The “elevator pitch” is one of the more controversial aspects of business promotion. British business culture has always been uncomfortable with this American form of blowing one’s own trumpet, perceiving it as insincere, shallow and opportunistic.
However, over the last few years, a growing number of UK-based businesses, both large and small, have made the elevator pitch an integral part of their business culture, with outstanding results.
So what is the elevator pitch?
Imagine the scene; you meet someone for the first time who could be a potential customer, introducer, referrer, networker or supplier.
You therefore want to engage them in such a way that they will want to find out more about your business and any potential opportunities you may present to them.
The problem is that you have typically just a few seconds to convince them that you are worth a closer look. You need to give them your “elevator pitch” – a short, succinct overview that captures their interest and encourages them to continue a dialogue.
The phrase originates from the US where popular business culture recognises that meeting people by chance – say, in a lift – still presents potential opportunities for business.
However, when meeting in passing, where the only opportunity available is the time it takes to travel from one floor to another, it is vital to make the introduction quickly and effectively.
What makes a good elevator pitch?
There are numerous different styles and formats of elevator pitch, but what they all tend to have in common is that they are clear, succinct statements about the business that aim to make the listener interested enough to continue talking there and then, or commit to following up at some time.
Good elevator pitches are typically a short statement of who you are, what you do, and how your goods or services can offer value to customers.
In line with sound marketing principles, the key to producing a good elevator speech is to remember not to sell the product or service, but to focus on the benefit to the customer.
The most successful speeches give the listener a hint of how you might be of interest or benefit to them, but without answering so many of their questions that they feel they have no need to talk to you further. Remember, after a short intro about who you are, the best speeches focus on what can be of benefit to the listener and encourage further dialogue.
Obviously, not everyone you meet will be of value to you, but they may know someone who would be. Opportunities are not necessarily obvious.
Many great pitches have an explanation or informative introduction and then aim to rapidly engage the other person by asking questions. Depending on the time available, situation and context, this may become a highly successful tactic.
Should it be rehearsed?
This is the aspect that traditional British business culture has the most difficulty with. Despite the concerns that a prepared elevator pitch may appear insincere, immodest and ‘salesy,’ the scripted, rehearsed and polished pitch has a number of clear advantages:
- You won’t fumble for words to try to describe the business when time is short.
- You can ensure that all key points of information are included and communicated effectively.
- You can frame your words so that the appropriate content is included to encourage further communication.
- By framing the conversation, you are able to filter the people you meet to maximize your time and effectiveness.
- You can impart confidence about yourself and your offering.
Most of the concerns about the elevator pitch may be overcome by becoming comfortable with the script and ensuring that you try to engage the listener and not talk at them.
That way, and by making it informative rather than obviously promotional, the sincerity will remain and you should have a higher success rate.
The classic elevator pitch
Although each and every pitch is tailored to the company and audience, there is a standard, classic structure which over time has proven effective.
The key features include;
- An overview of what the business does / sells (although don’t go into too much detail)
- What your main market is, (who you sell to, what industry you are in, what sort of market share you have)
- What your clients / customers experience as the key benefits of your products / service
- Your main competitive advantage / Unique Core Differentiators (what makes you different and better than the competition)
Things to avoid:
- Don’t be vague
- Don’t resort to catchy phrases
- Don’t use advertising language
- Don’t use jargon – speak in plain language
Remember, make it brief, informative and powerful, and don’t be afraid to continually work on improving it. Very rarely will a successful script be written straight off without tweaking over time.