Myth has it that one of the keys to business success is having a great elevator pitch. The Harvard Business Review just published a blog post on this: “Win the Business with this Elevator Pitch“.

You won’t.

It’s not that the guidance is poor as far as sales pitches go. But you won’t be selling anything on elevators. You can’t. And you shouldn’t try! A sales pitch requires that you’ve done your homework on the person you are pitching to (just like in baseball), otherwise you’ll just be spouting generic MBA-speak drivel. When everybody’s needs and motivations are unique, can you honestly be well-enough prepared to give the contextually appropriate pitch to each person you’d like to sell something to just in case you meet on an elevator? How many pitches will you need? A hundred? A thousand?

Don’t sell. Instead, elicit curiosity, then create a hero.

You don’t need an elevator pitch, you need an elevator speech (an elevator value proposition in MBA-speak) that will keep the other person thinking of you long after you’ve parted ways. For that to happen you need credibility (inherent authority), empathy (the ability to meaningfully relate), and then a mind-blowing value proposition.

The Goal (North River Press) by Eliyahu Goldratt, gives just such guidance, I just don’t think it was envisioned to be used on elevators. On the very last page, Dr. Goldratt proposes some very simple and infinitely powerful management advice. All you need to do to properly manage is ask three questions:

  1. What to change?
  2. What to change to?
  3. How to cause the change?

In other words:

  1. Identify the problem. (root cause)
  2. Propose a preferred outcome.
  3. Implement a solution.

And that’s your elevator speech. And you only have 15 seconds to deliver it—five seconds per paragraph. Back to credibility, empathy, and value. They map perfectly to problem, desired outcome, and solution.

  • Introduce yourself by name. Don’t use your title or company name, else the shields go right up because the person you’re talking to will immediately know you’re about to “pitch” something. (Sale lost.)
  • Establish credibility immediately by referencing a shared experience—event, person you know in common—that can establish you as a trusted resource, or by asking a question that you know affects the industry and causes pain, which positions you as an expert. You do this to be permitted the next step. (Else, no credibility, no next step.)
  • Reference others that have solved that problem. (Expertise.)
  • Instead of blurting out a solution, list the benefits others are realizing from this solution. Cite a statistic or figure that surpasses the industry benchmark for average performance. (Must not be about money, but must translate into money.)
  • Let your audience know you can help them achieve the same benefits (and make them a hero in the process).

Good sales people and solutions make their customers heroes. Bad sales people only care about themselves.