How to Craft an Elevator Pitch for your Small Business

You can market your small business to anyone, anywhere, including in an elevator, with the right 30-second speech.
woman in elevator
How should you construct a pitch to sell to a client or customer in the time it takes to ride the elevator? (Photo: Air Images/Shutterstock)

If you found yourself on an elevator with a potential customer or client, could you hook his or her interest before the doors opened? Most of us never really get to find out in real life, but having a short, honed sales pitch comes in handy in a thousand other everyday scenarios.

How do you structure such a pitch? What should it include? How can you strike the right tone? The devil is in the details. Here, experts reveal their best advice.

Give it a structure

There’s no one right way to craft an elevator pitch, but good pitches have a structure. Think about breaking yours into three parts. Traditional wisdom suggests starting with your benefit (what you can provide to your client), then a differentiator (how what you offer is unique) and finally a follow-through.

That approach might go like this if you operate a food truck. Benefit: Your truck is conveniently located near the person’s office. Differentiator: Your food is made with all local ingredients. Follow-through: Here’s a business card with actionable information on it, such as where to find the truck or a Twitter account which you update daily with your location.

Barry Maher, author of popular business book “Filling the Glass,” advised this approach: a grabber (what you do), support (an example of the value you’ve delivered to clients or customers), and a tie-in (asking a leading question about the potential customer).

Certified personal and professional life coach Linda Williams builds her pitches around relevance, offer and closing. If you own a restaurant, the relevance might be a recent news headline about a food-borne illness outbreak. In your offer you might explain why your product is safer and healthier. The closing, of course, is where you try to inspire the person to action.

Judy Lynes, at the Phelps Agency, turns the elevator pitch into a sort of mathematical formula: “I (action verb) + (target audience) + (benefit around what you offer) so they can (personal benefit).”

Emphasize your unique value proposition

Regardless of how you structure your pitch, don’t fall into the common trap of talking about what you do; instead, talk about the value your small business provides. Career advancement coach Lauren Milligan said it’s important to get across how your business is different. “Keying in on that one, memorable difference is the secret sauce to a great elevator pitch.”

Or, as Victor Clarke, “marketing quarterback” at Clarke, Inc , advised, “What makes your products and services unique? Do you have a different approach to a specific problem or technology? Define what truly separates you from the pack.”

Show your passion

Your elevator pitch isn’t really about closing a sale. The goal is to intrigue your audience and earn a follow-up. To do that, be passionate and enthusiastic. This comes easily to some people; others need to work at externalizing their passion.

Shaun Walker, creative director and founding partner at HEROfarm Marketing, suggested this: “Be surprising, creative, and most importantly, authentic. If you don’t normally tell a story using the words ‘game changer’ or ‘turnkey,’ then don’t use it in your pitch.”

Ghostwriter and TED speaker Becky Blanton underscored the importance of being authentic. “Don’t say, ‘I’m a chef at the new Mexican restaurant in town. We use all organic ingredients.’ Say, ‘That new Mexican restaurant in town? It’s mine. My chefs and I use a recipe that’s been in my family for 200 years.’ The first is a sales pitch. The second? It leaves you wanting to try the food.”

Keep it short and tight

What’s the right length? Business books and coaches advise anything from 30 seconds to a minute. But in general, the shorter the better.

Practice your pitch until it sounds natural and authentic. When you begin your spiel, it shouldn’t sound like you’re shifting into sales mode; it should feel like an organic extension of a conversation.

There are tactics for keeping your presentation tight. For instance, “Don’t ask rhetorical questions,” said Jean-Luc Park, founding partner at Ferrum Capital. Not only don’t you know how they’ll answer, but you lose control of your pitch.

Blanton advised, “Practice in front of a mirror, on friends, everywhere. Change it up, notice what gets people’s attention and what turns them off.”

Don’t fumble the close

After all that work, don’t end the pitch with vague comments about follow-up. Hand them your business card, and if it’s appropriate, ask for theirs.

Perhaps the best way to close: “When closing out the elevator pitch, turn your focus immediately onto the other person. Ask how you might be of service or be a resource. People forget to do this because they’re so focused on selling themselves,” said PointMaker Communications’ Jackie Kellso. “The best way to get people to want to follow up is to offer yourself up!”

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