What makes an amazing elevator pitch?
Recently, I attended one of those MeetUp entrepreneur events in the East End of London. The reception area was overflowing with budding entrepreneurs and wantrapreneurs, an orchestra of voices all vying to elevator pitch and tell amid the clatter of glasses.
Scanning the room, I noticed a pair of tall guys in conversation. One spoke excitedly, cradling an iPad on his arm like a puppy and pushing up his glasses every so often. His conversation partner, suited-and-booted in grey, was nodding out of rhythm, like a guy dancing in the middle of the dance floor and managing to miss every single beat. It was obvious suit man wasn’t listening to iPad man. He was just nodding, probably thinking about the previous conversation.
Entrepreneurs attend networking events to share ideas and meet prospects. Yet when it comes time to answer the “what do you do?” question, the response is typically a long-winded explanation which leaves others feeling confused, bored or both. They lose the listener before finishing the sentence, let alone the paragraph.
And this doesn’t only happen in networking. It happens on the phone. It creeps up on websites and email copy. And as the title tells you, it also happens in elevators.
The missing ingredient?
When people explain what they do — their elevator pitch — they miss the single most important ingredient.
It’s that one single element that gets the other person to lean in a little, so they can hear more about the fantastic service or product you have created.
My cat is so curious. Whenever we get a new package delivered from Amazon, we leave the empty packaging on the floor. She never fails to sniff all around its edges, paw the corners and snoop around inside. Empty cardboard boxes are her favourite thing.
You want to make the people you meet curious. Leave an empty cardboard box for them and make them want to walk over, lean in and sniff the contents. I’m not suggesting you get people to sniff you, but that would be a pretty good feat.
We’re so used to hearing job titles and job functions, so it’s pretty easy to stand out, stimulate interest and ensure people totally get what you do. You also want to make it easy for them to brag about you to their network of 100+ people, so make it tweetable.
Who pays your bills?
Why are you in business? No, it’s not because of you. The only way you can be in a sustainable business is to serve a customer. Without a customer, audience or consumer, your business can’t exist.
Your chief aim is to inspire and move people. That’s what you’re in the business of doing, regardless of what you sell. And you do it using your unique gifts and talents, be it as an accountant, an app developer or an artist.
So who is your customer? Who buys or consumes your stuff? Be specific. It could be based on one of the following:
Company size or sector: sole traders, small businesses or corporations
Sector: Academia, public sector, health care, finance, energy, fine arts
Job title: marketers, digital marketers, PR experts, accountants, oil traders
Demographic: single-moms, 18-25 year olds, veterans, high-net worth people
Interests: sustainability, cycling, foodies, wellness freaks
Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?
It’s easy and incredibly tempting to gloss over the “who”, but without defining your customer, you could miss out on a tonne of business.
While working on a pitch for her beauty products for cancer survivors, an entrepreneur from one of my workshops said, “I might miss out on customers, I’m limiting my audience if I just make it for cancer survivors.” To which another attendee responded, “Do you know how big that market is? One in three people are diagnosed with cancer. That’s a massive market.”
If you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to NO ONE.
And now for our scheduled coffee break
Nespresso, that near omnipresent brand coffee which makes tiny chic machines that percolate the perfect espresso, nearly failed because they marketed to everyone when they first launched. They changed their strategy to focus on a niche: business class lounges and business class airline passengers. When these business-travelling executives saw their neat machines, they wanted one in their offices. From there it grew into office lounges. Later, they started a club, making ownership even more exclusive and now they have a concept store in London’s Piccadilly Circus!
I totally get that you might be fearful of missing out on potential customers. This is normal. But there are thousands of case studies to support starting with a niche makes it easier for people to find you. When you’ve dominated that market segment, you can grow from there.
Cats don’t carry wallets
Let’s go back to the idea of the empty cardboard box and imagine a producer of cardboard boxes going through this exercise. Who is their client? Sure, cats love them but they’re horrible when it comes to payment, so they need to think of other customers segments.
