London’s Liberal-leaning Guardian newspaper has an entertaining microsite where web startups promote their wares. Since the start of 2008 they’ve broadcast wannabe dotcom stars at the rate of around half-a-dozen a month, although this rate tailed off into 2011, with only three in the first Quarter.
It would be a fascinating exercise to see the subsequent fortunes of those businesses featured. Especially graphically – even more so if you could match the success rates of those with decent spiel against those fumbling for focus.
Nevertheless, it is possible to take what the journalists feel are the most salient pointers, as determined by their most frequent questions, and use them to help construct your own elevator pitch.
This struck me as important because whilst just about every sales person knows what an “El Pitch” is, in reality have you ever come across anyone that has either been able to deliver one on the spot, or can instantly recall using one, prepared in advance, spontaneously in the field? If you answer more than one I’d be amazed. This in itself presents all sorts of questions. Chief among them, are salesreps just plain lazy or is this technique damned as unnecessary by its lack of uptake?
Overall, noting that the published pitches are longer than a customary el-pitch would last delivered verbally, let’s see how their categories transmit themselves into solution selling.
Each one is asked “What’s your pitch?” How this has been phrased throughout is an eye-opener too. “Explain your business to my Mum” should impress how jargon-free and simple this should be. “And in no more than 140 characters” should also remind that even pre-Twitter, brevity was always best when it comes to succinctly summing up an idea. Any product or service pitch will do well to heed this advice with your headline attention grabber. A starting snappy soundbite is your essential departure point.
“How do you make money?” is an obvious web question. Its solution sale sibling would be along the lines of “why would someone buy this from you?” The vision thing can also be enticingly introduced, although “Where do you want the company to be in five years?” is also a potential googly. Think about futures (and avoid talk of Exits).
Two revealing questions include the cheeky “Are you the next big thing?” and the more standard “What makes your business unique?” Price, bang-for-buck, service, innovation, niche? Any focus on ‘why you stand out’ won’t go unrewarded. Similarly, “Name your closest competitors” is a potential trapdoor for the unaware. Whilst it is vital to know your position relative to them, you should best not impart this info by disparaging them.
For new ventures, planned immunity to the ‘financial crisis, downturn and potential second dot com crash’ all provoke insightful responses. Whilst these specific pitfalls may have less relevance in other sectors, getting across the robust nature and long-term appeal of your wares remains worthwhile.
“What has been your biggest achievement so far?” is an obvious statement. As are any messages that portray quantifiable success. “How many users do you have now, and what’s your target within 12 months?” should provide clues how to get such across.
The Guardian spends plenty of pixels uncovering these. It’s fair to say that they are not ideally suited to an elevator pitch in my opinion – more for follow-up conversations – but I have witnessed “war stories” of development work to differentiate and find kindred buyer souls. So, worth preparing pitches on, here’s a selection of their questions in this realm.
What’s your background?
What’s your biggest challenge?
Any weird business experiences so far?
How’s you work/life balance?
Who inspires you?
Which tech businesses or web thinkers are the ones to watch?
Who’s your mentor?
How are personalisation and recommendation part of your business?
If you had £10m to invest in another web business, what would you invest in?
Sell to Google, or be bigger than Google?
What’s the most important tool you use each day?
And by way of example, after browsing dozens of their posted pitches myself, this is the one that started the best. (Note: I was aware of this site, having used their (free) service myself). It avoids waffle, explains in clear plain English and adds a note of personality for stickiness.
Explain your business to my Mum.
“Zamzar converts computer files from one format to another, a bit like you might convert potatoes into chips.”
How does that work?
“You upload a file to the Zamzar website, choose what format you want to convert it into, we do the hard work and then send you the new file.”
Finally, it’s worth quickly noting what’s missing. Testimonials. Figures. Problem solved.
Spending an hour or two of your spare time crafting a pitch on this structure may not make you remember it for future recital, but can be leant on further down the line. It will help fine tune your first-time pitch, and give you a template for relevant Proposal-style content for the eyes of those new to you.