Elevator pitches are useful to a salesperson who is trying to sell a product or service to a client. But they also are useful to managers and staff who want to sell an idea to a busy boss.
In an example elevator pitch, an advertising salesperson makes a cold call on a customer who has never advertised online before. The customer says she has only a minute to talk; it’s another way of saying “I have an excuse to get rid of you fast if I don’t like what I hear”. The salesperson begins the conversation with an elevator pitch, which is quick enough to explain in an elevator ride. If it works, it leads to more talk and ideally a presentation, proposal and sale.
The concept works just as well when managers and other employees want to sell an idea to their bosses at any level of the company.
This Boss Wanted Quick and Simple
For example, I had a boss who rarely wanted to hear from me. It wasn’t that we had problems getting along. It was because I wasn’t a problem at all. He had much bigger issues in other areas of the company and didn’t have much time or energy for anything else.
So if I wanted to get his attention, I realized I needed to approach him with an elevator pitch that didn’t make him flinch — literally — when I walked through the door of his office. The pitch had to avoid causing him undue stress. It had to use a minimum amount of his time. It also had to give him the most relevant information in a small package so he could quickly say yes or no for any next steps.
Higher-level managers at the senior and executive level often have information overload. They succeed in part by taking a broader but more shallow view of an operation. They must let go of less valuable details for the sake of tracking and managing more important priorities. So they want their information quick, concise, highly accurate and to the point.
How to Sell the Boss in 30 to 90 Seconds
Time and word count matter
How long is an elevator pitch? I was surprised to find out that there is a national elevator pitch competition. U.Pitch is an annual event that brings together students from around the United States to compete for $10,000 in prizes. Students pitch entrepreneurial ideas and have 90 seconds to make their case. It’s not unlike the “Shark Tank” show on TV.
Other sources claim an elevator pitch should last as little as 30 or no more than 60 seconds. Various sources also estimate that the average speaking speed is about 150 words per minute. Using that formula, a 60-second pitch is about 150 words. If the average sentence has 15 words, the pitch should last no longer than 10 sentences. The number of sentences is important to know for the next step.
Write it before saying it
Writing the pitch and using a word count is a great way to measure the time it takes to speak it. The process of writing, reading and re-reading the pitch will also make saying it much easier, especially for introverts or people who aren’t normally eloquent.
Writing it may tempt some people to send it as an email. But an email pitch is less effective and often less successful than a spoken one. Emails lack critical emotions and body language such as optimism, enthusiasm and confidence. Would a salesperson pitch an important contract to a client by email? Of course not. But the written version of the pitch can go into a followup email as a way of reinforcing the idea if the meeting ends inconclusively.
First sentence counts most of all
Professional journalists work with a concept called the lede. It is the first sentence or paragraph of an article.
Journalists try to write the first sentence in a way that makes it either the most interesting or important sentence in the entire article. Because it is interesting or important, readers are more likely to keep reading.
The first sentence should immediately tease the boss and appeal to a key priority. If it doesn’t fit a key priority, the boss is likely to shut down fast. An example opening tease is, “I have an idea that could cut our cost of production by 15%”.
Emphasize benefits; beware costs
The next sentences should explain the concept more fully and expand on the benefit from the first sentence. How exactly does it solve a problem, increase revenue, cut costs or improve customer satisfaction?
The rest of the pitch should address possible questions or objections. Just like with a client, the most common question or objection is about cost. For a boss, it isn’t just a monetary cost. It’s also about any labor or material costs. Who implements the idea? Will it distract the department from other priorities? The body of the pitch should anticipate the boss’s reaction.
Selling an idea to a boss is not much different than selling a product or service to a customer. Innovative employees who think up ideas on a regular basis may find that they hear a “no” more often than they hear a “yes”. An elevator pitch with a compelling first sentence and a concise explanation of benefits and costs may improve an employee’s chances of getting a receptive audience.