How to describe what you do
Everyone needs an ability to describe what they do in a short and meaningful way. That’s what an elevator pitch is. It’s what you could say to someone in an elevator riding up a few floors if they ask, “What do you do?” It’s more likely used in business and social networking situations. Here are some tips for how to do this well and attract more referrals and new business.
What answer do you give when asked “So, what do you do?”
Has this happened to you? You go to a trade show and can’t figure out what most companies do through reading their signage so you ask someone in the booth, “So, what do you do?”
Most of the time, you get a long answer that you don’t understand but you don’t want to appear stupid, so you say politely, “Oh, I see” and walk away with a brochure in your hand that you throw away.
Same thing happens a lot at networking events when people explain what they do and give you their business card thinking “I’ve made a connection!” No, they haven’t.
Know this: Many people when giving elevator pitches get so engrossed in describing their company, its products, and product features that they fail to appeal to the other person they are talking (monologuing) with.
So, that doesn’t happen to you, you need to craft an effective elevator pitch that is immediately understood by everyone. It should be a brief description of your business or product idea. It needs to be:
- Short. One or two sentences at most. That leaves time for someone to then ask you a question and start a dialogue with them.
- Clear to anyone. No industry or company jargon (words only insiders know and understand). Remember that joke as a kid, “Your epidermis is showing”? That’s an example of jargon for “Your skin is showing.”
- Intriguing. Encourages people to ask questions and want to learn more.
- Focused on benefits not features. Ideally hitting an emotional benefit or hot button for customers.
- Used by everyone in the company. Consistency matters and acts both as an “echo effect” to amplify the message as well as a reassurance to prospects that everyone at the company is in sync.
There are two types of pitches you need to master:
Reactive explanations in situations when someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” or “What’s that product/service?”
Proactive statements in situations like when you have the opportunity to briefly explain what you do or sell.
In the first situation when you’re being asked what you do, you might want to answer with a very brief sentence and then ask the other person some questions to determine if there’s any type of match for what you do or sell and their needs. What they share will also allow you to better tailor how you explain what you do or offer to be most relevant to them.
TIP: You want to intrigue someone to ask another question. Some examples:
- I design websites that make small businesses look like big businesses…
- I help orthodontists get more patients…
- We let people control the temperature for every room of their house…
- I help people find the home of their dreams…
- This saves people money by prolonging the life of fruits and vegetables…
- We painlessly remove unwanted hair…
- We make a product that helps dog owners to control their dogs…
- We orchestrate celebrations for people and businesses…
- We save people money on their taxes and time preparing them…
- We advise entrepreneurs how to structure their businesses to maintain the most equity…
- We help companies reduce their manufacturing operating costs so they’re more profitable…
- We take care of people’s pets when their regular vet isn’t available at night, over the weekend and on holidays…
These are all statements about what you, your company or product or service does for someone else. They’re about benefits or outcomes, not your job title or the process you use. And they increase the likelihood of someone asking, “How do you do that?” which opens up a dialogue.
It’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for them. How can you help someone:
- Make money?
- Save money?
- Save time?
- Feel better emotionally? Physically?
- Solve a problem?
- Don’t wing it. Your elevator pitch is a critical door-opener.
- Mention a well-known company that the customer or individual knows. Then explain the positive differences between the well-known company or product and what you or your product/company/service does. This helps prospects more quickly grasp what the company does, the benefits it offers, and its advantages over others.
- Emphasize meaningful competitive differences. What aren’t competitors providing that’s an unmet need for customers and the reason this product/company/service is in business?
- Listen to what sales people say. They are continuously learning and adjusting what they say based on what they’ve seen works with prospects.
- How does a credible reporter explain your product, service or company? Their job is to objectively explain to their readers what a company does or offers in plain language that everyone can understand. Leverage the words they use.
- Do some research on how to best position and message your company, product or service. There are a lot of fast and inexpensive ways you can do this.
- Ask your customers to describe your product or service. What words and benefits do they use that you could incorporate into your elevator pitch?
- Look at how companies that sell products “as seen on TV” describe the products. They generally do an exceptional job at succinctly conveying meaningful customer benefits and product differentiators.
- A visual or graphic helps. Many people are visual learners and will remember and understand what you do or offer much better if they have a visual to go along with your words. Learn more about Different Learning Styles.
- Creating an effective elevator pitch is hard to do yourself. Learn from and leverage the best ideas from other people. Or, hire a marketing professional with expertise in positioning and messaging to help you. Perfecting the elevator pitch can have a significant impact on the success of your business. Hiring someone or investing in customer research to perfect your messaging is a good investment because it will be used in all your sales and marketing materials.
Ideas to help you create your elevator pitch
- Paint a picture or tell a story.
- Avoid trite cookie cutter approaches with “insert your name here.”
- Integrate facts and numbers: This builds credibility.
- Substantiate any claims: Be credible.
- Describe a opportunity/problem and solution you or your product/service/company offers that’s a unique benefit to customers.
- Time yourself: Can you say this in 20 seconds? 30 seconds? It shouldn’t be longer than that.
- This is not the sales pitch. It is an explanation intended to grab someone’s attention and identify people who could become buyers.
Think like a reporter: What are the answers to the five Ws?
- Who buys this? Who is this for?
- What does your company/product/service do/offer?
- Why do people buy this? What are the significant benefits?
- How is your company/product/service different? Better?
- Where is this sold? (if appropriate for what you’re selling)
Example: BusinessWeek profiled the Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs in a slideshow. This is a great example to see how to press crystallizes the essence of what a company does.
How to test your elevator pitch
Test it on a teenager. They have short attention spans, are brutally honest and don’t know any industry jargon. Ask them to repeat back to you what you do or offer. Then ask them if there was anything you said that they didn’t understand. Ask them what they like, what they don’t, what they didn’t understand, how they’d make it better.
Create three to five different versions of your elevator pitch (variations using different words and phrases) as paid search ads. Run the different versions for two days and see which version creates more click throughs. Then, learn-hone-adjust-improve-try again. You can do this very quickly and inexpensively (for less than $50).
Do some customer research. Create a survey and get prospective customers and current customers (important to get input from both groups) to rate and give feedback about what they like, words or phrases they don’t understand, what they think would make it better. You can do this research yourself or hire a research company to conduct this for you.
How to deliver your elevator pitch
- Memorize it so that you can deliver it in a very natural way.
- Be confident and positive. If you’re not enthusiastic, no one else will be. Convey the message with conviction and energy.
- Be likeable. Smile, use good social skills, and humor.
- Remember, you’re talking to another person so engage them.
- Adjust to your audience. If you’re talking to people in the industry or your son’s fourth grade class, adjust the message to be most relevant to each audience.
- Keep your goal in mind: To convey just enough information to cause someone to ask, “Tell me more.”
- Think like a choir director. Everyone in the company needs to be singing off the same song sheet. Each person in the company will convey the elevator pitch slightly differently, just like in a choir there are altos, sopranos, tenors, baritones, etc. who sing the same song differently. But they all are singing the same song.