Which floor?: The New Elevator Pitch Strategy for Startups

Date: 09th February, 2015

If you’re looking for advice on creating a business pitch you can memorize and whip out like a cerebral flashcard whenever you meet a potential investor or client, stop reading this article.

Why? Because whether you’ve just met a prospective customer in line at Starbucks or happen to be seated next to a venture capitalist on your next flight, in today’s advertising-inundated world, memorizing—and delivering—a traditional 30-second elevator speech is a waste of time.

However, learning the skill of conversationally crafting a unique pitch the moment the proverbial “elevator doors” close behind you and a prospective investor, customer or client is vital to your start-up’s success.

Here’s why:

The old school elevator pitch mentality encouraged you to become a walking and talking commercial for your company or brand. The more professional, polished, and memorized the pitch, the better. While this impressive show of recitation may have been effective in the days of Mad Men, today’s audiences are looking for something less manufactured and more personal when meeting you for the first time.

Shameless in-person advertising is cute when it’s Girl Scouts with cookies; but it can be flat-out annoying when a professional adult acts like a billboard in the flesh.

So how do you avoid coming across like the human version of a bad infomercial and instead make real connections with individuals that can potentially add value to your business? The key is to arm yourself with socially intelligent tactics that will help you build a 30-second connection instead of delivering a 30-second commercial.

What exactly are those tactics? Try these five to help you to be prepared for any situation in which you have the opportunity to pitch your company and gain a valuable connection:

1. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s called the golden rule for a reason. Pitch your business, idea, or product the way you would want someone else to pitch that same thing to you. Imagine that you are an investor or a potential client. How would you want to be approached about an investment opportunity or service offering? What sort of questions would you want answered?

When you can anticipate the other party’s mental process, it will help you identify the facts that you should always know off the top of your head, and also the tone and approach that you should take when the opportunity arises.

2. Get them talking

Half of your 30 seconds should be listening. Start the conversation by getting your potential investor or customer talking by asking them a question about what they do. Ask them what sort of obstacles their company is facing, what type of investments interest them, what sort of service they have received from contractors in the past.

Even a personal question about where they are from or what sports team they root for can go a long way. When they see that you want to listen to them and not just give a spiel, it builds immediate trust and rapport.

3. Identify connections

After you’ve listened, identify similarities between your personal and professional offerings and theirs. Did you grow up in the same state as this person? Have you worked in similar industries? Do you have a shared connection or friend? Anywhere you can identify such an overlap should be considered elevator gold. Mention the connection, and then if you can, tie it into the topic (your business) that you ultimately want to talk about.

Example: “I used to know Joe Smith back when I worked at TechWorks. That was before I started my own company in 2010.”

4. Don’t try to say everything

At the end of the day, 30 seconds is 30 seconds. You aren’t going to be able to describe the chemical process used by your fertilizer company, or the vast network of software engineers that you have established in three countries, and make a valuable connection in those 30 seconds. It’s more important to build a basic rapport with the person than it is to explain every detail of your startup to them during that time.

At the end of the conversation, casually ask for their business card or email address and end with a simple “Thanks very much. Nice to meet you, I hope we can continue this conversation.”

5. Have a killer follow-up

Think of the elevator pitch as the preview to the real show. Take the four concepts above and extrapolate them into a longer format through a follow-up email or call. Be sure to mention any connections again, send information you promised, and don’t leave the call-to-action of your follow-up open ended.

Instead of saying something like “I hope to hear from you soon,” try “I know you said you were a big baseball fan—I have tickets to the game Saturday if you want to come and discuss this opportunity further,” or a more simple, “can we jump on the phone Thursday? I’m free anytime in the afternoon.”

Being specific, polite, and relevant along with using these tips, and you’ll be owning every “elevator” you ever step into. Happy pitching!