Selling to Bill Gates – The Elevator Pitch

in an elevator with Bill Gates

You have a meeting at Microsoft. You jump into the lift and press 12. As the doors are about to close, a geeky looking guy hops in at the last minute. “Hi, I’m Bill Gates,” he says. Gulp. He presses button number 6 and turns round. “So, what do you do?” You have 30 seconds, the time it takes the lift to get to the 6th floor, to answer in a way that makes Bill Gates say, “Sounds interesting. Here’s my card.”

Yes, folks. It’s time to talk about that staple of the salesperson’s skillset: The Elevator Pitch. Everyone in sales, in fact everyone in business, needs to know how to describe what they do in a short, punchy manner that is both a fair reflection of the truth and an enticement to find out more. In my years of training sales, the ability to do this well is surprisingly rare. There are some common mistakes made and I’d love to help you avoid at least some of them and give you my top tip.

The common mistakes first. An elevator pitch is not something that closes a deal. It’s not “Here’s what we do. Would you like to buy one now?” An elevator pitch is a great way to establish an interest so it’s the start of a conversation, a way to create interest, not the end.

Next, you don’t need to tell them everything. The question is “What do you do?” not tell me all about the company history, the full range available and all special offers. Too often, there is nothing left to intrigue the questioner as they’ve been told the lot (though remembered nothing).

Finally, don’t get into specialist market detail and, in particular, avoid market jargon. By keeping it at headline, business-benefit level, it’s more likely to make sense without boring them.

Mistakes done, now for my favourite structure (there are loads – Google to your heart’s content). The 3 points of this structure are: Problem; Solution; Result.

People usually jump straight into their solution and this lacks impact because it lacks context. Imagine a first time property investor. You say, “We research the global market to source the very best investments for our clients and have been doing so for the last 10 years. Our in-house experts check the security of each one and assess the risk/reward ratio each time.” Not bad. But the first timer may not understand what problem you’re solving.

How about this presentation of the problem first?

“It’s difficult for property investors to know which agents to believe and whether the returns are real or imagined. There are too many smooth sales pitches and not enough trustworthy advice.” Done well, the problem phase will have your client nodding his or her head. “Yes, that’s exactly the problem now you mention it.” You’re recognising the same problem and they’re already warming to you (though still don’t know what you do!).

NB. I’m not encouraging you to deceive clients. You’re just presenting truthful information in a way that makes the important things clear, things that a client may not recognise as important.

The final step is to present the result, what your service achieves. Like this. “This means that you can buy your investments through us knowing that we’ve checked everything fully. You can buy in confidence because we’ve already done the research and that is why our clients come back to us again and again.”

Each of you can make your version better, I’m sure, but I hope this structure and its benefits are clear. Give context with the problem. Highlight the importance of your service with the solution. Then translate that into the result for the client. It’s a simple effective way to present what your company does in a concise and compelling way.

The version above takes exactly 30 seconds. “Sounds interesting. Here’s my card,” says Bill as he leaves the lift.