How To Give a Flawless Elevator Pitch
Most people confuse elevator pitches with sales pitches, but they're completely different. A sales pitch is a formal presentation. An elevator pitch is a segue that takes place within a casual conversation.
Proverbially, the elevator pitch is supposed to take place in an elevator but that rarely happens. More typically, you use an elevator pitch when you run into a potential customer at a conference, trade show, or social event.
So, let's suppose you're at the "open bar" mixer at a trade show and somebody who doesn't look like another vendor asks: "So, Joe, what do you do for a living?"
If you reply "I'm in sales" or "I work for ABC," the conversation will devolve into chit-chat. Instead, you use your elevator pitch to segue into a conversation that might eventually lead to a sale.
The elevator pitch consists of three parts:
- The Benefit. That's the reason the customer might want what you're selling.
- The Differentiator. That's the reason the customer might want to buy from YOU.
- The Ask. That's where you ask for meeting the customer, if the customer shows interest.
I'll go through each element in detail.
1. The Benefit
The benefit is never the product that you're selling. It's always the effect (aka "impact") that your product could have on the customer's own business.
For example, suppose you're selling an inventory control system, which is a piece of software that helps manufacturers keep track of their raw materials.
That's what you're selling; it's not the benefit. The benefit must something specifically and directly relevant to the customer's business, ideally with a financial metric.
- "We sell inventory systems." (That's not product, not the benefit.)
- "We sell inventory control systems that save you money." (Benefit not specific.)
- "Manufacturers use our system to reduce their inventory costs by 50%."
- "Companies hire us to streamline their inventory, saving on average a million dollars."
2. The Differentiator
This is what makes you or your firm different from everyone else. If there's no differentiator, you're selling your industry, not your product. There's no particular reason to buy from YOU.
Strong differentiators contain a fact that is concrete and independently measurable rather than unsubstantiated claims and opinions. They should NEVER refer to your emotions, which are irrelevant to the customer.
- "We're industry-leading and best-in-class." (According to whom?)
- "We can save you money faster than the competition. (Says who?)
- "We're excited about providing you with best service!" (Who cares?)
- "We have a patented method that delivers materials the day they're needed."
- "Our system holds the industry record for the most money saved."
3. The Ask
The worst mistake you can make in an elevator pitch is trying to close the sale. It's way too soon for that.
B2B selling involves tens of thousands or even millions of dollars. Companies don't spend that kind of money without having multiple meetings, usually with a lot of people involved.
At this point, all you want is that first but all-important fact-finding meeting, where you can assess the customer's needs and mutually decide whether you can meet those needs.
Couldn't you have that meeting then and there? Uh, no. At this point, you're having a social conversation. You want to have a real business conversation, which means it must take place where actual decisions are made.
- "Here's my card. Give me a call if you're interested." (Failing to ask.)
- "I can send you a price quote." (Closing too soon.)
- "Maybe we should run some numbers. What's your availability next week?"
- "Since you're interested, what's the best way to get on your calendar?"
If you've got a strong enough benefit, and if your differentiator makes sense, you'll probably get the meeting.
Example and Final Pointers
Now, let's pull it all together. Imagine you're at a technical conference and end up being introduced to someone whose name tag suggests they might be a potential customer.
- Customer: "So, what brings you to the conference?"
- You: "We're here because manufacturers use our system to reduce their inventory costs by 50%. We have a patented method that delivers materials the day they're needed."
- Customer: "Hmm... That's something we might need."
- You: "Great. What's the best way to get on your calendar?"
That's an idealized conversation, of course, but it does illustrate how the segue works. Before I go, two quick pointers.
- Keep it conversational. You want to sound like a colleague or a consultant, NOT a fast-talking salesperson.
- Keep it simple. Avoid fancy words and technical jargon that might confuse the customer. And especially no biz-blab!
With practice, your elevator pitch can win you new customers wherever and whenever you might bump into them.
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Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.