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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 09, 2009 • Issue 09:02:01

Revisit that elevator speech

By Biff Matthews
CardWare International

I predict 2009 will be a year of unprecedented change in our industry. Among the losers: the unethical class, which will finally be pushed out, along with players who are too weak or unable to adapt to changing tides. The winners: those who embrace new mandates, use them to benefit customers and leverage every opportunity to communicate effectively with potential clients.

The latter group covers a lot of territory, but there's no better place to start than the ground floor. That's where you get on - on the elevator, that is.

Haven't polished your elevator speech lately? Don't even have one? Read on. For those who need a quick refresher, the elevator speech, or pitch, is a 30-second personal commercial developed to help you promote yourself, your company and your solutions. Thirty seconds is the length of the average elevator ride.

Elevator pitches are critically important, both personally and professionally, for anyone whose mission is to improve sales, which is to say, all of us. Whether you are a sales newbie or tenured sales star, there now exist more compelling reasons for you to hone this sales tool than ever before.

Four guidelines

So, you're there - at a social setting or professional gathering, on a flight or in an elevator. Someone asks you what you do. How can you prepare for this opportunity? Here are four guidelines:

  1. You have 30 seconds, or less, to make your case.

  2. Your speech should be crisp and concisely focused on how you help customers and what you help them achieve.

  3. Use only layman's language. Avoid industry-specific terms and alphabet soup. Forcing your listener to guess what you're saying because you've used jargon and acronyms is counterproductive. Craft your speech so that, whether your listener is a professor or a janitor, your meaning is clear.

  4. Answer the question, but leave your listener wanting to know more.

If you're an ISO or merchant level salesperson, your speech may be something like, "We provide a variety of payment solutions to help reduce expenses and increase sales." That meets the short and crisp requirement and answers the question.

Once you have crafted your brief gem about what sets your solutions apart from your competition, practice delivering it. The pitch needs to be part of you; it needs to roll off your tongue with sincerity and enthusiasm. It can't sound canned.

Three variations

There are, of course, different audiences, and you can craft distinct pitches for each. I think three is the right number of speeches to prepare. The first is the original, the one you use in social and other public settings. The second addresses gatekeepers, the individuals who decide whether you are moving ahead in an organization - or not. The third version is for decision makers.

In talking with gatekeepers, ruthlessly zero in on solutions you provide that are directly relevant to the gatekeeper's company. The unspoken questions you have to answer are:

  • What's in it for me?
  • What's in it for my boss?
  • Why should I tell your story up the line?

Decision makers call for a different approach, generally one dealing with the elimination of a "pain."

Unexpected results

A friend of mine, the owner of the last imprinter company in the United States, was on a flight, talking with a seatmate. As this friend walked off the plane, a man stopped him and presented his card. "We need to talk," he said. "Call me."

The presenter of the card was Executive Vice President of one of America's largest retail chains.

It was the heyday of imprinters, and he was having serious problems processing credit cards. He happened to be seated behind my friend and had overheard the conversation. The moral of this story is easy to grasp.

You never know when your elevator speech is going to be heard - or overheard.

Whenever you use your well-crafted, 30-second pitch, it has the potential to generate opportunities you might never have thought possible.

Thoughtful edits

Elevator speeches, though powerful tools in the sales arsenal, are often difficult for sales professionals to appreciate. There is the tendency to tinker with them, even when they are producing good results.

Resist the temptation. The speech may be old to you, but it's not about you. "Fresh" is in the eye of the beholder.

This is not to say that you shouldn't review your content periodically and make sure your speech is as good as it can be.

There are always new ideas, new terms and new solutions to consider. Just be sure you make changes based on substance rather than on your own boredom with the original message.

So, make a resolution for 2009 that you'll do something that will positively impact your business while not costing you a cent.

If you do a good job crafting the first version of your elevator speech, this will give you impetus to write the other two. Then, be prepared to impress fellow travelers with whom you strike up conversations, as well as those who may be listening quietly nearby. end of article

Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150, or e-mail him at biff@13-inc.com.

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