Ernst & Young LLP
For every entrepreneur, it’s a dream come true, but also a potential nightmare: the elevator pitch. No other situation is fraught with so much risk, yet filled with so much opportunity. Face to face with a potential customer, partner or investor, you have mere seconds to bring to life how you do what you do better than anyone else on the planet. No pressure, right?
But developing a winning elevator pitch need not be traumatic. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned. We teach this critical tactic in our Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, designed to help high-potential women entrepreneurs scale their companies through customized executive leadership training and opportunities to join an elite business network of accomplished entrepreneurs and other high-growth companies. We put these entrepreneurs in position to meet customers, suppliers, investors, mentors – and we help them make the most of these encounters.
While an article can never replicate live executive training, here are seven tips to elevate your elevator speeches. All the women quoted below are members of our Entrepreneurial Winning Women program.
1. Define your parameters: An elevator pitch should be not more than three or four short sentences, totaling 50 to 100 words. For many entrepreneurs, this is a difficult lesson to learn. “Seconds count when making a great first impression,” says Carole L. Borden, CEO of CB Transportation, a logistics and distribution company. “A well-honed elevator pitch is critical in a savage business environment.”
2. Explain who you are: Explain your professional persona, and don’t undersell yourself. Make sure you identify yourself as the founder, CEO, inventor of your venture. At Ernst & Young, we call this “credentializing” yourself. Mention any advanced degrees from top-flight schools. You can also mention the upper echelon of your customer base: “…and right now I provide services to 10 of the Fortune 100.”
3. Describe your business in clear terms: Focus this sentence on what differentiates your business. But if you think it is what your business does or makes, you’re probably wrong. Instead, describe what your business does for others. “In the past, our pitch was focused on our company’s attributes,” says Elisabete Miranda, president of CQfluency, a multicultural translation firm. “It has evolved to the point where we can succinctly communicate the benefits of those attributes to our clients.” Make sure to add a fact-based statement to support your claims, such as the amount of money you save the average customer.
4. Cut the jargon: Avoid industry terminology. You may be speaking to a person who knows little about your sector, but is looking for a great investment. “I’ve learned that I can avoid industry jargon, while still reflecting the culture of our industry,” says Rebecca Thomley, CEO of Orion Associates, a management services company specializing in social services organizations.
5. Express your vision: Where is your market headed, and what’s the near-term and long-range potential for your business? This sentence should prove that you’re more than just a smart entrepreneur. Use a fact-based statement to highlight your growth potential. “Our elevator pitch is a critical conversational component of every partner- and client-facing meeting,” says Lani Hay, founder of Lanmark Technology, a consultant to U.S. defense agencies. “We make it clear that our national security depends on our future ability to counter irregular warfare.”
6. Focus on success, but not yours: No one wants to hear about how you built your business from the ground up. Explain how you make other people – customers, partners, investors – successful. “You’ve got to constantly ask yourself what value you provide, and make that the closing line,” says Kari Warberg Block, founder of Earth-Kind, maker of the only EPA-approved, all-natural rodent repellent. “The opportunity for success for others will prompt immediate questions.”
7. Leave them wanting more: The perfect elevator pitch will prompt the listener to form some obvious questions – and schedule a follow-up to ask them. “Much like the purpose of a resume is to get an interview, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to get a full meeting,” says Patty Klein, CEO of A-Plus Meetings & Incentives, which plans corporate and incentive events. “There’s no need to put everything in the pitch. You just need to pique their interest enough to get to the next step.”
Want proof that this method really works? Look no further than Kathleen Utecht, formerly the President of Green Rock Entertainment, manufacturer of the toy-game Cahootie. Utecht gave her elevator pitch to a venture capital / private equity investor at our Strategic Growth Forum – an invitation-only gathering of more than 2,000 high-growth, market-leading company CEOs. The investor was so impressed that, a few months later, she purchased Kathleen’s company outright. “My elevator pitch opened the door to significant opportunities and a successful exit,” Utecht says.
About the Author
Kerrie MacPherson is a principal at Ernst & Young LLP, where she advises some of North America’s largest financial firms on critical strategic and business performance issues. A seasoned professional with 27 years of experience, she is the executive sponsor of the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program. She has served as a member of Ernst & Young’s Gender Equity Task Force and is an active leader in the Professional Women’s Network. She is also the Diversity and Inclusiveness Champion in the Financial Services Office Advisory Practice.