Amazon uses lots of boxes. So do people who might be moving house. But maybe they want to go a bit deeper, highlight their unique selling point. They make all of their products with 100% recycled material. So maybe their clients are environmentally-conscious companies.
After defining your customer, you want to explain why they should buy from you.
What gives them a headache?
Last month my energy bill increased by almost 50%. Now my wife is looking for a new energy provider but to get the best rates, she needs to tell the prospective new energy provider our gas and energy usage. That means calling a company, navigating through menus, waiting for a customer rep, giving our details and then listening to a long spiel with technical details no one understands. And she has to do this at least 3 times to get a price comparison, more if you think about how many energy companies there are in the UK now.
Then energy company A created a tool to let you input your details in so you could get an immediate quote. Gone was the “headache” of waiting on the phone and listening to automated voices.
Then an energy supermarket came along and created a tool which let you put in your details ONCE and like magic, offered up the best rates across all of the different energy providers. Gone was the “headache” of calling up ten different companies to have the same conversation 10 times.
So what is the solution you are offering your customers? What problem or pain does buying your widget help them avoid? What relief does it bring them?
Returning to our budding cardboard box entrepreneurs, maybe their customers have had problems with breakage due to poor packaging, which has resulted in more returns. They could say:
We help environmentally companies to minimise breakage and returns.
OR, focusing on the solution:
We create resilient storage solutions for environmentally-conscious companies.
Come on, get happy
When people go on holiday, they’re not buying a seat on a plane or a sandbox or a room with a sea-view; they’re buying an escape. They’re buying headspace and time with their loved ones. In the energy example, people are buying time, i.e. gaining time by not having to do so much research.
So what is the benefit, the great wonderful — perhaps visual — outcome your clients experience by buying your widget? What goal does it help them achieve? Brainstorm some answers. Don’t judge them, just get as many ideas out on paper as you can. Then look at what you’ve written and summarise, both the pain relief and positive outcomes, into a bunch of snappy sentences.
The benefit that our cardboard box entrepreneur provides could be increasing profits (by reducing return expenses) or improving customer retention (by reducing negative reviews). Of course, by minimising the number of returns, they’re also reducing the amount of time employees have to spend dealing with any specific transaction.
The empty cardboard box
Now it’s time to place that empty cardboard box in front of people. Here’s a fill-in-the-blank template to show you how to do it.
We help / serve _____[who pays your bills?]_____
be / do / have / avoid / achieve _____[what is the headache?]_____
so that they can _____[What makes their heart sing?]_____
Examples a.k.a. how do others do it?
Multi-channel digital media agency:
We help startups become a big deal online so they can grow their audience.
I help new business owners tell their story so they can attract more customers.
We help small business retailers capture quality customer feedback so they can create products their customers actually want.
A holistic therapist:
I help overworked professionals relax so they can enjoy their home-life fully and be more effective at the office.
Online marketplace for professional kitchens:
We help food startups rent affordable kitchen space, while helping commercial kitchen owners make money on the side.
Cardboard box producer:
We help environmentally-conscious companies get their goods safely transported to minimise returns and improve customer retention.
Be memorable by being curious
The secret to an amazing elevator pitch is piquing curiosity instead of telling people what you do. How boring would it be to have a web developer talk about certifications and coding architecture? How much more interesting would it be if they talked about how they helped clients bring their vision to a virtual space, or helped clients increase conversions by a thousand percent?
Don’t expect to compete with generalists who’ve been in the game for a longer time and have more resources. Instead, focus on a niche and be known for that; dominate it and you’ll drive demand for your services in other areas.
Remember, people don’t buy stuff, they buy the outcomes the stuff brings them. When asked what you do, and t’s time to give your elevator pitch, focus your response around the customers, not you. Instead of focusing on what you do, focus on the pain avoided and the benefits gained by your customers. Doing so gets people wanting more and makes you memorable.
Feel free to forward this article to a friend if you think they would benefit.