Ride Your Elevator Pitch To The Top
Every businessperson has had the experience of being asked, “what does your company do?” Sometimes we’re expecting this question and we’re ready to pounce with a 47-slide PowerPoint deck in the way of a response. Other times, we’re caught completely off guard, so we either mutter and stumble our way through an inadequate response, or blather on well past the point of interest.
There is a much better way. Moments such as these require an elevator pitch, a carefully crafted set of words you can deploy to respond to the question about what you do. It’s intentionally short, tailored for delivery in about 30 seconds or the duration of an elevator ride, hence the name.
Your elevator pitch should capture the value and uniqueness of what you do, without being chocked full of superlatives. Examples follow. Good: “We make carbon fiber widgets for use in the aerospace industry.” Bad: “We use space-age materials to make world class widgets for leading edge industries.”
Every organization should spend the time to craft an elevator pitch and encourage the whole team to use it to communicate on behalf of the company. The challenge in doing this is coming up with something that is elegant in its simplicity, a concise yet differentiating statement. Here are some tips for crafting a great elevator pitch:
- Understand whom you’re talking to. Any communication effort should begin with an understanding of the audience. Your elevator pitch is no exception. Is your pitch for the media? Investors? Customers? What you’ll find is that the same pitch may not work for every audience. To start developing your pitch, get a precise understanding of the audience for it.
- Explain what you do. Often, the first instinct when it comes to explaining what you do is to answer technically. There’s a time for the technical detail, but that time is not here. Instead, the best explanation describes the value you create through what you do. Example: “Our carbon fiber widgets help the aerospace industry save 15% on fuel costs.” Put the emphasis on the value, because if your elevator pitch resonates, you’ll have the opportunity to go into detail.
- Focus on differentiation. Unless your company is universally acknowledged for delivering one-of-a-kind innovations to the market, you’re going to have to explain how you’re different from your competitors. Strong differentiation is what makes an elevator pitch powerful. Going back to the widget example, we could say, “our carbon fiber widgets are twice as strong as traditional widgets and weigh 25% less.” It is the differentiation that makes an elevator pitch memorable, so spend the time and energy to identify the differentiation that is the source of the value you create. Without differentiation, you have an empty elevator pitch. Therefore, this component is the most problematic for undifferentiated companies trying to position themselves and craft an elevator pitch. When you do describe your differentiation, you have to put it in terms your audience can understand.
- Be brief. An elevator pitch is, by definition, brief. It’s hard to distill all the differentiation and things you do to create value into a brief sentence, but you must. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch in 30 seconds, you lose.
What does this look like? Consider what business Harley Davidson is in: motorcycle manufacturing, right? But, a Harley Davidson executive once said it this way: “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” Now that’s a great elevator pitch!
With the right inspiration, your elevator pitch can crystalize quickly. More likely, it takes time and effort to take a rough set of words and ideas and polish them into something beautiful. However you get there, it is worth the time and effort to create a great elevator pitch.