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The Most Important 30 Seconds of Any Sale

The most daunting task in sales is cracking open the door.

Fail to nab a few minutes with a qualified prospect who can make a decision, and you might as well hang up your cleats. And plenty do fail.

The victorious are able to convince even the busiest customers to grant a 30-minute meeting in just 30 seconds. That half-minute maneuver is called an elevator pitch. The concept is that if you got on an elevator with a juicy prospect, you have the length of that ride to score a sales call.

An elevator pitch has to be direct, easy to understand, based on hard facts and sprinkled with enough pizazz to get someone to carve out those 30 minutes for you later on. (If you can't communicate your value proposition in a half-hour or less, you should rethink what you're selling--or at least how you're trying to sell it.)

Hammer home what your product or service could mean to the customer's bottom line. Use basic concepts and simple sentences. Context is compelling: If you can, tie your pitch to something going on in the customer's current business. Don't count on evergreen solutions.

Not long ago I was advising an early-stage company that designed fuel cells, which are basically like batteries that don't require recharging. The great thing about this company's design was that, unlike most fuel cells that run on hydrogen, these cells ran on plain, old unleaded gasoline--a much cheaper option.

Making the cells required a certain ceramic material. Only two companies in North America--both huge chemical makers--sold it. My client was looking to do a joint venture with one of them. It needed a partner with money to invest, manufacturing capacity and a brand name; the chemical companies needed a foothold in a new market.

This wasn't a trivial partnership: We were talking about a $20 million investment--and I had to jump-start the conversations. That's real pressure.

I attended a chemical industry luncheon where the head honcho of one of the companies was speaking. I went up him after his talk and said, "Mr. [Honcho], my client can help you dramatically grow the market for your high-margin ceramic. Our fuel cell technology does not need hydrogen. It will be part of our energy economy in two years, and your company will have a large growth opportunity in its specialty-ceramics line. Can I get 30 minutes of your time?"

Honcho gave me his card and the name of his vice president of business development. Honcho said to use his name and tell the guy that he had requested to give me a meeting. Boom--we were in. (To be fair, the exchange may have run longer than 30 seconds, but not much more.)

Elevator pitches can be delivered over the phone or even on paper too. To crack the second company, I called the main switchboard and asked for the chief's administrative assistant. (On the whole, these gatekeepers tend to be very sharp, professional, knowldgeable and eager to see their bosses succeed.) After giving her the same elevator pitch I gave Honcho, she suggested that I send an e-mail summarizing my client's value proposition, which she would then share with her chief executive.

Two days later, she blasted an e-mail with my written elevator pitch--just two short paragraphs--to the three members of the executive team in charge of the ceramics business. The chief exec was copied too. We set up a conference call for the next week.

Result of all that elevator pitching: Further conversations with the first company didn't go very far, but my client now has a joint-development agreement (like a consulting contract) with the second. Not a full-blown joint-venture, but progress nevertheless.

Clarity, concision and a dash of aggression: That's the stuff of an elevator pitch. And it's the key to selling success.

>Glenn D. Porter has 25 years of professional sales and sales management experience, much of it with IBM. He is the founder of Dolphin Nextgen, a business advisory company. He can be reached at

Read other articles in this issue:

Price, Price, Price! Six Steps to keep Cut-Rate Competitors from stealing your Customers
The Most Important 30 Seconds of Any Sale
Hiring and Training B-to-B Telemarketers

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December 11, 2019

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