Strike the right tune with your elevator pitch

By Jim Beach, co-author of McGraw-Hill’s School for Startups

One of the most important aspects of starting or running any business is the ability to clearly and concisely express the unique competitive advantage of the business. Whether you are trying to get a date with a beautiful woman, to sell to the perfect customer, or to raise venture capital funds, the elevator pitch or value proposition will be critical. The ability to express the exact nature of your business in 10 to 20 seconds sets you apart from competitors. In fact, if your elevator pitch does not convince the listener that you are the sexiest, most unique, and compelling choice in the marketplace, how can you compete?

Creating a perfect elevator pitch can be a daunting task; however, there are a few tricks that can be used to help guide a business person through the process of conveying the superior utility of their product or service. One trick is to use various rock stars and one of their famous songs as a basis of a methodology to create good pitches.

For example, John Lennon's song, Imagine, is a great place to begin working on your pitch. The song describes what a perfect world would look like, for our purposes, a world where your product is prevalent. This method aims to relay the value of what you offer through an imaginary experience. What about this: "Imagine driving on a crowded highway in an overheating car with no radio. All of a sudden you are going 80 miles an hour in a new sports car with your favorite song on the radio sitting next to a gorgeous spouse. That's what I do for documents."

You also can use the Imagine pitch to create images of products that are hard to describe. By creating a parallel analogy for your listener, he or she can mentally, and therefore emotionally, experience the product. So instead of trying to describe a new ball-bearing technology for skateboards that enables the rider to do more half pipes and double twists, the Imagine pitch would conjure up images highlighting the differences between a car with and without power steering. Then, it would make the experiential connection from power steering to the ball bearing technology. Essentially, you are communicating “We do for skateboards what power steering does for cars” through invoking the listener’s imagination.

Just like you want your listener to experience the benefits of your products through your value proposition, you also want them to experience your unparalleled expertise in delivering that benefit. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York is a song that is useful in doing just that. In short, this pitch says ‘If I can survive in a cutthroat city (or marketplace) like New York, then I can survive anywhere.” This pitch works wonderfully when you can truly claim to be the best in an industry or niche. For instance, if you can say that you are the security consultant for Fort Knox, who cares if you also consult for Acme Control Systems? The former alone is a potent fact that will attract attention, prove your expertise, and create a lasting impression.

And who provides the best pitch in the entrepreneur’s arsenal? Vanilla Ice of course! Ice’s signature song, Ice Ice Baby truly captures the essence of running a small business and is the best model for an elevator pitch. “If there is a problem, yo, I’ll solve it!” Small businesses solve problems. People will pay anything to make their problems go away. If you don't like sleeping in the rain, you pay to buy a house. If you have a pain, you pay the doctor to get well. If you are cold, you pay to buy clothes. If an elevator pitch or value proposition can explain how the good or service being sold will solve the listener’s pain or problem, you have achieved your goal of being unique and memorable. “I'm the guy that shows you how to get a 200% ROI” is a compelling pitch because it addresses the need that we all have for our investments to grow quickly.

Spend some time working on your elevator pitch and the benefits will be quickly apparent. Remember: let your value proposition convey the experience of a problem being solved by your company in a way superior to everyone else. Then, let that value proposition flourish in every aspect of your company. 

Jim Beach and Chris Hanks, authors of McGraw-Hill's School for Startups

Jim Beach’s first book, School for Startups, was published by McGraw-Hill in June 2011.  Jim has started businesses and has taught entrepreneurship around the world.  At the age of 25, Jim founded American Computer Experience and grew the company with no capital infusion to $12 million in annual revenue and to over 700 employees, operating in 39 states and in three countries.  Jim taught entrepreneurship at Georgia State University for nine years and ranked number one in the business school for 12 straight semesters. In 2010, he founded School for Startups, which has taught over 7000 people to be low risk entrepreneurs.  He has been featured in a UPS commercial, CNN called him the Simon Cowell of small business, and corporations like Wells Fargo, Toshiba, UPS, and SunTrust have hired him as a speaker and consultant.