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Tear up your elevator pitch

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Do you have an elevator pitch? It's that 30-second, well-crafted self-description you would deliver if you found yourself on an elevator with an important, prospective customer.

Tear up your elevator pitch into little pieces.If you have an elevator pitch, tear it up into little pieces.

But don't throw those little pieces away.

Your elevator pitch has lots of valuable pieces in it, and you don't want to lose them. But when those pieces are combined together, they can turn into something that is long, boring and unmemorable. You're much better off thinking of the pieces of your elevator pitch as tools that you can use at appropriate times during conversations with customers.

When you look at the individual pieces of your elevator pitch, notice how each one of them can be developed into an interesting idea. Isn't there more to each piece than the short phrase allotted in your elevator pitch? For example, let's say you sell machinery that uses leading-edge technology, decreases your customers' production cycle times, and offers a 99.9% uptime guarantee. If you're talking to a prospect and you realize that uptime is a major issue for him, wouldn't you be better off having a deep discussion about uptime rather than just mentioning it as part of a well-crafted 30-second monologue? (And, by the way, if you were just delivering your elevator pitch, and not listening, you would not have learned that uptime is a major issue for him.)

Now, notice how the different pieces of your elevator pitch connect to each other. Can you diagram their inter-relationships? Could you have a rich conversation with a customer on any of these connections? For example, maybe your elevator pitch includes one phrase that refers to your team's expertise, and another that refers to how you help your clients anticipate market needs. Could you hold a deep, meaningful, 10-minute conversation with a prospective customer about the connection between your team's expertise and this ability to anticipate market needs? That conversation would last 20 times longer than a 30-second elevator pitch, and would focus on only two of the elements of the pitch. And, most importantly, it wouldn't be a pitch.

Nobody wants to hear your sales pitch. I don't care how amazing you are, how unique your product offering is or how much better you are than your competitors; nobody wants to hear your pitch. If you launch into your elevator pitch, your customer will tune out well before you're finished. He'll start thinking of his next appointment; he'll look for his car keys in his coat pocket, and he'll make a mental note to call his assistant to check on something, all while your mellifluous adjectives and well-turned phrases bounce off the elevator's walls, unnoticed by anyone but you.

Instead, think of how to have a 30-second elevator conversation, in which you engage your customer and judiciously bring in pieces of your elevator pitch at appropriate times. This means that you can't tell your entire story during this short meeting, but that's okay. Your objective is not to close the sale, but to earn the right to have another conversation.

At the end of the elevator ride, you want the prospect to have enough interest that he's willing to agree to that follow-up conversation. Maybe your follow-up conversation will happen in the building lobby, after the elevator doors open, or maybe it will be a phone call you schedule for the next day. During the follow-up conversation, you'll be able to weave in more pieces of your elevator pitch, and, as your relationship develops over subsequent conversations, your new customer will begin to form a rich story about you in his mind.

What has a better chance of earning you a follow-up conversation- a 30-second monologue in which you deliver every piece of your elevator pitch, or a 30-second conversation in which your prospective customer becomes intrigued by one thing he learns about you?

Don't lose sight of your goal in a first, chance meeting with a potential customer. Whether this meeting happens in an elevator, at your cousin's kid's wedding or in an exit row of an American Airlines 757, your real objective is to create a reason for a follow-up.

If you want customers to understand what you do and how you can help them, tear up your elevator pitch and weave its pieces into relationship-building encounters with your customers. That way, people may actually hear what you have to say.

Steve Yastrow
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