Ditch the Elevator Pitch

The other day I found myself in an elevator with a prospect I’ve been trying to meet for some time now. As the door closed, I realized I only had moments – five floors’ worth – to make an impression. So I did what we’ve all been taught to do as sellers: I pitched her. Her eyes got big as I delivered my crafted, finely honed pitch. When I finished, she leaned toward me, and with almost breathless anticipation, said, “We have got to meet…”

…and then I woke up.

The Elevator Pitch is a Sham

Unless you hang out in elevators all day trying to catch your prospects, the whole notion of the “elevator pitch” – which is really a proxy for “value proposition” or “unique selling proposition” – is at best misguided, and at worst a stupid idea. I think this is true even in the simplest B2B, and even B2C, sales.

First, let’s start with the elevator. I would call elevator-stalking a low-return investment of your time as a seller. Even if you do hang out in elevators all day (nice job evading building security!), you’re unlikely to catch customers in a mood to be “pitched.” Do you like it when someone corners you and starts pitching you? It’s like being trapped at a party listening to someone explain why you should be interested in snails, as they simultaneously block your route to the exit.

And yet, the concept of the elevator pitch persists. In fact, just this past year the (now former) president of one of my clients requested that salespeople develop and refine their elevator pitch. Why does this dinosaur of a concept survive in these modern times?

The Root Cause of the Pitch

I believe the problem originates from a single source: Old-school executives who were raised that way and don’t understand that selling has changed. Compounding the problem is the fact that most executives tend to be called into the sales process at the pitching stage, and are used to people asking them to “share the vision,” etc.

But selling has changed – customers don’t want to be pitched (if they ever did). Even more transactional buyers would prefer not to be bombarded with pitches. They can get your value proposition off your website, or more likely than ever, from peers and customer reviews. (Viva the Internet!)

Pitching is the Problem

Let me be clear: I AM in favor of knowing your value to customers – how you can help them solve their problems and meet their needs. I just hate concept of asking people to develop an elevator pitch, and here are three reasons why:

  • You encourage a one-size-fits-all mentality, where sellers assume every customer cares about the same things.
  • You encourage premature Demonstration, where sellers truncate the Engage phase and whip out their shiny value proposition too soon.
  • You encourage a seller-centric mindset, where people feel their goal is to pitch and not to understand their customers and their uniqueness.

So even asking people to develop an elevator pitch promotes transactional, old-school selling. It’s not enough to exhort them to only use the pitch when it’s time – developing a pitch in the first place is contradictory to this aim.

Alternatives to the Elevator Pitch

So, what can you and your team do differently? If not the elevator pitch, then what? As usual, I have a couple of suggestions:

  • Start with ensuring sellers know the problems you solve, and how they manifest differently with different customer types.
  • Encourage sellers to spend more time on the questions they ask customers than they spend on statements about your awesomeness
  • Teach sellers to stay out of the pitching trap by deferring customer requests for premature demonstration – don’t take the bait!
  • Teach sellers to “Lead with the Need” and select only the parts of your value proposition that apply to individual customers
  • Help sellers leverage the Ladder of Trust by channeling customer data (“Our customers tell us they value…”) vs. seller data (“We are the awesomest”)

Ditch the Pitch!

While once a good idea, the elevator pitch is an idea whose time has come and gone. Use these more modern alternatives to avoid cheesy, old-school selling and achieve a more consultative relationship. Good luck!

Dan Smaida is the author of “Love and Selling” and CEO of Real Relationship Selling, a consultancy focused on helping sellers win complex, relationship sales.