What is an elevator pitch and why do you need one?

So, you run into a former colleague at the airport and he asks what you’ve been up to. But before you can tell him about your new business, you’re both running off to catch your flights.

This same scenario can happen to you anywhere – a business networking event, a cocktail party or even your child’s sporting event. The next time it happens, you won’t be caught off guard if you have an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a short statement that defines your business and what you offer clients or customers. Ideally, you should be able to say it in 20-30 seconds – the time of an average elevator ride. An elevator pitch is not a sales pitch. It’s an introduction to your business that is interesting enough to lead to more conversation later.

Many Dunwoody business owners consider an elevator pitch an essential business tool. One of them is Michael Bryan, Managing Partner of Vino Venue & Atlanta Wine School.

“The question about what one does is common, yet few businesses have taken the time to formulate a consistent, terse response,” said Bryan. “Depending on your response to the question, you’ll either hook your listener’s interest or lose it in 15 seconds or less.”

Bryan’s employees all have specific elevator pitches, depending on which department of his business they work in.

“Our business is complex, and when one enters our facility, it is not necessarily obvious what we do – after all, we sell six different services!” he said. “So all of our staff use an elevator statement to quickly help these curious customers understand all of the food and wines they can enjoy with us.”

Another business owner whose staff also use an elevator pitch is Dr. Jeff Priluck, DMD, co-owner of Dentistry with a Difference.

“You need to be prepared with an elevator pitch because you really have only a few seconds in our fast-paced society to engage a potential patient or client,” said Priluck. “I have bullet points which all of my staff have as part of the script we have devised. It goes off in our heads automatically when asked.”

Even if you’re not a business owner, if you’re responsible for business development, you need an elevator pitch.

One such person is Jennifer Howard, a financial advisor with Edward Jones.

“I never know when or where I might meet someone who is concerned about having enough income in retirement,” she said.

Howard modifies her elevator pitch depending on her audience. For example, her pitch during a one-on-one conversation would be different from the one she would use at a round-robin networking event.

Howard’s elevator pitch definitely helps in attracting new clients. In fact, one day she delivered her pitch while actually riding in an elevator. The prospect was “a lawyer who had just won a big case and wanted to review his IRA options.”

“We’ve been working together ever since,” she said, “and he has been kind enough to introduce me to a couple of his friends to boot!”

So, now that you’re convinced you need an elevator pitch for your business, how do you create one?

Most experts agree on six steps:

1. Identify your goal. Are you telling someone at a cocktail party what you do or trying to interest prospects in doing business with you?

2. Explain what you do by focusing on ways you can help prospects solve problems.

3. State your USP or unique selling proposition. What sets you apart from your competition?

4. Engage your listener with a question. Howard engages her listeners with a statistic that leads them to ask her more: “Did you know asset allocation is the 91 percent determiner of a portfolio’s performance?”  

5. Read your pitch out loud. Use a stopwatch and delete everything extraneous until you can say it in 20-30 seconds.

6. Practice. Stand in front of a mirror and watch your body language. Let someone you trust critique you. Be friendly and confident. Howard advises looking your listener in the eye and smiling.

And, finally, follow these tips:

• Tailor your pitch to your listener. Everyone ultimately wants to know “what’s in it for me.”

• Avoid industry jargon. The last thing you want to do is make your listener feel stupid.

• Try to sound relaxed and conversational, even though you’re reciting a prepared speech.

• Always have business cards to leave behind..

Everyone I know who has used an elevator pitch has gotten business from it, including me. If you’re not a writer, don’t worry. Just cover the main points and be yourself.

If you have any questions or issues you’d like us to address in this column, please email us at info@dunwoodycommerce.org.

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