Ask any salesperson or business owner about the importance of having an elevator speech (those 30 second or 1 minute descriptors of what someone does for a living capable of being delivered while one is sharing an elevator ride from the lobby up to the destination floor) and you will get nearly universal agreement about the need to have it memorized. Careful pruning and word choosing goes into doing it correctly they will maintain, and any word or thought that does not directly contribute to the outcome must be eliminated.
Of course, therein also lies the issue with the elevator speech for some. Exactly what is the outcome being sought? What purpose does this pithy and targeted message have? Does the salesperson want to “close” the sale by the time the elevator reaches the tenth floor? Is the executive hoping to land the next account before the person s/he just met at the cocktail party finishes the finger food just jammed into his/her mouth to free up a hand to shake?
If the objective of the interaction is not clear, the chances of any of the chosen words being impactful will be no better than chance or random luck. However, unsuspecting strangers and would-be prospects are constantly being bombarded with sales pitches extolling the virtues of products and services, when their only “crime” was being polite and asking someone, “so what is it you do?”
Stop “Shoulding” on Me
We all have had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and after sharing some small detail about an interest or concern of ours, we are immediately confronted by the “expert” tellng us what we need to do, or what we should do. Of course, the unasked for advice is often unheeded as we look at the person uncomfortably and wonder, “if you don’t even know me, or what I am dealing with, how can you make a recommendation?” Or, we wonder to ourselves, “does this boob think I havene’t considered that self-evident answer?” We all long for the day when we could request that people “stop shoulding” on us with their unsolicited and inappropriate counsel.
From the person looking to make a sale, the solution is often very clear and obvious. Of course, the solution happens to be the one they are selling. So, the salesperson goes into attack mode and begins to enumerate all of the features and advantages of their product. And that is where the downward spiral picks up speed from the perspective of the prospect (who does not even know that they are a prospect. They thought they were minding their own business and attending a social function and making small talk). The features talk is very product-focused and assumes that the recepient of the message can convert that to a usage opportunity. Some more advanced techniques employed by salespeople is to convert the feature into an advantage. An advantage is when the salesperson attempts to link the product to how it may potentially help the recepient. Of course, this is too often done without ever asking the recepient of that would be something they would value or havce acknowledged as worth pursuing. It is speculative on the part of the seller to assume that the prospect would gladly seek that advantage. Yet, that may not at all be what the prospect is pursuing.
Benefits and Diagnosis
The better approach is to approach the conversation from a business needs and opportunities diagnosis viewpoint. Just like a Dr. is expected to ask questions of a patient before making a recommended presecription, so too should the salesperson ask questions and assess the issues from the perspective of the prospect. As a Dr. asks, “where does it hurt, when did it begin, what have you tried, has it felt like this before, etc.” or other questions designed to get the situation clearly identified. By talking the business issues and bringing the prospect into the dialogue interactively, the prescription will be much better aligned to the actual situation and not a perceived situation based on partial insight. The prescription will be more trusted and likely to be employed by the patient/prospect because it was created through a joint discussion and both the Dr/seller and patient/prospect participated in creating it.
The words of the elevator speech may be necessary to quickly communicate how the business owner/salesperson helps business – but the sale does not occur UNTIL the prospect participates in the dialogue.