SEs in Elevators?

If you experience a slight gag reflex when someone at sales kickoff comes touting a new elevator pitch, this article is for you. The pitch we’re all familiar with 1) comes from marketing, 2) packs awe-inspiring buzzword density, and 3) doesn’t really mean anything to the folks we have ultimately have to convince—the technical decision maker. Spouting off our Pulitzer-winning pitch to our contacts, with whom we are expected to be trusted counterparts, might even take us down a few notches. So what, as SEs, are we to do? That’s right, we roll our own.

As has been stated before, no one ever bought anything on an elevator. Meaning, we often make the same mistake as when we’re having early qualification discussions—trying to sell them the solution instead of trying to get them to the next step in the sales process. What we’re really after is to get our contact excited about our offering and a real desire to move to the next step, the introductory (qualification) meeting.

With our goal in mind, how do we craft something that will resonate?

Audience – I’m deliberately framing our discussion toward the technical buyer, someone we would likely run into at a trade show or chapter meeting for example.

The hook – Product feature/benefit statements are pretty boring to the typical prospect. They’ve all been promised the moon before and been disappointed. They are always on guard for marketese. Instead, think of a couple recent product wins, new (maybe weird) ways someone has used your product. Did someone recently achieve a good result? Did someone get promoted for their work using your product? How did you personally help someone solve a problem? What you’re really searching for is a story that will align to likely pain points or desires of your prospect.

The featurecard – Now, looking at your “hooks”, make a list for each one containing 2-3 key product features/benefits. You want to be able delve one layer deeper with the assumption that your hook will generate as least casual interest. These aren’t technical per se, because it’s difficult to convey depth and nuance in a short time. They are, however, specific.

Language – Please use plain language.  Avoid the temptation to use platform, cross functional, scalable, modular, extensible, and similar terminology.

Length – By definition, an elevator pitch is not long. I also don’t view it as a single paragraph. It is a practiced dialogue that gets you an agreement to a next meeting in the shortest time possible. Sometimes this is 30 seconds, sometimes it’s two minutes. The best ones are not simply one-way statements.

Delivery – I use the word practiced instead of memorized.  You need to be genuinely excited about your story in order to have a chance to make someone else excited. If you haven’t reached that level of buy in about your own statement, revisit and keep searching for a better combination of hooks, benefit, and format.

Examples – Let me offer up two (admittedly simplified) examples that should get you thinking in the right frame.

1 – Software that helps prevent the theft of intellectual property

SE/Prospect:      Exchanging pleasantries

SE:                          So, what’s your position at ABCco?

Prospect:             I’m responsible for data privacy

SE:                          Ah, great. I’m sure you heard about that recent case about Coke suing Pepsi trying to prove they stole some of their recipes

Prospect:             Yea, heh, good luck with that

SE:                          The funny thing is Coke is trying to do that without any investment in internal privacy controls. We were actually just involved in a similar case between DuPont and 3M over the manufacturing process of a new type of plastic. We had worked with Dan Smith at DuPont in charge of privacy and they had implemented our solution about a year ago. The legal team came to Dan with that IP discovery process shortly thereafter about that case. It was a monster, and lasted 3 months, but we helped him prove that a formally employed engineer had left to go to 3M and had copied that manufacturing process to a USB drive and no one else had copied off the data during that time. They are expecting a HUGE settlement out of it.

Prospect:             Wow, sounds cool, but I wish I had his resources to set up something like that. I can only imagine the time needed to search out and index all of our intellectual property

SE:                          If I had to index everything I’d probably have never invested in the technology either. Actually, our technology allows you to capture all your data usage without having to write any rules or index any data, it’s really pretty cool how it works. It is a bit involved under the hood, but maybe if you have an hour next week I could stop by and show you how it works.

Prospect:             I am putty in your hands


2 – Hardware company that makes routers capable of reducing network utilization

SE/Prospect:      Exchanging pleasantries

SE:                          So, what do you do for ABCco

Prospect:             I’m a network engineer

SE:                          Ah, so you have the enviable job of answering the phone every time someone complains that it’s taking too long to download that 200MB video of their sister’s new puppy carrying a slipper in its mouth

Prospect:             So you used to be a netadmin before hmm?

SE:                          Yes, not too long ago. Actually, I recently left and went to company that we had purchased some routing equipment from. They had helped us optimize our routing equipment and I kid you not we reduced our outbound communications traffic by a third. It was crazy, almost 2M in savings per year.

Prospect:             Yea, we’ve looked at those network optimizing routers before. The upfront replacement costs were insane.

SE:                          That’s exactly where I was! Then I lucked into a conversation with a friend who pointed me to my current company. They actually work with your existing routing infrastructure so you don’t need to do a forklift upgrade. We started with that approach, but the benefits we saw were so dramatic that with the next network upgrade we undertook, we took the opportunity to completely replace our previous routers. We started getting those savings in the 2nd year. It really wasn’t anything I did, but when I decided to take a job with these guys my former employer begged me to stay and offered me a promotion, it was crazy.

Prospect:             Man, good for you, wish we had a network that large where we’d benefit from network optimization.

SE:                          Hah! I said the same exact thing the first time I talked to these guys. Their augmentation approach really makes your company size irrelevant. Tell you what, I’ll give you my card, send me basic info on your topography and I can come by next week and see if it makes sense for you.

Prospect:             I am putty in your hands


So, the examples are a little short, they’re a little cheesy, but they are not exaggerated. You should be able to tell just as compelling a story about your product. If you can’t, keep digging, getting to that story that gets you stoked to talk about your product can make all the difference in the world.