I wanted to cover up my ears like this

I recently came back from a Women’s Diversity Conference where I keynoted about how to Pitch and then had the pleasure of listening to hundreds of women entrepreneurs pitch to corporate buyers. The experience was a mixed one. In some cases, my advice had landed appointments and lots of interest from buyers and other businesses who heard the Elevator Pitch. In others, it was as if I’d never trained them. Then, of course there were those who’d never gotten my training and those were the most painful to hear of all. Here’s why…

The Basics of A Pitch

Prior to the conference, I trained multiple groups of entrepreneurs who’d be going to this conference. In my training, the basic advice I offered was 1. to focus on an industry to be an expert in 2. to speak to and about the audience’s pain (and not about your products and services) and 3. to use stats and numbers to demonstrate scale and expertise. That was it. If you followed even one of these steps, you’d be that much further ahead than you were before the training. Lo and behold, those who got it-really got it. I overheard one woman telling another about the awesome Elevator Pitch at her Roundtable. Apparently the pitch started off by saying “a worker is killed every day in your industry because you don’t have what I’m selling!” I chuckled because this was a personal client and that was the pitch we prepared together. I’m glad to see she was using what I taught her to land the next appointment with the buyer..

Nobody Cares About That

“We’re a corrugate box manufacturer from St. Louis and we’ve been in business for over 25 years. We have locations in blah blah blah. We’ve done work for Nestle.” It was literally painful for me to keep hearing the same type of pitch over and over again. None of these pitches got a next meeting or even mild interest. I have it on good authority (having been a purchaser of services for 20 years and talking to buyers for the last 7!), buyers don’t care about your years in business or where you’re from or if it’s a family company etc. They care first and foremost about what problem you can solve for them that their current suppliers can’t. That’s it. You figure that out and try again. Only after figuring out if they need you, then they can worry about where you’re located and if you have enough people to help them.

You’re Only As Small As You Feel

“We’re a Tier2 company who helps with x”. One buyer gave really good advice to the pitching vendor not to ever put themselves down that way. The Buyer said, “Maybe I can use you in a small division, maybe a small project. Don’t tell people that you’re Tier2 which tells them that you’re too small!” This was a learning moment for me too because most of the time I’d heard buyers complain about Tier2s pitching fruitlessly to them.

The Laundry Lister

Possibly the worst moment of the whole conference was after my keynote, when I asked for audience volunteers to do their Elevator Pitch. A woman stood up and laundry listed all the industries she targeted, followed by the laundry list of all her services. It was as if I hadn’t just spent an hour with stories and pictures and metaphors and business models to tell everyone to STOP doing just that. Pick 1 of each to start with and then focus who you help. Sheesh. I can’t un-hear that.

If you’re ever in an environment where you’re meeting a lot of new businesses, next time listen to their Elevator Pitches and see if you can spot the ones who truly get it and learn from them. It’s really the most important part of your job as a CEO.

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