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    Why ‘Elevator Speeches’ Defeat Sales

    Author offers tips to jumpstart engaging sales convos

    By John Graham

    There are few offenses in business worse than challenging the validity of the near sacred “elevator speech,” that one-minute message verbalizing the unique qualities of what a salesperson does or sells.

    The need for the “elevator speech” seems obvious since hordes of salespeople fumble and stumble when asked what they do. Even though they may have adequate knowledge of what they sell and the company they represent, they’re unable to verbalize the message clearly and succinctly.

    As someone said, “If you don’t have an elevator speech, people won’t know what you really do.” It’s no wonder that sales managers make it a top priority to motivate their people to prepare and practice mini-messages.

    If all this is true, then why knock it? Why challenge something that’s needed and useful to a salesperson? To put it bluntly, an “elevator speech” is damaging because it’s a one-way, robotic “conversation” that defeats sales. It “tells” but doesn’t “sell.”

    To better understand the “elevator speech” problem, consider one of the most common complaints of sales managers: salespeople talk too much. Silence seems to drive them crazy so they fill “the empty space” with a constant flow of patter about anything and everything.

    There’s more to the story. Customers also complain that salespeople turn them off by talking constantly and failing to listen. It’s becomes a vicious circle: they’re poor listeners because they won’t shut up. On and on they go babbling about their product, service and the company they represent and don’t stop long enough for customers to ask questions.

    “Many salespeople feel compelled to recite their canned pitch regardless of the customer’s actual interest,” comments Steve W. Martin of USC’s Marshall School of Business. In other words, they spin their spiel rather than interacting with customers and prospects.

    Of course, many salespeople talk too much –– and it’s always about themselves and their company. That’s what they know. It’s drilled into them day-after-day. And they simply regurgitate the words because that’s what they’re told to do. So, why should anyone expect them to change or do otherwise?

    Salespeople go to lead generation groups, stand up and talk about themselves. No one listens, particularly when they’ve heard the same words week-after-week. In such situations, salespeople should be asking themselves this question: “Why should the people sitting round the table recommend me?” But they don’t because they’ve been taught to mouth an “elevator speech.”

    They show up at networking meetings and say (a dozen times over), “Hi, I’m Susan from Gotcha International and…. .” Susan is doing what she has been told to do and leaves with a handful of business cards. Back at the office, she tells her boss that it was a good day for Gotcha.

    When making cold calls, salespeople invariably start out by saying, “Hi, I’m Roscoe and my company…. .” Whether it’s in person, on the phone or in emails, it’s time to slam the door, hang up or hit delete. It’s time salespeople got the Special Memo: no one cares who you are or what you’re selling.

    The “elevator speech” approach breeds disaster. It undermines and kills sales because it fails to engage customers. In fact, it has just the opposite result: it bores the listener. No one wants to spend even 60-seconds listening to people talking about themselves. It’s far and away the most successful method of driving prospects away. They don’t want to do business with those who have zero interest in anything but what they want to accomplish.

    So, what should a salesperson say when someone asks, “What do you do?” Instead of pressing the “elevator speech” button and jabbering about the products or services they sell or the company they work for, the best response is simply to say, “Thanks for asking.”

    If played correctly, the next step gives salespeople the opportunity to begin a conversation. What this takes is a captivating statement that compels someone to ask what it means. Here are several examples of how to do that:

    “It’s my job to snoop around and find where my clients are spending money needlessly.” Much better than saying, “I’m a consultant.”

    “Businesses depend on me to make sure they have a constant flow of new prospects.” That’s far more interesting than saying, “I’m in marketing.”

    “My customers depend on me to make sure they won’t run out money when they need it most.” Much better than saying, “I’m a financial advisor.”

    “I help my clients take advantage of new, profitable opportunities.” Much better than saying, “I’m a commercial loan officer.”

    By now, the picture should be clear. When a salesperson makes this type of statement, it opens the door for the prospect to ask a question: “How do you do that?” or “What does that mean?”

    Now, a situation is right for moving forward and starting a conversation.

    By engaging people in such a way that they are intrigued, they will want to know more. Now, they are the ones asking for additional information, which is so much better than turning them off.

    This approach is far more demanding that parroting an “elevator speech.” It requires thinking and most importantly, careful listening, something that’s impossible when we’re talking. It also forces salespeople to think about what they really do and then express it in a way that pulls prospects closer.

    On one occasion, the president of a company asked what I did. I responded by saying, “I help CEOs avoid embarrassing themselves.” Looking confused, he said, “Can you explain that?” I did, saying, “I help them recognize that they are too close to the business to manage the company’s marketing objectively.”

    As long as salespeople are “stuck” with the “elevator speech” mindset, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to actually engage others. They give their little “speech” about what they sell, instead of initiating a conversation that draws the other person into a dialogue. Without this involvement, potential buyers tune out.

    The shift from “elevator speech” thinking to an “engaging conversation” is not difficult. When you think about it, it begins with asking the key question, “What is it that I really do for my customers?”

    John Graham is a Boston-based marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He can be reached at 617-774-9759 or [email protected].

    By John Graham
    • About John Graham

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