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The elevator pitch: Can you win new business in 60 seconds?

Morris Kaplan
Smarter Writer

Morris Kaplan is a former finance and venture capitalist who writes for entrepreneurs and professional services firms

Morris Kaplan
Smarter Writer

Morris Kaplan is a former finance and venture capitalist who writes for entrepreneurs and professional services firms

You want to win new business but like many business owners you struggle when ‘selling’ yourself. Could you pitch your business in less than a minute? A quick pitch, or ‘elevator pitch’, is akin to answering the question: “So what do you do?”

The answer needs to impress stakeholders in their transition from the idea to fully-functioning business – and ideally it needs to be delivered before the person you’re pitching to decides to walk away (or get off on when it’s not their floor). 

Women walking out of a lift

Elevator pitching is an important skill, whether you’re pitching to raise capital, secure bank finance, negotiate with a new supplier, woo a major customer or seek to form a partnership or alliance.

Face it: in all of these cases a long, rambling description or a wildly optimistic projection of the market potential can easily fall on deaf ears. What is needed is a short, sharp, informative and engaging statement of your mission. Here are a few tips for an elegant delivery. 

The four essential ingredients of a perfect elevator pitch:

  1. It must be concise. Because you only have a few seconds to work with, you don’t want the other person’s eyes to glaze over! Say what you need to say quickly – it should be no longer than 30-60 seconds.
  2. Clarity is the key. Ensure all your points are clear. Your aim is to impress the person you’re talking to, use words that everybody can understand – stay away from jargon.
  3. Targeted. Think about the needs of the person you are speaking with. Every pitch should have one clear objective.
  4. Hook your listener in. The hook is a statement used specifically to get attention. It can be a dramatic or humorous statement, or a personal anecdote.

Forming an alliance

Unquestionably a good alliance can be a highly profitable undertaking, but equally a bad alliance can be a nightmare in the making.

The attraction of an alliance is, typically, where a business owner or entrepreneur can see the benefit to grow beyond a one- or two-person firm that could then leverage the combined resources of the multi-person firm to new heights.

From small things big things can grow

Alliances take time to build and also to maintain. A good beginning is to work together on a small project or at least establish a beachhead that can be named as a strategic alliance. (A beachhead market is targeted strategic/priority market which gives companies a learning opportunity before entering a priority market.)

Listen to your potential partners. What they tell you will not only give you clues about their needs, but may influence your thinking in ways you've never even imagined.

An alliance can fall apart if strategies don’t align. When all is said and done, both sides want something out of the deal. Strategic alliances have to create a situation where both parties gain something; otherwise, they are not partnerships.

The most common cause of a problem with alliances is the lack of clearly defined expectations. The parties invariably form expectations about how the agreement will be carried out, whether they discuss it or not. Even if initially compatible, those expectations can silently shift in response to actions taken, even though no overt negotiation takes place. It’s clearly in the parties' best interest to make their expectations explicit and negotiable. 

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