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Craft a Killer Elevator Pitch in 6 Easy Steps

I know a guy whose elevator pitch turned a chance meeting at a wedding into an opportunity to get funding his new business idea.

The guy is now worth almost a billion dollars.

So, does a good "elevator pitch" sound like something worth having?

This post explains exactly how to craft a conversation that can turn social situations into sales opportunities.

BTW, It's loosely based on a recent conversation with sales uber-guru Barry Rhein.

Hey, you ready to build your killer "elevator pitch"? If so, read on...

CLICK for the first step »
Illustrations by Wahyu B. Pratomo


STEP #1: Understand The Concept
Despite the name, an "elevator pitch" is NOT A SALES PITCH. It's only called an "elevator pitch" because it was originally supposed to be something you'd say to a hot prospect who ended up on the same elevator.

In fact, an elevator pitch is a conversational technique that allows you to transform any accidental social contact (e.g. at a conference, on an airplane, at a wedding) into a sales opportunity.

To achieve this, the elevator pitch consists of four conversational elements, in this specific order:

  • #1: The lead-in. This is the set-up statement for the conversation. It's intended to spark initial interest from the (potential) prospect.
  • #2: The differentiator. This identifies the sales rep, the sales rep's firm or the firm's offering as a unique resource that deserves immediate attention.
  • #3: The engagement question. This is an open-ended conversation starter that allows the sale rep to assess the prospect's interest level.
  • #4: The call to action. This is the request for a meeting to discuss the matter further, thereby moving moving the opportunity into your pipeline.
That's the structure, and that's what we're going to craft in this post.

CLICK for the second step »


STEP #2: Craft a Compelling Lead-in
The lead-in is the set-up statement for the pitch. It provides the conceptual and emotional framework that appropriate position the second element. However, it is also a conversational ploy. It's your response to the inevitable question "And what do you do for a living?"

Now, if you're answering something like "I'm in sales", you're missing the opportunity. However, you're also blowing it if you blather on and on about your company.

A lead-in is a SINGLE SENTENCE that has the following characteristics:

  • It tells a story about your customers. It explains what your customers do, and how you help them do it better.
  • It is important to a prospect. No matter how compelling the story, if the dragon being slain (i.e. problem being solved) is actually a tiny serpent, nobody will impressed.
  • It is quantifiable and defendable. Your lead-in statement must be backed up with at least one quantifiable fact that proves its validity.
  • It is memorable. The lead-in should compel the prospect to ask: "How in heaven's name do you accomplish [whatever you just claimed]?"
According to Barry Rhein, great lead-ins have the following characteristics:
  • They're crisp. We're talking 10 seconds maximum.
  • They're pertinent. They hit the key point, without using jargon.
  • They're energetic. Your understated enthusiasm should shine through.
  • They're a start point. They begin the conversation in an engaging way.
Unfortunately, most lead-ins suck, because they're too long, too detailed or too abstract.

EXAMPLES:

  • Original: "Our clients are able to reduce the complexity, costs and time involved in delivering information, communications and training into their retail stores."
  • Why it's Ineffective: Redundant because "complexity, costs and time" are all varieties of the same thing as are "information, communications and training" There are no specific financial benefits and the entire thing is in the passive, making it unclear how you firm is involved. Also the term "platform" is just biz-blab.
  • Improved: "Retail firms use our software and services to help train their employees, resulting in an average 10 percent increase in sales, compared to the performance of other stores."
  • Original: "Our customers get enterprise quality talent management software at a fraction of the cost to automate employee accountability to achieve results, keep track of employee data and write performance reviews in half the time."
  • Why It's Ineffective: Full of terminology that's either vague (e.g. "enterprise quality", "faction of the cost") or undefined (e.g."talent management software", "automate employee accountability"). There's no the specific, concrete financial benefit.
  • Improved: "Our customers achieve a 10 to 1 ROI within one year by using our consulting services and software to more precisely focus and track employee behavior."
  • Original: "I'm an Corporate Account Manager and I work with companies to see if it is possible to help them lower their cost of IT procurement through a business relationship with ___. We have a working relationship with IBM/Lenovo/HP/Apple/Cisco/Adobe and Microsoft to name a few."
  • Why It's Ineffective: Too wordy, and doesn't have a quantifiable benefit.
  • Improved: "We help companies lower IT procurement costs -- typically by 20 percent or more -- by negotiating directly with major IT vendors."
  • Original: "We are a provider of online courses for academia, associations and corporations. We are also a PMI REP and have developed self paced project management courses such as PMP Test Prep and PM for IT."
  • Why It's Ineffective: Too technical and the language is stilted.
  • Improved: "Companies like [former customer] and colleges like [former customer] use our online course to get their folk certified as project managers in half the time (and half the money) it usually takes."
  • Original: "We are a 'one stop' Human Resource consulting and outsourcing firm that provides access to HR services for the continuum of the employment life cycle: recruiting and professional placement; benefits and compensation design; compliance services; organization development; leadership training and coaching."
  • Why It's Ineffective: Pure biz-blab.
  • Improved: "We help our clients with hiring, compensation, compliance, and training, typically saving $**** per employee -- a savings that goes straight to the bottom line."
  • Original: "We specialize in helping organizations create products and services that wow their markets and then transform their business to deliver those to a predefined cost, quality, service and functional specification - every time."
  • Why It's Ineffective: Too much biz-blab, which is why it doesn't really communicate what the company does for the customer.
  • Improved: "Companies call us when they want help figuring out what products will wow their customers; for instance, we recently helped [former customer] with their launch of [product], which broke all sales records in less than two months!"
Get the idea?

