin. Why is an initial long-form version necessary then? Because editing is both a technical and a mental exercise. Removing those surplus parts will help get you in the right frame of mind to cut, cut, cut.
Taking out those first two elements leaves you with just points three-to-five.
A lot of people pitching their product or service focus on point four; they get carried away with the tech or the different services they offer. However, what you have to remember is that nobody really cares about your tech or your brochure or your comprehensive range of services. They’re too busy thinking about their own problems. So, begin at the end of the list: the problem that your offer solves.
Identifying problems with a question
Still have your red pen at hand? Underline the problems that your offer solves. Can it be summarized in a single sentence? Write that down. Now, can that sentence be turned into a question?
Questions that engage your prospect’s imagination are the best kind for an elevator pitch. You know how people always argue over the office air conditioning? This question simultaneously describes the problem: no one is happy with the office temperature – and asks the prospect to reflect on their own experiences, helping them to relate to the problem being described.
You might need more than one line to make this work, depending how imaginative your prospect is. So, it could be: You know how people always argue over the office air conditioning? You have a bunch of people sweating in the heat, and then there’s Betty in the corner wearing a blanket and mittens.
The extra detail helps your prospect put themself into that situation, but it’s also an opportunity for you to express a little more of your personality and begin to build a rapport with your future customer.
Begin with peril, follow up with hero
It’s a cliché, but a great one: First you drown them, then you save them. Now that you’ve established the problem that your offer solves, you can describe the solution.
You have mere seconds, so focus on benefits, not features. Again, no one really cares how your product works – tell them how it will work for them?
For example: You know how people always argue over the office air conditioning? You have a bunch of people sweating in the heat, and then there’s Betty in the corner wearing a blanket and mittens. Well, we make an air conditioning vent that allows every individual in the office to control their own air. Too hot? Open your vent to the max, direct it right on your face. Too cold? Close it down. Everyone gets a remote control, the vents react instantly – and there’s no more complaining about the temperature.
Note: I don’t know if such a product exists, but it definitely should.
You’ll notice in the description of my fictional air conditioning vent pitch, there is no technical jargon. It’s entirely focused on solving the problem at hand.
This is critical to the success of your elevator pitch. Technical jargon is fine when you’re talking to suppliers, but with prospects and customers, you should always aim for clarity and accessibility. The days of ‘Blind them with science’ are long gone.
Now that you’ve wowed them with your solution, this is a good time to drop in the product/company name – kind of like the way James Bond introduces himself after he’s done something heroic.
And there you have it. That’s your elevator pitch: Problem-Solution-Name.
What if there’s no opening?
Imagine you’re literally in an elevator with someone you’ve never met before, but whom you think might be a good prospect. No one is saying anything. Your carefully memorized elevator pitch feels out of place. Surely, you can’t just – out of the blue – ask them if they have air conditioning wars in their office.
It’s tricky to initiate a pitch in ‘cold blood,' but it can be done. The key is to very quickly establish a connection with your prospect.
Consider the following conversation starters:
- Are they attending the same event as you?
- Do you recognize them?
- Is there something noteworthy in the environment/situation that you could comment on to break the ice?
- Do you know people in common?
Check out this TEDx talk, including ideas of how to start a conversation with a prospect that is valuable for you both.
Hard as it may be, it’s important to make your opening gambit as natural as possible so that your prospect isn’t immediately on the defensive.
Ask them about themselves. For example, What do you do? Have you visited here before? How was your journey? or something similar. Human nature’s inclination toward reciprocity will likely give you the opening that you need to begin your pitch with a question as planned.
If you know them, but they don’t know you, then introduce yourself. Tell them how you know of them (as long as it’s positive!) and say that you’ve been hoping to speak to them.
Remember the topic at hand is their problem, not your solution.
Successful pitches put customers first
As with any sales conversation, the key to writing an elevator pitch is making it customer-centric: What is the problem your product/service solves? Why is that important to your prospect?
If you do that part well, your prospect will want to hear more. At which point, you get to add in more of the details you couldn’t make time for.
When you’re building your elevator pitch into a longer presentation, remember that the customer should still remain at the core of your story. Adding more time isn’t an excuse to bust out the technical jargon.
Elevator pitches are meant to intrigue a potential client, employer, or partner in 30 seconds. In order to gain the maximum benefits from your elevator pitch, make sure to focus your pitch on your target audience and what problem of theirs you can solve.
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