THE BLOG

Could Your Words Turn You Into a Commodity?

04/17/2013 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

I have the great privilege of working with many talented leaders of services firms as I deliver keynote addresses and workshops around the world. I often encourage people to introduce themselves and give us their "elevator pitch." Here are some recent examples that are all too common.

Some elevator pitches encourage you to take the stairs

I heard the managing partner of a regional law firm recently describe their firm as a "full-service law firm located in XYZ county." I sure am glad he said that, because otherwise some of the people in attendance might have thought they were only a "partial service" law firm. How often have you heard an accounting, law, or architectural firm describe themselves in the same manner? Do they think that someone is pining in their office, seeking a full-service firm in a crowded field of partial-service providers?

The CEO of a technology company proclaimed, "We are a software and IT company that sells to government, commercial, academic, and private individuals." Thank goodness they clarified those points. I'm glad they did not include pets in their list of clients to whom they sell. I'm sure everyone who heard that description could not wait to pull him aside to learn more about what he could sell to them.

Solve vs. sell

The challenge for most companies is that it is very easy to focus on what you do, rather than why clients need it. My good friend, and guru of inbound content marketing, Marcus Sheridan, recently wrote about this concept on his blog. He noted an approach that I teach that comes down to explaining the problems you solve for clients, instead of focusing on what you do. What issues are you great at helping your clients solve?

On the surface, the exercise sounds easy. However, having facilitated this exercise with more than 1,000 executives, I can tell you that fewer than 2 percent of them get it anywhere close to right on the first pass. In both examples above, the executives talked about their business from their own perspective. If you want to catch someone's attention, you need to bring their concepts to them.

How businesses make decisions

I facilitate an exercise with company CEOs and executives that puts them in the position of being the buyer for a fictitious service offering. In teams, they make a list of questions they would need to answer in order to make an informed decision about buying that service. They start with five questions, and then have to narrow it down to three. I'll share the three questions with you shortly, but the interesting thing is that the first question that gets thrown out is "What is it?" That's right. CEOs and executives don't care about what you do.

So what do they care about?

It comes down to three questions almost universally across more that 1,000 CEOs and executives:

  1. What problem do you solve for me? Why do I need what you are selling?


What is my likely outcome/result if I make the purchase?


  • Why would I buy it from you?

    Participants also agree that each question leads to the next. Meaning, if they don't know "why you need it," then they don't care about the outcome. Without the first two, nobody cares about why they would pick you.

    Translate problems into clients?

    Now that you know the questions the client has to answer in order to make a decision, see if you can help guide them to those answers. Your elevator pitch should explain the problems you solve and the likely results.

    The IT business could say, "Clients come to us when their systems are not reliable despite everyone's best efforts, and their team is annoyed at lost billable time that also impacts morale. Weeks after we are engaged, our clients tell us that they stop worrying about their technology because it just seems to work all the time. How do you address that issue?" This example paints a picture of the problem they solve, why a potential client might care, and expected outcomes.

    Your turn: Share your story about the problems you solve for your clients. You'll be amazed at all of the free feedback you get from others. If you share your version, be sure to offer feedback to others.