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25 March 2011

An Elevator Pitch for your Project

Molly holds court in the elevatorphoto © 2007 Daniel Morrison | more info (via: Wylio)I've got a personal elevator pitch. I developed it over the course of a boring, week-long training class that a former employer required me to take. Given the remedial and dull content of the course itself, I had to get something out of my time, so that's where I developed my 'personal pitch.'

When I started as a business analyst, none of my friends had any idea what it was I did, only that I loved my job. (Lets be honest, at that point, I really didn't even understand what I did, even if I was almost competent at the tasks!) I decided that I was tired of trying in vain to explain requirements, process flows and solution designs, so I came up with something a bit easier to understand. Here it is:
I'm a business analyst. I study how people do their jobs. I then figure out ways they can be better at their jobs, either by changing the work they do, how they do their work or the systems they use to do their work.
Over the years, I've tweaked that short description (I did a couple tweaks as I just typed it out) numerous times and its something I'm quite happy with and proud to say about myself. I've spoken with only a small number of people in my life who were ready to go with their own elevator pitch at a moment's notice. Having this little gem waiting in the wings has been of great use to me over the years and I highly recommend everyone create one of these.

Because of my fascination with my personal elevator pitch, I'm always curious to see more about giving elevator pitches. When this article by Don Dodge, about giving elevator pitches for startups, showed up in my blog reader, I was instantly attracted to it. Don gives some fabulous advice for giving a great company elevator pitch, much of which is useful for crafting a personal elevator pitch... or even an elevator pitch for your project.

If you've ever seen me give a product demo, you know its one of my best skills. Last week I was at our company's yearly operator's convention and I had the privilege to give a demo (with a voice so strained I could barely talk) for three hours about one of our newest systems. In the demo booth with me was the hardware vendor whose platform was used as a foundation for the application that we had built internally. At one point, my vendor pulled me aside and expressed to me how impressed she was at my ability to demo a system. High praise from someone who gives an amazing demo herself!

That demo was nothing more than an elevator pitch for our application. Given that I performed the elicitation, analysis, documentation, verification and validation of the requirements for that project, I knew it better than just about anyone else, so I was a natural choice for giving the demo, but its how I gave the demo that made the difference. We made sales all day from people who walked up just to see what was new and left having made the decision to purchase then and there. The system is great, it nearly sells itself, but having a great pitch can only help. Here's the pitch I give.

First, as Don Dodge says, explain the problem. It can't be just any problem, it has to be a problem that can relate to the person hearing the demo. If you can't state the problem in a frame that makes sense to the person listening, you're going to fail. Use their language, their viewpoint and better yet, use them.

I start out by asking, "Have you ever been in situation X?", knowing that they have, otherwise they wouldn't be there to hear me. This is my second point, focus on the person. When they answer 'Yes' to my question, they almost always try to put a spin on the question to let me know that the problem is worse than the scenario I gave. When this happens, I know I've got their attention and its time to begin using the scenario they present as a means to show them how the product meets fixes their problem.

Now, at the third step, I finally acknowledge that the solution has been sitting quietly on the table behind me this whole time. If they haven't seen it before, I give a quick overview, usually no more than 30 seconds, then proceed to walk them through the solution using the demo system. Once they know that the product can meet their needs, I move the conversation to a select, high impact set of features that either show off the best parts of the demo system or that fit closely aligned with their original need.

During this last part, I try to make the demo as interactive as possible, doing my best to have them pose problems and me show solutions to them. Quality back and forth is key in showing how the output of your project can be central to their needs. Once their questions are answered, or if the line behind them is getting really long, I move into the most important section, the close.

Because I'm a natural influencer and not a seller, I tend to shy away from the hard sale tactics employed by many car salesmen. To me, a good demo doesn't need arm-twisting as your project or product will sell themselves. Always ask if there are any more questions you can answer, give the person something they can walk away with (even if its just a cheap printout flier) and most important, give them a call to action. This can be as simple as "I hope you like what you saw. Make sure you stop by the table by the door to speak with the person taking orders!"

So what about you? How do you pitch your projects or products?