The ‘118’: The Modern Elevator Pitch

UPDATED: October 31, 2022
PUBLISHED: October 31, 2022
The '118': The Modern Elevator Pitch

I have always liked the idea of the elevator pitch—that is, the ability to sell yourself and what your company offers in the span of an elevator ride. But the elevator pitch has become too slow for our times. It even sounds slow.

Technology has made everything faster, so your pitch has got to be faster too. Today your “ride” lasts no more than two minutes, and sometimes as little as 30 seconds. Your message is key, and knowing how to deliver your company’s message and value quickly is essential.

How many sales presentations have you sat through with 100-plus PowerPoint slides and wondered afterward, I don’t get it. What’s in it for me? How is this relevant to me as a client? Forget the slides of the company’s biggest clients, the awards received last year… What is the bottom-line value to me as a consumer? And make it quick!

That’s why I created the “118.” That’s the number of seconds you actually have to win over your prospects—eight seconds to hook them and 110 seconds to reel them in.

You know how you hear something in a conversation and you lean in because you want to hear the rest of it? That’s exactly what you want from your prospect in those first eight seconds of the 118. Aim for speed and immediate relevance. A compelling, attention-grabbing 118 presents who you are and the value of what you do and sells that to anyone. Used effectively, it can only help your business grow bigger.

Your 118 should also describe the thing that separates you from your competition. I don’t care what businesses you are in or what other services you offer—how are you different? How do you convey it? What’s your story, and how does that story connect to your prospects?

Leaders need to get away from the bland pronouncements that say, “We do this,” and focus more on “What we do for you.” You’re supposed to understand not just what you’re selling, but what it offers to your prospective client.

Here’s what you’ve got to do in those 118 seconds:

Step 1: Create the first eight seconds

The first eight seconds are the most important part of your entire pitch. That’s when you grab the attention of your prospect and let them know that you know who they are. If you do not connect in the first eight seconds, then you probably will not have their attention for the remaining 110. This is a great time to compliment something the prospect has done recently and show how you could complement their business—or at least that you know what it is they do.

  • The Good: Mentions your product or service and describes how it will help your prospect: “In less than two minutes, I will tell you how the use of [me, my company, my service] will grow your development department 115%.”
  • The Bad: Mentions what you’re offering, but lacks any reference to what it offers your prospect: “My name is Sam Maybe-Somebody, and my company The Hopeful-Whatever wants to work with your company using our We Think It’s Super Service.”
  • The Ugly: Makes no mention of your company or service and how the prospect will benefit: “My name is Sam Nobody, and my company wants to work with your company because we think we can help you.”

Step 2: Convey the real you

Let your prospects know who you are. They want you to tell them what it is you do most passionately. Don’t waste time telling them who you work with or for—this is not the time to drop the names of people and companies you’ve worked for in the past, and it is definitely not the time to mention any negative moments in your career. Talk about your passion and excellence!

  • The Good: Mentions your experience without name-dropping and shares your passion for work that connects to what your prospect needs: “For 15 years, I have lived my passion for designing the most cost-efficient communication systems in the business.”
  • The Bad: Briefly mentions your experience and previous responsibilities but puts the spotlight on the previous organization: “For 15 years, I developed communications systems for Zapidio Communications, which focuses on university communication systems.”
  • The Ugly: Mentions your previous company and a negative outcome. Does not mention your specific area of expertise: “I used to work for Zapidio Communications and then I was downsized, and I’m looking for freelance work in the communications field.”

Step 3: Describe what your business offers

Let your prospects know who or what your business is. Potential clients want you to tell them what you do better than anyone else. What is your bottom line? Why do they need this information? Provide specifics of what your company does and why you’re the best in the business for the specific needs of your prospects. If you’re pitching marketing expertise, pitch marketing expertise and table discussing your other strengths until later.

  • The Good: Has specific details about why your company is effective and the best at what it does: “My company increases the customer satisfaction ratings of struggling companies by using the power of technology to communicate effectively and efficiently through email, social media and Twitter.”
  • The Bad: Briefly mentions what your company does, but not specifically enough to address what the prospect needs: “My company works with other companies to help them communicate better with their customers using technology like social media and email.”
  • The Ugly: Vaguely refers to what your company does but with no mention of how it will benefit your prospect: “My company works with other companies to help them communicate better.”

Step 4: Explain the promises you will deliver on

Your prospects want more specifics on what your brand offers. Remember: a brand is nothing more than a promise delivered. So, what promise are you making? Know what will create buzz for your prospects, because if the bottom line is not measurable or directly beneficial to the prospects, then they will have no interest in anything you’re proposing.

  • The Good: Has specific details and knowledge about what your company can do for the prospect: “After reviewing the last two quarters of sales from your online web development company, we believe the use of our social media networking program will increase your sales by 25% in the next quarter.”
  • The Bad: Shows limited knowledge of the prospect’s needs and offers a brief idea of what area you desire to work in: “I’ve been watching your company on the news, and I think that the use of our new machine could increase your production rates.”
  • The Ugly: Does not know what the prospect’s needs are and makes no reference to your expertise—only broad and overly general platitudes: “Our company will work hard to address any and every need that you have to grow your company.”

Once you’ve built the message, you’ve got to learn how to deliver it. Look in the mirror and polish your 118—make it shine! Recite it as often as you can so when opportunity knocks, you can open the door and sell.

To capitalize on these opportunities and grow, businesses always need to be selling themselves and the changes they make in everything they do. Not doing so is like squatting with spurs on: You can do it, but it’s gonna leave a mark. In other words, be smart or get stuck.

Nothing sells itself forever. Never stop selling your company, or yourself. Now saddle up and ride. You’ve got work to do!

This article was published in December 2012 and has been updated. Photo by Anchiy/IStock

SUCCESS is your guide for personal and professional development through inspiration, motivation and training.