The Perfect Pitch

Date: April 03, 2007

How mastering an elevator speech can take your business to the next level

Seattle marketing consultant Harry Thomas used to spend hours talking to prospective clients at networking events before realizing that they didn't need his business' services--or that they wanted help he couldn't provide.

"Networking was the right strategy for my business, but it wasn't 100 percent effective because my message wasn't clear," says Thomas, who offers strategic marketing services to small companies through his business, Marketing Hat. "I was wasting time talking to prospects who didn't pan out."

So Thomas shifted his focus. When people asked him about his job or business, he changed his answer from "marketing consultant" to "helping businesses with marketing when they don't know where to go next." Soon he was landing new clients who were intrigued and wanted to hear more.

"People more quickly understand what I do now," Thomas says. "Because I don't fall into traditional categories they already know about, they want to know more."

Many small-business owners, especially those with shoestring marketing budgets, rely on word-of-mouth advertising and referrals to grow their businesses, but miss the chance to grab the attention of potential clients and customers when exchanging handshakes or business cards. This is where an "elevator speech" can help, says media skills trainer Lorraine Howell, author of Give Your Elevator Speech a Lift (Book Publishers Network, 2006).

"An elevator speech is the short, concise and memorable answer to the question, 'What do you do?' " Howell says.

The term originated in Congress where lobbyists with limited access to lawmakers would catch them between meetings and argue their case in the time span of an elevator ride. The term has since become a buzzword in business for a quick but informative pitch that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less, a vital marketing skill in today's information age. "We're all channel surfing in our brains--the goal of a good elevator speech is to keep people from changing channels on you," Howell says.

Your speech can be as simple as a short statement or title--as long as it's intriguing and unusual, invites questions and sparks conversations.

Howell, for example, worked with a massage therapist who used the description "body detective" to market a business that helped people relieve chronic pain. Howell also helped an attorney, whose client base boomed once she stopped introducing herself as a negotiations trainer and started talking about leveling the playing field for small vendors who were negotiating contracts with big corporations.

"You want to articulate your message so that people will say, 'Tell me more about that' or 'I may not need you, but I know someone who does,' " Howell says.

Leave Them Wanting More
Interested in sprucing up your elevator speech?

Here are more tips to remember:

Know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? You must know what niche to target before you can customize your message. "The temptation is to market to everybody, but the truth is, not everybody is going to be your customer," author Lorraine Howell says.

Learn their concerns. What does your target audience care about? After introducing yourself, relax and listen, ask questions and offer your expertise. "One reason businesspeople get tongue-tied is because they're more worried about what they're going to say instead of how they can help," Howell says.

Cut to the chase. What benefit does your product or service provide customers or clients? Focus on the results, not the process--and keep it short to avoid information overload.

Be transparent. Most people respond best to passion, so be sure to communicate yours. Who can dismiss an insurance agent who pledges to help people protect their assets or an accountant who promises to turn a business' bottom line into a profit center? Find more tips on connecting with prospective customers and clients in "Marketing" in the "Sales and Marketing" section at

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