What Is Your Elevator Question?


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Are elevators getting faster, or are buildings getting shorter?

Do you ever feel that listeners won’t even take the time to listen to your elevator pitch?

I love elevator pitches. When they’re done right, they can provide crystal clarity and command instant attention. They can encapsulate your value message so that your listener will be more willing to continue into a more detailed conversation about their needs and your solutions. In addition, just going through the process and discipline of distilling the essence of your idea into one or two minutes, is enormously valuable.

Elevator pitches aren’t just for entrepreneurs chasing investment capital. They’ve also become important in sales, partly because it’s so much harder to get anyone’s attention for very long. With more competitors clamoring for a share of ever-shrinking and increasingly jaded attention spans, you don’t stand much of a chance if you can’t cut through the clutter long enough for a prospect to give you their undivided attention. That’s why busy prospects may not even give you the one or two minutes you need for an elevator pitch. That’s why it seems like buildings are getting shorter.

So, what’s the best way to get someone’s attention long enough to deliver your pitch? Think about it as trying to get into a locked house. You can try to batter down the door with a pitch, or you can get the occupant to unlock it from inside and invite you into their mind. What’s the best way to do this? By asking an excellent question. The natural reaction to a pitch is resistance, but excellent questions demand thoughtful answers.

What is an excellent elevator question? It’s one that:

  • Makes the other person think, possibly by challenging their current view of their situation.
  • Touches a nerve and makes the other person feel a bit uncomfortable. If they’re comfortable with their answer, they won’t feel the need to learn more.
  • Is difficult for them to answer. If it’s too easy for them to answer, they won’t have any incentive to want to learn more.
  • Makes them want to hear your answer by creating a little intrigue or curiosity.
  • Builds credibility by showing you know something about their situation.
  • Differentiates you. If they’ve heard innumerable variations of the same question before, they will dismiss the question.

How to craft one

Whether it’s for funding or for sales, a pitch should be about closing a gap or resolving a challenge. Unless the listener agrees that a situation exists that is worth improving, you won’t get any further. That means that you have to know about the principal problems, opportunities, changes and risks (POCRs) that your prospect is struggling with. It can’t be superficial knowledge, either. The better you know their issues, the more pointed your elevator question can become.

Also, don’t forget that you get sent to who you sound like. If you’re trying to gain the attention of someone at a high level, your question should deal with POCRs at the business and process level. If you have trouble accessing technical levels, focus on technical issues.

It’s nice if you can touch on something that keeps them awake at night, but it’s even better if they haven’t been thinking about it, but will begin to just because you asked the question.

It has to be open-ended, because closed-ended questions can often be automatically answered without engaging in too much thought. But it should not be so open-ended that it is too generic. As in so many sales topics, I discovered in writing this that Anthony Iannarino has already explored the trail I thought I was blazing. My take is a little different from his; I think your elevator question should be more pointed and specific, so that the listener says, “That’s a great question”, or “That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about…”

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate…

How are you dealing with…

What are you doing about…

Have you ever calculated how much money are you leaving on the table by…

How happy are you with…

Should you ditch the pitch?

Having a great elevator question does not substitute for an effective pitch. In fact, if your elevator question provokes thought and/or stimulates an emotion, the result will be that your prospect will ask you for your pitch. And that’s when you deliver it—right through a wide-open door.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Malcolm
Jack founded Falcon Performance Group in 1996 specifically to combine his complex-sale expertise and his extensive financial background to design and implement complete sales process improvement initiatives at top national and international corporations.


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