If not, and you're still having problems, EMAIL ME your current lead-in (or your best attempt), and (if I've got time) I'll rewrite it for you, free of charge.

CLICK for the third step »


STEP #3: Craft a Compelling Differentiator
Once you've delivered your lead-in, check to see if the person you're speaking to is actually interested. If you get a polite "that's nice" or (worse) the person is looking for an escape route, just drop it and let the conversation go casual.

What you're looking for is anything along the lines "how do you do that?" Ideally, you want to hear that very question (which is what the lead-in is supposed to elicit), but you might get a visual cue or some other verbal cue that it's OK to continue.

If you get that "go-ahead", you answer the question "how do you to that" but in a way that positions you and your firm against the competition. The idea is to make it perfectly clear that YOU and your firm are a unique resource that's worthy of the attention of a top executive. Right now and right away.

This "differentiator" consists of one or two facts. Why only one or two? Most people can only hold -- at most -- three thoughts in their short-term memory at one time. You've already asked the person to whom you're speaking to stick your lead-in into short-term memory. Therefore, you only have two (at most) memory slots available.

Here's how you come up with your differentiator:

  1. List out as many things as you can that describe how your firm is better (or different) than your competitors.
  2. Go through that list and select the two differences that are most likely to be important to a prospect.
  3. Write a succinct summary of those two difference in one sentence. Make certain that your summary is free of biz-blab and has a quantifiable benefit.
Examples:
  • You: "We help our clients with hiring, compensation, compliance, and training, typically saving $**** per employee -- a savings that goes straight to the bottom line." (lead-in)
  • Prospect: "How do you do that?"
  • You: "We have a unique methodology and supporting software based upon some proprietary scientific research that we funded through MIT" (differentiator.)
  • You: "We help companies lower IT procurement costs -- typically by 20 percent or more -- by negotiating directly with major IT vendors." (lead-in)
  • Prospect: "That sounds interesting."
  • You: "It is! We've got extensive contacts that let us know the biggest discounts that that the IT vendors have offered in the past and then use them as the basis for negotiating your price!" (differentiator)
  • You: "Our customers achieve a 10 to 1 ROI within one year by using our consulting services and software to more precisely focus and track employee behavior." (lead-in)
  • Prospect: "10 to 1? No way!"
  • You: "Way! In fact, some of our customer have achieved that ROI in less than six months; and we've got the metrics to prove it." (differentiator)
Still having problems? EMAIL ME your current differentiator (or your best attempt), and (if I've got time) I'll rewrite it for you, free of charge.

CLICK for the fourth step »


STEP #4: Craft the Engagement Question
Congratulations, you're done with the challenging parts! From here on in, everything else is fairly easy.

At this point in the pitch, you've done enough talking. Now you do a little listening.

The engagement question opens a brief give-and-take conversation that allows you to assess whether this is actually a valid prospect.

Engagement questions are really simple. They always start with a conversational bridge and then a simple (and often obvious) question. Here are some examples:

  • "Just out of curiosity, what priorities might you have in these areas?"
  • "Gee, you seem intrigued. Of what I just said, what might be of interest?"
  • "Hey, enough about my firm. How does your firm handle that problem?"
There's no need to get fancy. The most important thing is that it be conversational -- and sound like something that a real person would say to a real person rather than something a sales rep would say to a prospect.

Note that engagement questions are ALWAYS open-ended. They need they solicit more than a yes-or-no answer. There are two reasons for this:

First, an open ended question makes it more likely that you'll learn something useful about the prospect. Hopefully, the ensuing conversation will allow you to pre-qualify the prospect so you know whether or not it makes sense to continue the pitch. You may also end up gathering information that will prove useful later in the sales cycle.

