Being able to sum-up your business succinctly is a vital ingredient of a successful pitch.
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The answer to this is ‘yes’. And more, you should sum up your business this way. If you can’t, you probably haven’t thought it through with enough rigour.
The three-sentence pitch is often called an elevator pitch, the idea being that you can pitch your idea to a potential stakeholder in the time it takes to ride an elevator (or a lift, if you’re in Britain). I’ve heard many such pitches that assume that the elevator gets stuck half way.
My own view is that you should be able to write your pitch on the back of a beermat. Three simple, clear sentences are perfect: pain, premise and proof.
The first sentence does two jobs. It defines your customers and says what pain you solve for them.
Defining customers is important – I often meet entrepreneurs who say their idea is for everyone. Some great business ideas have made this claim and worked. JD Rockefeller wanted ‘the poor man to have his cheap light’ (lamps were the main market for oil products before the motor car appeared).
Merrill Lynch wanted to ‘bring Wall Street to Main Street’. Microsoft sought to ‘enable everyone to harness the power of personal computing’. However most new businesses serve smaller niches, and a lot of their success comes from understanding exactly what niche they serve and exactly what the inhabitants of that niche need.
I said ‘need’, not ‘want’. A serial entrepreneur I met in America told me that his motto in looking for new business ideas was ‘Where’s the pain?’ This struck me as an infinitely superior approach to that espoused by many marketeers – ‘How can we sell this?’ I have seen too many businesses that are solutions looking for problems, and they usually falter.
So, there’s your first sentence. An example: ‘We take away all the hassles of relocating offices for businesses in the South of England.’
Your second sentence is the premise. How, exactly, do you solve that pain? There’s no need to go into great technical detail – it’s only one sentence, after all – but a brief description of what you do is needed. If you can frame that as something unique, that’s even better.
‘We deal with all aspects of relocation, from transporting physical objects to helping staff find good homes and schools for their children – nobody else does this.’
If other people do offer a similar service, you should be thinking about how you differentiate, but don’t go crazy worrying about this. If you have a good sales team and provide genuinely good value, you can get business. A ‘USP’ will emerge once you start working with clients and problems emerge which you then solve on the hoof.
Proof is best quantified. ‘We have 120 customers, including XYZ PLC.’ ‘Jan Smith, from XYZ, said we saved them £100,000 on a move they had to make last year.’
If you have no figures you can use, then a customer endorsement is good (though nothing really beats some numbers at this point). ‘Jan Smith, from XYZ, said we were the best relocation company she’d ever worked with’.
Saying how long you have been in business, if it’s for a long time, can impress, but can also risk making you come across as old-fashioned. If you’ve been around a long time, find some business numbers.
The thing not to do, at any point in the pitch, is to parrot a slogan. Slogans are for big companies trying to lodge their product in the mind of the busy, distracted public. Specsavers currently have a catchy current one.
I’m old enough to remember Esso telling my dad to ‘put a tiger’ in his petrol tank. But these say nothing about the actual nature of the business. Any other optician or petrol company could have come up with the same slogan. Your pitch is specific and full of information, designed to inform an individual whose attention you already have, even if only briefly.
Everyone in the business should know your pitch by heart and should be happy to repeat it at any time. It’s worth getting a professional in to train everyone to do this in a way that is natural, not stilted.
They can then do it whenever anyone asks who they work for. They can do it at conferences: even ones where there may be no potential customers, you still want people to know who you are (word gets around).
They can even do it socially. Every employee is an ambassador for the business, and their first duty as such is to know the pitch and to be able to present it to the world when asked.
The pitch should also appear on your website header and in any relevant LinkedIn or Facebook profiles.
Being able to sum up your business in three sentences focuses your mind, and the minds of your people, on what it is you do. It impresses others, who will like the fact you know what you are about and are proud to tell the world.
If you can’t do this right now, sit down with the team and word out what your three sentences – pain, premise, proof – are. It will be time very well spent.
Article by Mike Southon co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur, Turn your Good Idea into a Great Business by Mike Southon and Chris West, published by Pearson, available on 23rd August.