The Elevator Pitch is Dead

A while back there was a post on the Harvard Business Review blog titled, Win the Business with the Elevator Pitch.  The post started with this scenario:

Pretend that you are in an elevator at one of your industry's trade shows. You're heading down to the lobby when the doors open on the thirtieth floor. You instantly recognize the executive who walks in and quickly glance at his name badge to confirm he is the CEO of the most important account you would like to start working with. You have never met him before nor have you been able to generate any interest from his organization. You have forty-five seconds to introduce yourself, explain what your company does in a way the CEO would find interesting and applicable, and motivate him to take the action you suggest. Ready? Go!

The post went on to give advice on the best way to structure your elevator pitch and even gave a script.  I wrote the following comment on the post:

Great post, Steve. Though I have to tell you that if I ever found myself in the position you describe in the first paragraph, the last thing I would do would be to try to pitch.  Business people, particularly CEOs, hate being sold to -- especially in person, in an enclosed area, by someone they don't know.  A better approach might be to introduce yourself casually, talk about the event or the weather or sports -- basically show that you're a nice guy.  Then if you happen to bump into the CEO later on, you can start to talk more about what you do and -- if appropriate -- have a conversation about how you might work together.

Of course it may be unlikely that you'll get this CEO alone again -- but I'd argue that it's just as likely as converting a 45 second elevator ride with someone you've never met into a material sale.

That said, if you do decide to make the pitch on the elevator the framework you've described above is a great one.

The elevator pitch is dead. Yes, you need to be able to quickly and concisely explain your product's value. And having an elevator pitch in your mind is a great way to do that. But in today's complex sales environment, battering CEO's with your sales pitch is not going to work.

It's not about top-down pushy sales or bottoms-up deference to your prospect where you simply "learn about their business", it's about doing the work to build synergistic partnerships that scale way beyond the sum of the two parts.

So if you find yourself in the elevator with your dream prospect, don't pitch them -- get to know them. And if you're able to keep the conversation going outside of the elevator learn about what they do and tell them about what you do.  And get their implicit permission to keep in contact with them. And when it's appropriate to talk to them about how a partnership could help both of your businesses, send them your ideas and setup a time to talk (preferably, not in an elevator).