Second, the ensuing conversation helps build this casual relationship to the point where it's socially acceptable for you to ask for a "real" sales meeting to discuss the matter further. But that's in the next step...

CLICK for the fifth step »


STEP #5: Craft Your Call To Action
The point of all the elevator pitch is, of course, to generate a potential opportunity. And for that to happen you need to get an appointment for a follow-on meeting.

The way you do this varies according to your assessment of the prospect's interest level:

  • Scenario #1: Prospect seems skeptical.
    Your approach: "If we really could do (something of value to the customer here), what would your thoughts be on having an initial conversation with us to hear more?"
  • Scenario #2: Prospect seems neutral. Your approach: "What would your thoughts be on having an initial conversation with us about (something of value to the customer here)? What is your availability over the next few weeks?"
  • Scenario #3: Prospect seems obliging. Your approach: "I would love to have an initial phone conversation with you about (something of value to the customer here). What is the best way to get on your calendar?"
  • Scenario #4: Prospect is clearly interested. Your approach: "How do I get on your calendar, please?"
Easy, eh? The trick here is being realistic about the prospect's level of interest. The better you assess this, the more likely it is that you'll get on the prospect's calendar.

Well, you're almost done, but there's still...

CLICK for the final step »


STEP #6: Rehearse Until It's Natural
The great thing about an elevator pitch is that you only have to memorize about a paragraph. However, the pitch is a conversation -- which means that you can't just reel it off like a carnival barker.

For the elevator pitch to work, it must be delivered naturally and conversationally and, ironically, the only way to be natural is to rehearse until it sounds natural.

To do this properly, you need to rehearse with another person who plays the potential prospect, and you need to record the conversation.

When you play back the conversation, you want to focus on the sound of your voice. You want your words to sound like they're not rehearsed -- even though you're rehearsing them! (This is EXACTLY what actors do when they rehearse for movie scenes.)

The other thing you listen for is the dreaded "salesman voice." You know what I'm talking about... That breezy, TV-pitchman voice that's filled with false excitement.

Many real-life sales pros unconsciously talk in "salesman voice" because they've been subliminally cued by years of television and by listening to other sales pros who have it.

If you've got "salesman voice" -- even the smallest tinge of it -- your elevator pitch won't work, because it will sound like a pitch rather than a conversation.

So rid yourself of all traces of "salesman voice," and you're ready... next time you meet a potential prospect in a social setting.

CLICK for a summary and examples »

SUMMARY
  • STEP #1: Scrap Your Old Elevator Pitch
  • STEP #2: Craft a Compelling Lead-in
  • STEP #3: Craft a Compelling Differentiator
  • STEP #4: Craft the Engagement Question
  • STEP #5: Craft Your Call To Action
  • STEP #6: Rehearse Until It's Natural
Here's are two samples of complete "elevator pitch" conversations.

EXAMPLE 1:

  • Person (sitting next you on plane): "So, what do you do?"
  • You: "We help our clients with hiring, compensation, compliance, and training, typically saving $**** per employee -- a savings that goes straight to the bottom line.
  • Person: "How do you do that?"
  • You: "We have a unique methodology and supporting software based upon some proprietary scientific research that we funded through MIT. Let me give you an example. About how many people does your firm employ?
  • Person: "About 5,000"
  • You: Well, assuming that they're mostly engineers, we could probably save your firm about $5 million a year. Just out of curiosity, how do you currently do employee training?"
  • Person: (explains and seems interested)
  • You: "I would love to have an initial phone conversation with you to see whether we can save you some serious money. What is the best way to get on your calendar?"
EXAMPLE 2:
  • Person (met at a technical conference): "So, you work in IT too, eh?"
  • You: "Yup. I help companies lower IT procurement costs -- typically by 20 percent or more -- by negotiating directly with major IT vendors."
  • Person: "20 percent! Off the list price or the discounted price?"
  • You: "Depends. We can almost always beat the discounted price that our clients can get because we know the biggest discounts that that IT vendors have offered in the past. Which vendors are you buying from?"
  • Person: "Mostly IBM, right now."
  • You: "And what kind of average discount are you getting?"
  • Person: "About 10 percent, I'd guess."
  • You: "And your total spend?"
  • Person: "Around $3 million a year."
  • You: "Then we can probably save you an addition $300,000 a year."
  • Person: "Cool."
  • You: "We should talk more. What's the best way to get on your calendar?"
Well, that's it for elevator pitches. Once again, the master of this art is sales guru Barry Rhein. The hour I spent with him was incredibly powerful and I've heard his seminars are dynamite!

BTW, below is a link to some videos of elevator pitches done the traditional (i.e. sucky) way. They're dreadfully hilarious...