“At StrategyWorks we craft the strategic conversation, in all of its expected and unexpected shapes and colours.”

That’s my elevator pitch.  It’s my response to the question: “So what do you do?” My mini cliff-hanger.

One of the ‘unexpected shapes’ turns out to be how the client answers this question. The topic of value proposition and elevator pitch comes up regularly in team and one-on-one coaching. Perhaps this is not so unexpected. Everyone should be able to give an account of how they bring value to their clients. And this is not only for entrepreneurs and consultants. The ability to state your offer is just as important to the staff member negotiating their role, agreeing targets and reviewing performance.

Elevator pitch is an essential tool for networking.


Imagine if Sir Laurence Olivier flipped through the pages of Hamlet the day before stepping onto the stage in the lead role. Of course he would not have. And neither should we. We should prepare our elevator pitch and learn it well. Ask yourself this question: If someone wanted to refer me on to their network, would they know what to say? Let people know what you do, who would be a good contact for you and how to share your expertise. Also learn to give an account of yourself that creates some tension, that creates an expectation of more. This is called the Zeigarnik effect. It is the mind-science behind cliff hangers – here is a good introduction to the theories of the wonderful Ms. Bluma Zeigarnik – http://blog.sandglaz.com/zeigarnik-effect-scientific-key-to-better-work/


Elevator Pitch is just for getting attention

I like to follow up the elevator pitch with a return question to find out something about the person who asked. I ask perhaps, what brought them to the place where we have met. If we have heard a presentation I ask what they are taking out of it and how they would apply this. I try to avoid the “what do you do?” question. Though of course, at networking meetings this is what we are about.

I have a string of short follow-up comments designed to give account of myself if my elevator pitch has triggered interest. “I focus on the leaders responsible for delivering strategy.” “I work with people who have a heart for their people.” “Did you know that, at most, only 12% of organisations deliver on their strategy?” I also ask questions to find out more about the other person.

A brief aside: We all like to talk about ourselves. But we are generally not that interested in others, or their stories. We know this. We can choose to be. But it is not our default position. Most people at networking meetings become quite distracted if we ramble on about ourselves. You can see them looking out for someone really cool as you talk. Most people at social and networking events have the capacity to hold one concept before they lose interest. Maybe two. But don’t push it. Therefore it is best to dice up your account of yourself into 12 second soundbites. Sprinkle liberally with other person focussed questions.

What is your elevator pitch? As you practice your statements how authentic do they sound? What do you reflect on as you craft your account of yourself? Here are five questions worth being crystal clear on:

Who is your target market?

The more you narrow your niche, the more interest you generate. As you become more specific and nuanced in your description of your ideal client, your offer will take on energy. Margaret Mead said “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” And we all like to work with specialists, the more narrowly they define our niche, the better. They get us. They treasure our uniqueness. We value their input.

What is their pain?

Can you describe what keeps these people awake at night? What causes them the most discomfort, in the realm of what you can solve? When you can describe their pain, with empathy, alluding to how it can be resolved, rather than wondering when this conversation is going to end, they will ask you another question.

What benefit can they get from you?

Knowing the pain will allow you to articulate what they can get from you. Not what you do. Nobody wants to know what you do. Really! They don’t. The social contract around this is simple. We all know the question leads to MEGO* but usually we have not prepared ourselves to ask something more creative. Google ‘questions to ask on the first meeting’ for pages and pages of suggestions.

Nobody wants to know what you do. They may just be interested in the benefit you can provide for them. But they won’t hear this when you talk about your process.

Why should they believe you?

How do you guarantee success? What can you tell your partner in conversation about who you are and what you have done to satisfy this need for evidence? I follow Samantha Hartley. She managed the marketing for Coca Cola, Russia while based in Moscow and later for Asia while based in Atlanta Georgia. Wouldn’t you like her to give you advice on your marketing? Now what qualifications or experience do you bring?

Finally what is your dramatic difference?

What story can you tell that makes your target audience say of you “get me that person”? What makes your offer unique? How do you stand out? What do you say that elevates you from the slough of despondent commoditisation? Stories go straight to the limbic system. We like to think we are totally rational, but we are not. People will buy you or pass you by, based on how they feel about you. We make decisions based on emotion and back these up with data.

 If you can tell a story that pulls your elevator pitch together, all the better.

I have a story about a client for whom I facilitated an annual strategy offsite. In spite of being very successful in the past they had suffered massive reversals partly due to the reaction to unwise executive decisions.  They were losing millions a year.

We had a depressing day in which we considered every single industry in the country. Each time they said “nope – no opportunity there”.  In spite of the bleak outlook each person in the team took away actions to clear internal issues.  The marketing staff had actions to engage with clients.

The next year, frustrations in the team boiled over.  The climate was so toxic we took a day out of the session to resolve conflict. We took a further day after the session to build vulnerability-based trust.  Amidst the turmoil, a Strategy Map began to take shape.  As hope emerged the team engaged in their business.  Those unable or unwilling to engage in growth left the team.

The next year they set an ambitious budget.  They exceeded their budget five times over.

Now was that all my doing? Of course not!  They worked very hard on their business.  But did the conversation, and the explicit plan make a difference?  Sure it did.  The teams focused on strategic priorities.  Did the executive coaching make a difference?  The business went through changes in foundation, as all businesses do.  The executives with whom I worked took the tide at the flood and made some crucial decisions. Did they get what they bargained for, and more besides? I think they did.


*Mine Eyes Glaze Over