Pitching in the Elevator

For better or worse, the pace of business today is breakneck. We live in a world of rapid communication, instantaneous buying decisions, and brand affinity won or lost in seconds. In a business environment that favors speed, how do we make effective use of the little time that we have? What happens to the elevator pitch when the time between floors has become so brief?

We cope with the velocity of business in many ways. We apply analytics to the aggregate and use “science” to determine how to position our products and services better. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to some very simple principles, which are as fresh today as they were a hundred years ago.

Over the last few years of running DevMynd(software development services), I have learned a lot about how to tell our story in a very small space. I am by no means a master at this and I hope I never stop improving. But here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way, and they just happen to fit nicely with the classic five W’s.


We make decisions first with the least logical and messiest part of our brains, our emotions. We don’t buy a laptop from Apple because it’s the fastest most powerful machine out there. We buy it because it connects to something about us; how we think, the status we want to portray, the type of work we want to do. Likewise, nobody stands in line at a Tesla dealership waiting to fork out over a grand for a spot in another line because they’ve calculated their precise fuel savings for the next 8 years. No, we stand in that line because of what Tesla means to us.

The “why” of your business will connect to different people in different ways. But articulating the “why” is the cornerstone of communicating to your buyer in a confined space. Make sure you understand why you do what you do and that you can communicate it. Even more important, make sure you actually believe in your company’s “why”.


Once you have a “why” to share with people, you’ve got to figure out who to share it with. This is incredibly challenging for some companies. For DevMynd, in particular, this has been very difficult. Since we’re able to help lots of clients of various sizes in so many different industries, it is difficult for us to narrow the field. However, defining your target market and segmenting it appropriately is crucial to being able to point your message in a fruitful direction.

I like to answer the “who” question in layers: First, who are my target clients, the companies that represent my ideal market? And, what attributes make them ideal clients? Second, what part of the organizational chart at my prospect company will best understand my product and connect it to a need? Lastly, what is the persona of the buyer? How old are they? What’s their background? What industry forces are they likely dealing with? What gives them a win in their company? These layers help to build a holistic picture of the buying climate.


This is usually where things start to get easy and also very, very difficult. Most of us can tell you what our company does; if we can’t, we probably shouldn’t be employed there. However, what your company does isn’t really about the mechanics of what its people do, rather it should be about the value proposition your company enables.

For example, Intuit doesn’t make accounting and tax software; instead it simplifies complex administrative processes, which saves companies time and money and they don’t have to hire expensive professionals. Your value proposition needs to focus on two things: the pain points a buyer may be experiencing or the needs they have, and the return on their investment if they buy from you. What you do to get them that ROI is much less important here.


This is where we fill in the gap between need and ROI with a little more detail. Many times this can be skipped for brevity, or maybe there is already enough shared understanding that it isn’t necessary to describe it. But, if it’s important to the audience, then go into detail on how exactly your product or service provides a benefit to them.

In my own experience, here it’s important to focus on clarity and to remain as jargon-free as possible. In our case, we provide a very open-ended service (digital strategy, human-centered design, and custom app development). For us, the “how” needs to be put into terms that even a non-technical client can understand. To do this, we’ve developed a few proven processes that almost have brand names of their own. For example, our Shift Framework is how we identify innovation opportunities and perform solution discovery. Another example is our TuneUp offering, which is how we describe our technical coaching and mentorship engagements.

If your offering is more product oriented, then the “how” is really more about putting your product into the context of a use case. Regardless, be concise but descriptive and always talk about “how” in a way that connects to the audience’s existing knowledge and experience.


This is an often forgotten component of the pitch, but one that I find really essential. Sometimes, you need to help a customer understand the ideal time to buy from you. This is helpful in two ways: First, it allows you to avoid lengthy discussions with a customer who isn’t ready, and second, it builds trust by demonstrating that you are prepared to forgo short-term revenue for a long-term good fit.

For example, in my world, if a customer isn’t able to articulate a real problem that they are trying to solve with custom software, then it makes no sense to sell them software services. It’s much better for us to focus on helping them understand their market better, or identify process optimizations that might lead to automation needs in the future.

As you discuss the “when” with a potential customer, make sure that you help them really understand what you consider to be a ready customer. I think it’s even helpful to go to the lengths of providing them with a checklist. “You’ll know you’re ready for our product or service when….” This kind of early consulting can even help your prospect to identify the gaps they have, and it’s a great way to give free support while shepherding the client towards buying your services at a later date.

The Elevator Pitch Canvas

I’m a big fan of visual tools that help us make sense of the world. As I was working on this post, I realized that there is a bit of a framework here. So I took my trusty design tools and created what I call the Elevator Pitch Canvas. It’s a take on other canvases (business model, marketing) that have been floating around for a few years.

The tool can be used for a number of purposes. It can help you figure out what to say to someone while riding an actual elevator. It can be used to design your messaging strategy for a digital marketing campaign. Or, it could just be a thought-provoking exercise to help your sales team get better at pitching your services.

I hope you enjoy using this framework. I would welcome any feedback or suggestions.

JC is the founder and CEO of DevMynd and leads the company’s human-centered strategy practice.