Whether you are talking to potential investors, partners, customers or employees, the skill of being able to summarize your business concisely is critical. Making your business - or business idea - sound attractive to listeners in a short period is often called an elevator pitch. The name refers to the time you have with someone during an elevator ride. In this article, we’ll look at some of the basics on crafting a winning elevator pitch.

Tell A Story

Whether you are pitching to a potential investor or customer, the first thing to remember is that people tend to buy stories, not goods, services or shares. Entrepreneurs often get caught up in describing the product or service in terms of features or differentiation from the competition and fail to communicate any kind of a story, making it hard for their listener to connect. An effective elevator pitch uses the limited time available to tell a very basic story. It starts with a problem followed quickly by the solution and then a call to action.

The Problem

The problem is the problem you are out to solve, whether that is designing the ultimate pair of running shoes or helping brides create the perfect wedding for less, whatever makes up the core vision of your business or idea. A tightly focused and plainly stated problem is always better than a general one. For example, “My business helps real estate investors manage multiple properties with less overhead” is better than “I created a web based platform where real estate investors can crowdsource property management services for multiple properties using temporary contract workers.” In this example, it may even work better to say: "We are creating a Uber for real estate management,” depending on your audience. (For more, check out: Starting A Small Business.)

The Solution

The solution is you and your company, not the product itself. Your elevator pitch can veer here into a bit of a biography: why you are uniquely positioned to make it happen, who is on the team you are assembling, what approach you are taking, etc., but don't give away too many details. Something like, “My team and I have  50 years of marketing experience between us and we got tired of always focusing on the big campaigns and the big brands. So now we use our big brand experience to bring elite marketing strategies, which help entrepreneurs grow their business online.” This bit of story has an excellent emotional tone and it leaves the listener with questions like “how?” and “who's on your team?”. This kind of pitch can lead into a deeper conversation. The idea of an elevator pitch is to hook the listener quickly and leave them wanting to know more.

The Actual Pitch 

The call to action focuses on what you want from the audience. Do you want them to sign up for your service? Buy your product? Join your company? Invest money in your idea? This is the actual pitch part of your elevator pitch, so you need to be clear and tailor it to the audience and your desired outcome. It can be as blunt as “we are looking for financial backers” or “do you want to work with us?” The ideal elevator pitch ends with you essentially getting a yes or no - even if it is just a “yes, tell me more.” (For further reading, see: How To Attract Investors For Your Small Business.)

The Bottom Line

When people talk about an elevator pitch, they are usually thinking in the range of 30 to 60 seconds, but it should really be as brief as possible. If you can boil your pitch down to three or four concise sentences, it is much easier to deliver naturally. A one sentence pitch is fine too, as long as you can fit the problem, the solution and the call to action in there without it becoming unwieldy. In stark terms, the pitch is there to gauge the listener’s interest quickly. You’ll probably find yourself using it at trade shows and networking functions more than with real investors or customers, although a few strong sentences are always a good start to any presentation. If the listener comes back with questions at the end of your elevator pitch, then a real conversation can begin.(Read more entrepreneurial advice, here: Famous Advice From Successful Entrepreneurs.)