Imagine this: you’re in an elevator, going from the top floor of an office building to the ground level. After exchanging smiles and polite “hellos” with the person sharing your elevator car, she asks you what you do for a living. You have 30 seconds to explain your company’s product or service. What do you say?
Even for the most experienced and well-trained salesperson, the “elevator pitch” is a challenge. In fact, it’s possible that the various tools and training exercises salespeople have absorbed over the years could trip them up: while they are presumably well-versed in the details of the product and the various customers it might help, that’s a lot of information to boil down into one elevator ride, particularly to someone who is unfamiliar with the product. What’s needed is an approach that grabs the listener’s interest and makes them want to continue the conversation once the elevator doors open.
What would such an approach look like? We’d like to suggest 4 easy steps to setting up a sale in 30 seconds.
- Grab the Listener with an Anecdote: Time is of the essence when capturing the interest of a busy customer with little time. While longer calls or meetings, product demonstrations, or e-mail pitches might be good spaces for rich background detail on what you’re selling, the 30-second approach demands concision. Business columnist Ray Silverstein notes, “customers want to buy from people they believe understand them. Features and benefits barely enter into the decision.” One way to grab that interest, as the WhatCounts blog observes, is to capture their imagination with an anecdote: “asking them to imagine something, to mentally engage instead of disengage. The pitch tells a very short story with you, the reader, as the subject of the story, and ends with a firm call to action.”
We opened this very blog post with such an approach, placing you in a position where the pressure and opportunity of the 30-second pitch could be visualized and felt, as well as approached intellectually. This offers the customer a way in to a discussion about a product or service that may be unfamiliar but ultimately useful to them; it also offers a strong mental image that they can refer to during a longer, more technical conversation down the road.
- Make An Emotional Connection: Stories and strong imagery can be one way to connect with a potential customer, offering a concrete and compelling conversational entry point. These are two of the “Nine C’s” that business expert Chris O’Leary notes are key to a 30-second approach. Two more are being conversational in your approach, and customizing it for each listener. Your basic pitch structure will remain more or less consistent, but by thinking about the customer’s needs and listening to their comments and questions, you can better tailor your 30 seconds to each specific buyer. Remember: “customers want to buy from people they believe understand them.” If the salesperson is able to make it less about a wealth of details or a hard-sell, and more about listening to and clarifying what the customer is saying, there is a better chance of having that longer conversation down the road.
- Avoid Jargon: Your product or service might “work smarter, not harder,” or provide the “synergy” that a customer needs, or offer complex algorithms and electronic approaches that penetrate the marketplace more than 400% (especially compared to your competitors, who just aren’t “thinking outside the box” enough). Branding and buzzwords are great, but not for a 30-second pitch. Aside from the density of detail and lack of context, it’s often very easy for a customer (particularly one receiving several calls, e-mails or pitches each day) to recognize the cliches and obtuse phrasings of the hard sell--and choose that moment to stop listening. You want the customer to swing at your pitch, so be sure to speak in layman’s terms that are engaging and focused, helping the customer to understand, instead of confusing him with industry catchphrases.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions to Engage Your Customer: Often, salespeople are trained in the hard sell, to make sure certain script points, statistics, or features are mentioned. What if we thought of the sales relationship as an opportunity to share and teach about a product or service? In this context, what the salesperson says is less important than how well he or she listens to the customer, and connects what that customer is saying to what the sales team has to offer. Yes, you want your jargon-free, concrete anecdote that grabs their ear; but then you need to make sure they know that they’ve grabbed yours, by absorbing their questions and concerns, and demonstrating strong listening skills.
Tony Parinello has several good suggestions about different kinds of questions to ask that truly engage the customer. Open-ended questions are good because they don’t lead to talking points, but extend back to the customer’s world and needs; developmental questions can build on open-ended questions by asking the customer to clarify and expand on a point that was raised; opinion questions can give the salesperson a better understanding of the customer’s feelings and help to make an emotional connection. Above all, what smart questions can do is begin and extend a dialogue that can lead to a genuine, long-term sales relationship.
30 seconds may not seem like a lot of time to put forth an idea, pitch a product, or begin a relationship, but that initial connection can make the difference between a missed opportunity and a long, fruitful relationship. These 4 tips can help your sales team to hone their style, sharpen their listening skills, and make those seconds count.
How do you prepare your team to win the sale in 30 seconds? Please share stories in the comments below!