Four must-haves for a practical elevator pitch for your startup | Part 2 of 2

Posted by Sean O'Shaughnessey on Mar 5, 2020 6:00:00 AM
Sean O'Shaughnessey
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Continuing from the first part of this blog post, Four must-haves for a practical elevator pitch for your startup | Part 1 of 2, let’s now look at your elevator story then close.

There is a natural point of transition in the conversation. You get an immediate gut check when you know the listener wants to learn more, or they are about to check out. For this ride, and this ride alone - your listener is engaged by actually asking “So how do you do that?” But please don’t start explaining the exceptional performance of your auto-scaling groups or multi-Kubernetes abstraction layer. Umm, snooze - you’ve just made your listener regretful of not only the first two minutes of the proverbial elevator ride but now the remaining 90 seconds to the ground floor.

Instead, pique their interest by not using a sales pitch. Rather, bring it close to home with a story but not some canned Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale of saving a company from the big bad wolf. Instead, keep the story smaller and closer to the people involved. I find that abstracting a story at the ‘company level’ doesn’t cement the point of the story as well. But when you talk about people affected by your solution and the implications then you offer your listener a possibility that they have a similar story.

3. Tell a story of how you've helped overcome a challenge

Customer stories may be hard to find for a startup. You may not have that many successes yet. You do not need ten stories; you only need one story. You may be bored talking about that one success, but your listener has never heard the story, so it is new to her. Pick one customer story where you were able to show the success that you mentioned in that opening statement.

I suggest that you follow the advice that I discuss in my book, Eliminate Your Competition, and that is to use the PONI method. PONI is a simple way to tell the story of a success that is easy for the listener to grasp. PONI stands for:

  • Project
  • Old
  • New
  • Impact

For Project, we simply want to introduce the reference company and what they were trying to accomplish in their project that they used your product. Then quickly introduce the team. Was it a large team? Were they distributed? Did they have a tyrant boss (everyone’s been here, believe me)?

For Old, we want to set the stage on what their goal was to change or fix in their organization. The more that you can build the pain in the story, the better. Remember, Stephen King could have written The Shining as “A writer went mad while in a haunted house in the middle of winter and tried to kill his family.” The more you build into the old way of doing this, the more your new friend will understand that he has the same problem.

New is the new way of doing business after they adopted your product, and the personal hero stories.

The Impact is the change or success they measured at the end of their project, measuring the pertinent metrics of Old compared with New. If you can do it, Impact is great to state as a percentage improvement.

It doesn't take a lot to create PONI stories. In each of the four areas, you probably can write it down in 1-3 sentences for a total of perhaps 8 sentences that you can easily recite in 90 seconds. That 90-second speech is critical because now you need to deliver the story quickly and the same way every time. The crucial thing about elevator pitches is that everyone needs to say approximately the same speech every time. Your entire company can learn 90 seconds of talking using the PONI method.

Then you need to pause again. You need her to respond. Does she need to pivot to sports and weather, or can you continue? Step 4 assumes your conversation is more interesting than the fact that we haven't had rain in 6 days.

4. Close

You have not mentioned all of those ANDs from above about which someone in her company is going to care. Those ANDs detail the HOW question. HOW questions are essential during your sales process, but they are not part of your elevator pitch. In my example of a cocktail mixer where I am talking to a mid-sized retailer, the HOW question inevitably is, "How do you enable retailers to set up their secure cloud infrastructure in their stores, data centers, or favorite cloud provider in less than 60 minutes?"

You now have two options. If you are at a casual mixer, you probably should stop while you're ahead. You might suggest a more extended meeting in the near future, and you should pull out your calendar and ask for an appointment. Trying to explain how you accomplish this amazing feat could backfire on you and prevent that person from accepting that future appointment now that they have more information. You have achieved your goal with your elevator pitch, they want to talk. Now it is time to stop selling, and it is time to close for the appointment for a more in-depth conversation.

If you are not at the mixer, but instead in an area where you can effectively sit down and discuss all of the details, then, by all means, you should do so. However, be careful that you are not winging it with only a portion of your best pitch resources available to you. Do you have the best version of your slides and documentation with you? Do you need to have your ace technical guy or your ace sales guy with you? Do you think that your prospect needs to have some more people present for this first conversation? Your best strategy is likely to come back in the future with your best foot forward.

Once you have the appointment locked in, now is the time to work on understanding your prospect. It is time for your prospect to tell you about their needs and goals. This information will be invaluable as you formulate your ultimate value proposition that will close the deal. In fact, if you can get her to tell you her elevator pitch, that is a win. Now is the time for you to use the two ears and one mouth adage - listen twice as much as you talk.

An elevator pitch that everyone in your startup can give is critical. You don't need to turn everyone into salespeople, but you should try to turn those elevator pitches into firm appointments for the sales team.

Topics: Component Software, Startup, Sales, Business Development, Kubernetes