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Once you have a defined Point of View and created a Manifesto that summarizes it, you need to further refine it down into an Elevator Pitch.

Every member of your team needs a one sentence answer to the question, “so what do you do?” It should be clear. It should create curiosity. It should leave your listener wanting to hear more.

In this article we’ll break down why you need an elevator pitch, and how to create one that resonates.

Why do you need an elevator pitch?

In every conversation you have with someone, at some point it’s likely they’re going to ask you what you do. You want to have an answer prepared in advance for several reasons:

  • For people who might be a client someday, it hopefully piques their interest and stimulates a conversation.
  • Even if people won’t be a client, they could someday become a referral. They most likely interact with people who need accountants or lawyers or PR firms. And in many cases they don’t have a great person to refer friends to. You have the opportunity to be that person.

Common mistakes people make with elevator pitches.

They’re too long.

By far the most common issue is length. Folks will often write down several paragraphs, crafting something that takes a minute or more to deliver.

The idea is supposed to be “long enough to deliver during an elevator ride.” But practically you don’t have conversations like that. It’s highly unusual someone would ask what you do and you deliver a several minute uninterrupted monologue. In conversations - good ones anyway - there’s a back and forth.

That means your pitch needs to be brief. Hopefully it invites questions (which we’ll talk about later.) But that require natural hooks or space for those questions.

They’re boring.

The other cardinal sin is making it boring. The worst thing you want is for people to say, “huh.” If they don’t ask a single follow up question, your pitch is probably too boring.

Boring can be trickier to figure out than you think. When I was early in my career, I very much wanted to become a Creative Director. I thought it sounded cool. Like a character on Mad Men, without the affairs and alcoholism.

So I was shocked when I became one at the age of 26 and went to my first dinner party. Someone asked me what I did. I said, “I’m a creative director at a tech startup.” They said, “Huh.” And then moved on.

That scene played itself out over and over again. Perhaps it was because many folks didn’t understand what a Creative Director was, and didn’t feel comfortable asking a dumb question. Whatever the reason, no one cared.

My wife on the other hand was fascinating. She was an economist. And everyone wanted to know more. And while I love my wife dearly, I found this very annoying.

There’s a good chance the basics of what you do aren’t that interesting either. But you can package them in a way that makes them so. We’ll talk about how to do that shortly.

They're vague.

Some elevator pitches are simply too vague. For 12 years I was a partner at an innovation consulting company. Again, I thought it sounded neat. But no one understands what innovation consulting is. Eventually I honed in on, “I help enterprise companies find disruptive innovations and bring them to market.” But it took me way too long to figure this out.

You often see the same thing with data and analytics. While folks understand this is a trend, they don’t necessarily understand what it is you do.

So those are some things you shouldn’t do when crafting your elevator pitch. What should you do?

Rule #1: Be Clear.

The first goal in crafting a compelling elevator pitch is to be clear. Specifically, I believe you need to communicate exactly what it is you do, and who you do it for.

For example you could say:

“I’m an accountant for manufacturing firms.” Done.

We help market professional services firms. But you knew that.

Rule #2: Be Compelling.

The best way I’ve found to be compelling is to describe the benefits, or ideal outcomes, of working with you.

So building off the previous example:

“I’m an accountant. I help manufacturing companies become more profitable.”

Depending on your comfort level, you can use vivid language to describe that benefit in a more compelling way. This can quickly veer into cringe territory, so you want to use some caution. But I’ve seen it used by folks who swear by it.

So the above becomes:

“I’m an accountant. I help manufacturing companies become wildly profitable.”

To use the data and analytics example from before, you could say:

“I help companies find ways to profitably commercialize proprietary data.”

Or even better:

”I help companies take the data they already have to build new sources of revenue.”

Rule #3: Create Curiosity.

My friend Craig Wortmann is a professor at Kellogg teaching entrepreneurial sales. He argues curiosity is the most important thing in an elevator pitch, and is willing to sacrifice on Rule #1 to do it.

He calls it a “sales trailer.” When he describes his consulting practice he says:

“I help companies build and tune their sales engines.”

It’s pretty clear he does something involving sales organizations. But it creates a lot of curiosity. Most of the time, it invites a response like, “what’s a sales engine?” Or, “how do you do that?”

Which is exactly what he wants.

Depending on my audience, I’ll sometimes describe Madison this way:

“We help grow professional services firms by making their Partners and Managing Directors slightly famous.”

Which again, often invites the question how. To which I’ll reply:

“Right now we do three things. We help them craft a clear and compelling Point of View. We help them communicate that Point of View through insightful and high quality content. And we create natural and respectful ways for their prospects to raise their hands when they’re ready.”

Unlike the bloviating monologue or the bland statement eliciting a shrug, this approach invites a response, which provides an opportunity to go into a bit more detail.

How to use your elevator pitch

Once you’ve honed in on a pitch, you want to work on making sure you use it every time an opportunity presents itself.

Make it sound natural.

There’s a balance to strike when you do so - you want to have it down cold. But you want to make it sound natural, like it’s the first time you’ve said it. Nobody wants to talk to a robot or someone who sounds like they’re reading off of cue cards. Make it feel natural.

Don’t be afraid to iterate.

It’s okay if you don’t say it exactly right at first. You’ll get better with practice. And it’s also okay if you tweak it over time. Pay attention to how people respond. If they don’t ask follow up questions, perhaps that’s a cue to make some tweaks to inject some curiosity.

Train your team.

You shouldn’t be the only person in your firm with a tight, compelling elevator pitch. Consider running a workshop for your team using the guidelines we’ve discussed. (You can grab our guide to facilitating that workshop in the sidebar.)

A clear elevator pitch will make you and your team much more effective at generating new business opportunities and getting referrals. It’s worth taking the time to make yours clear, compelling and effective.