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The “What Do You Do?” Answer – A Key Tool in Your Sales Toolbox

By August 8, 2009August 10th, 2020No Comments
room full of executives networking, shaking hands, talking, sharing his or her elevator pitch

Article Summary:  Your answer to “What Do You Do?” commonly referred to as your elevator pitch, is one of the most important tools in your communication toolbox. Why? Because if delivered right, it will get people to say, “I need you!” Consumer product companies have spent billions of dollars connecting to our hearts and wallets, to move us to buy their products. They have learned that brevity is better. Three proven steps are discussed to help you with your elevator pitch structure. An elevator pitch structure to help you develop and deliver your own elevator pitch that gets people to say “I need you!”

The “What Do You Do?” Answer – A Key Tool in Your Sales Toolbox

Copyright © 2009. The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. and ThinkBusiness Magazine
Ira J. Koretsky
February 2009

Imagine you are at a Saturday barbeque. You know only the host. Everyone is dressed casually. A person walks up to you, smiles, and says, “Hello, what do you do?” How would you reply?

Your reply, commonly referred to as your elevator pitch, is one of the most important tools in your sales toolbox. Why? Because if delivered right, it will get people to say, “I need you!”

Consumer product companies have spent billions of dollars connecting to our hearts and wallets, to move us to buy their products. They have learned that brevity is better. How long is a typical radio or television advertisement? 15 to 30 seconds. How many words are in a headline of a newspaper or magazine article? Five to seven.

Think of your elevator pitch as your advertisement. It should be less than 100 words and take fewer than 30 seconds to say. Here are three proven steps to help you with your elevator pitch structure. An elevator pitch structure to help you develop and deliver your “I need you!” business story— a business story to help you grow your revenue.

Step 1:  Develop an Engaging Opening Statement

In a typical print advertisement or article, the headline is what draws you in. Headlines grab your attention by arousing your curiosity with the juiciest parts of the story. As such, when you respond to “What do you do?” or “Tell me about your business,” start off with an engaging opening statement—your headline. At The Chief Storyteller ®, we refer to your opening statement as your Better Tomorrow Message TM. You have to make your target audience’s life better someway, from a little better to significantly better (think strategic change).

During my recent training workshop program with the Environment Protection Agency, the room was filled with scientists and researchers, many of whom have a PhD. Given their technical and scientific training, the first round of elevator pitches, as you might expect, was long and full of jargon. I then oriented their mindset and thought process to their audience, the American people. I reminded them the average American is not a scientist, researcher, etc. And that they needed to orient their thinking to one of a consumer, the American People. Through a variety of collaborative Smart Exercises and tools, they developed compelling and engaging opening statements, like Jessica’s—“We help you breathe better.”

When I share this example, some individuals say something like, “for the EPA, that’s obvious.” And my reply is always, “Then why are so few opening statements this short and engaging?” The response? Silence.

Indeed, if the development of a great opening statement to your elevator pitch were easy, everyone would have one.

If the development of a great opening statement to your elevator pitch were easy, everyone would have one.

Here are some suggestions to start you on the path to develop your own “I need you!” response with a suggested elevator pitch structure.

  1. Keep it between three and seven words.
  2. Use active verbs.
  3. Follow these formats to start your opening statement: We are blank, We verb blank, We help blank, and We make blank. Here are a few examples:
    1. We are customer detectives, © Enfatico Consulting
    2. We mold water into excitement, © The Water Works, Inc.
    3. We are champions of healthy living, © American Diabetes Association® (ADA)

Conduct several brainstorming sessions with your leadership, sales, and marketing teams. Put on your copywriting hats and generate at least 100 headlines or Better Tomorrow MessagesTM. Use different nouns, verbs, and benefits. Whittle down the list to your top five. Solicit feedback from trusted colleagues, partners, employees, and customers. When ready, select the one that best represents your company, culture, and benefits to your customers.

Step 2:  Explain the Better Tomorrow Message

After getting your audience interested with your opening statement or Better Tomorrow MessageTM, offer additional details to intrigue your audiences. The details describe what you do while sharing some of the benefits of working with your company. Keep your explanation from one to three sentences.

Here is the ADA version:

“We help over 60 million Americans affected with diabetes, pre-diabetes and weight problems. Year-round, continuous programs are offered to every community in the United States – programs that make a real difference in people’s lives – community programs for awareness, education, fitness, and wellness.”

Step 3:  Add a Customized Success Story

This is third step in developing a powerful elevator speech structure. You now have an engaging Better Tomorrow MessageTM complemented by intriguing details.  Add a customized success story. A customized success story lets your prospects and customers know you are listening, you are interested in them, and you can meet their expectations.

Most people use the same success stories for every prospecting meeting. Instead, develop a success story library so you can use the right story, for the right occasion, for the right prospect. Within your library, include a wide variety of business stories that match up to your ideal customer profile situations. For example, if your target prospects are high tech firms with revenues of $5 to $50 MM, develop success stories for firms with $5 to $10MM, $11 to $20MM, and so on.

As part of your elevator pitch structure, limit your success story to two sentences.

Overall, keep your elevator pitch to fewer than 100 words–fewer than 75 is suggested.

Test and tweak your elevator pitch over time. Let it evolve. Try two versions at a networking event and see which one prompts more questions and better engages the people you meet. Be patient—it usually takes at least three months to craft an elevator pitch that most people will like—and sometimes as much as six months if you offer a complex service or product or your teams have multiple departments. The reason? You need sufficient time for testing, revisions, and buy in.

Continue to test and refine, and you too will have an “I need you!” elevator pitch structure that accelerates your sales process.

Contact us to learn more about better engaging with your stakeholders and target audiences with our communication, marketing, sales, and storytelling keynotes, workshops, coaching, and services.

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Updated Content 2012
Photography Source: © Copyright 2009, The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in communication, especially business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and communication coach.