I once worked for a software company that had an excellent connectivity solution for enterprises with myriad systems to contend with, but failed for want of an Elevator Pitch. Or failed in large part due to an obsessive quest for the perfect Elevator Pitch.
Sound ridiculous? It’s a true story.
The SVP of Marketing was convinced that no real work could begin until the Elevator Pitch was nailed. He’d ask – rather convincingly – “How can we sell if we don’t know what it is that we sell?”
Evidently, all of the positioning that we’d documented in our collateral, and all of the knowledge that resided in the heads of our product managers and systems implementers, and all of their experiences of our sales engineers didn’t count. What we needed was an Elevator Pitch.
For two years we struggled with creating one. At times it reached a fevered pitch, with product managers and business developers and account managers calling one another up to trash so-and-so’s attempt at The Pitch.
The amazing part was that no one really questioned the assertion that we didn’t know what we did or what we sold because we didn’t have an Elevator Pitch.
(Mind you, in the entire history of the company, no one ever got a lead in an elevator. Our customers’ business challenges were complex and nuanced, and so were the solutions we provided them.)
There’s no doubt that having an elevator pitch at-the-ready is useful. Sales reps and marketers do need to describe the purpose of their product or service quickly and succinctly. The trouble, I find, starts when people attempt to formalize their elevator pitch into an “Elevator Pitch.”
Let’s start with the incredible expectations for The Pitch. It must, as my former SVP believed, embody both the spirit and mission of the company, as well as describe the product or service in all its versions as it applies to each market segment. The unique competitive advantages must be covered, along with the half dozen of key features that distinguish it.
And, of course, it can’t be more the four or five sentences at the most.
And the trouble continues with choice of language.
What we marketers need to keep in mind is that our customers don’t live in our world. They interact with our world at times – specifically when they consider, test, buy and use our products. But on the whole they travel in spheres that are distinct from ours. And that means they don’t speak our marketing-speak; they don’t know the hyphenated catch phrases that we’re convinced are widely understood by the population at large.
(A product manager for a legal services company client of mine once described the reports his product generated as ‘pageable,’ by which he meant that lawyers could use the page down button on the keyboard to get to the end of the report. It was a term he claimed that everybody understood.)
I’m convinced that an Elevator Pitch, fully loaded with hyphenated terms of the moment, isn’t going to resonate with potential clients. In my experience, an elevator pitch (note the lower case), like all messaging, should be in simple English. Let me give you three reasons why:
1. Regardless of how carefully you craft your message, communicating it out to your target market is one big game of telephone (remember that children’s game?). The marketing department develops a messaging platform and delivers it to your sales teams. Your sales reps then deliver it to their prospects. Prospects take what they’ve heard and discuss it amongst themselves. If your messaging can only be said in a very specific manner using very specific phraseology, you’ve got a problem.
2. Customers make decisions based on a series of little epiphanies they have about how well your product will perform in their corner of the world. Your job, as marketer, is to enable those epiphanies, and that means providing your prospects with messages that they can easily internalize and repeat to others, whether it’s their boss, spouse or college buddy.
3. Anyone who decides to recommend your product to his or her organization must be in a position to explain and defend that decision. I suspect that all customers have imaginary conversations with their bosses, colleagues, heads of other departments explaining why your solution is the right one. At that point, your prospects – not you – own the positioning. Your messaging must provide them with the tools to own and defend their position.
What does this all mean? When developing your messaging platform, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Talk to them as if you were talking to them at your kitchen table. And use plain but earnest English. Because at the end of the day, they own your message.
Need a content writer? Contact Susie Stulz with your future content development needs at firstname.lastname@example.org