Ditch your elevator speechArticle added by Charles Green on November 9, 2011
Charles H. Green

Charles Green

West Orange, NJ

Joined: December 09, 2010

In the moments when a prospect actually asks you what you do, surprise them. Be the one person who is willing to talk about them.

You’ve no doubt been told to have an elevator speech; the 30-60 second spiel you’d say if you found yourself in the elevator with your greatest prospect. There’s just one problem with the elevator speech: it assumes your prospect really wants to hear it.

Elevator speeches to claustrophobics

Proponents of elevator speeches will tell you the point is not to equip you to hang out at elevators, but to have a crisp answer to the question, “So, what is it that you do?” You should, indeed, have such an answer, because that question does come up.

However, we vastly over-estimate the sincerity of the question as usually asked. By assuming the prospect is actually interested in our answer, we metaphorically force them into a closed elevator with no exit, ignoring the fact that they could be claustrophobic.

Most of the time, when we are asked, “What is it you do?” (or variations like, “So, tell me about your business?”), the questioner is not really interested. They are simply being polite.

Here are three situations in which you’ll hear that question:
  • A social situation, e.g., a reception or cocktail party
  • A networking session
  • Early stages in a sales call
In all three of those cases, the questioner doesn’t care very much about your answer — they’re just trying to make conversation. They may be feeling awkward, or may just be interested in socializing. Even in the third case — the early stage in a sales call — the prospective buyer is not very interested in hearing you talk about yourself. They, too, are just being polite.

What would it take to make them come alive? Hint: Listening to someone’s 30-60 second pitch is not likely to do it.

What actually would excite them is the chance to talk about themselves. To meet someone who is curious about them, about their business, about how successful they are — and about their problems.

In the moments when a prospect actually asks you what you do, surprise them. Be the one person who is willing to talk about them.

Taking the escalator or the stairs

Get out of the elevator metaphor. Take the escalator or the stairs, where you can control your pace and even your direction. In other words, offer a conversation rather than subjecting them to a speech.

Cut your “speech” part to the socially necessary minimum — 10 seconds or less — then quickly transition to a discussion about the prospect. Your intent is not to manipulate or evade, but simply to transfer the subject matter away from you and onto the prospect.
    Prospect: So, tell me about what you do?

    You: We specialize in insurance and annuities. I put a lot of emphasis on customizing annuities to fit particular situations. For example, I would hazard a guess that your assistant over there would prefer aggressive returns to liquidity. You, however, might have a different preference about that trade-off; how would you see it?
If the prospect actually does want to hear more about you, or is not yet comfortable talking about themselves, then be responsive to their question, but again, gently bring the conversation back to them.
    Prospect: Well, I don’t know that liquidity and returns are the only issue for me. What else do you folks cover besides annuities and life insurance?

    You: We offer a reasonable range of financial solutions and some planning. I have a few clients who are far more interested in my help in planning, though most come to me for annuity assistance. What kinds of big-picture themes come to your mind when you think of your finances?
Scripts and intentions

Remember, no script will accomplish this for you. It is not the words you say or even how you say them. It is your intent that will make things come alive. Make sure your intent is driven by curiosity about the prospect, on their terms and for their sake. You will then find the words.

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