How to Prepare an Elevator Pitch that Doesn’t Suck

At conferences, sporting events or social occasions, I often get unexpected opportunities to deliver a 30-second pitch to a new prospect. These surprise sales moments are important to me because if I can capitalize on them I can turn idle chitchat into a new client. If five or six of these pitches go well over the course of a year, I can double my business.

When the elevator gets stuck

In the early part of my career I approached these pitches the way I had always been taught. Like many entrepreneurs I was taught that an effective elevator pitch described my services and showed how they were unique compared to my competitors. And, as my mentors suggested, I had a ready stash of examples and details to illustrate my point.

Problem was, I only converted pitches into sales meetings maybe three times out of ten. That was about average for our firm—but I couldn’t help but think how much more business I could close if I regularly turned a couple more of those unexpected meet-ups into sales meetings.

Then I had a chance encounter with a master pitchman—and learned the secrets to making your pitch work almost every time.

A new way to pitch

I’d first met Owen when he was working for a software supplier that did business with my consulting firm. Then, years later, I was rushing through the Denver airport trying to make my flight home when I heard someone shout my name. It was Owen. I stopped, half-breathless, but I didn’t have time for much more than a quick hello.

When I asked if he was still with the old company he shook his head. “Now, I help CEOs sleep at night. I heard you’re in planning now—our software takes the risk out of decision-making. We should talk. Go catch your plane, but how about we meet next Monday or Tuesday?”

On the flight home I couldn’t stop thinking about that quick pitch. He’d never said exactly what his company did, and that intrigued me. I wanted to know how he took the risk out of decision-making, because if he really could do that I could use his help with my executive clients—and that made me want to meet with him when I got back.

And I realized that if he’d had such an effect on me, he likely was having the same impact on other people he had chance encounters with. If I could unlock the secrets of his pitch I figured I could improve my own and boost my conversion rate.

Owen’s three secrets to crafting a winning pitch

When I pulled apart Owen’s pitch, I uncovered three key ingredients that made it work:

1. Open with a hook

Owen’s quick spiel showed me that the most important thing about a pitch is that it must be memorable. The best thing he did right off the bat was to recognize the situation we were in. He saw I was in a rush so he kept his message simple and short. More importantly, he understood that he could leverage the power of my natural curiosity, and created a hook by raising questions in my mind. Instead of telling me he had a software modelling tool, he framed his service as ‘I help CEOs sleep at night’—an open-ended phrase that made me wonder, “How does he do that?”

2. Expose the pain

After hooking my curiosity Owen did a great job of exposing the pain my clients felt. Owen’s pitch centred on his ability to reduce the worry executives feel about the decisions they make for their companies. He knew that exposing pain or loss is the best way to quickly engage emotions, and that presenting your service as a solution to that pain causes people to take action.

3. Close with a call to action

This seems simple, but sometimes I struggle with making the call-to-action clear—usually because I’m too vague. I stumble when I close with weak phrases like “let’s talk,” or “let’s get together,” or “call me,” which are too open-ended, and don’t encourage immediate and definite action.

I also have to fight the urge to talk past the sale. Like a lot of entrepreneurs I sometimes get excited about potential opportunities with a prospect and find myself starting to talk ideas and solutions. But Owen stayed focussed on what he wanted from our exchange—a meeting. He had the confidence to simply ask for it during a specific time frame.

The last word

When you’ve only got 30 seconds to take a step towards closing new business, follow Owen’s three steps to creating a winning pitch. Open with a hook, highlight the pain and include a definite call-to-action. I started using that structure myself and over the next year signed three new clients—all through chance encounters.

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