In The Marketing Plan Handbook, author Robert W. Bly explains how you can develop big-picture marketing plans for pennies on the dollar with his 12-step marketing plan. In this edited excerpt, Bly explains how you can quickly create an elevator pitch that grabs people's attention.

Once you’ve painted a vision for your business -- so you understand where you're going and why -- it’s time to clarify what business you’re in. But what does that really mean? It means defining exactly who you are, what you do for people, your pri­mary product or service, and your business’s key streams of income. The first thing you need to do in order to clarify what business you're in is to solidify your elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a 30-second answer to the question, “What do you do?” You need an elevator pitch because the question “What do you do?” is one that's usually asked by complete strangers in casual cir­cumstances. In these situations, you don't have a captive audience watching you go through your PowerPoint sales presentation, so your answer must be pithy and to the point.

Why does it matter how you answer the question “What do you do?” when speaking to someone you don’t know? Because you never know when the person you’re speaking to turns out to be a potential customer or referral source.

Most elevator pitches, unfortunately, don’t work because they're just straightforward descriptions of job functions and titles, generating not much else aside from disinterest and a few yawns. For example, a fellow I met at a party once told me, “I'm a certified financial planner with more than 20 years’ experience working.” OK. But who cares?

My friend, sales trainer Paul Karasik, has an antidote to the deadly dull elevator pitch. Karasik’s three-part formula can enable you to quickly construct the perfect elevator pitch. By “perfect,” I mean an elevator pitch that concisely communicates the value your product or service offers in a manner that engages, rather than bores, the other person.

What's the formula? The first part is to ask a question beginning with the words “Do you know?” The question identifies the pain or need that your product or service addresses. For instance, for a financial planner who works mostly with middle-aged women who are separated, divorced, or widowed, and possibly re-entering the workplace, this question might be “Do you know how when women get divorced or re-enter the workforce after many years of depending on a spouse, they're overwhelmed by all the financial decisions they have to make?”

The second part of the formula is a statement that begins with the words “What I do” or “What we do,” followed by a clear description of the products or service you deliver. Continuing with our financial planner, they might say, “What I do is help women gain control of their finances and achieve their personal financial and investment goals.”

The third part of the formula presents a big benefit and begins “so that.” Here’s what the whole thing sounds like: “Do you know how when women get divorced or re-enter the workforce after many years of depending on a spouse, they're overwhelmed by all the financial decisions they have to make? What we do is help women gain control of their finances and achieve their personal financial and investment goals, so that they can stay in the house they've lived in most of their lives, have enough income to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, and be free of money worries.”

You can construct your own elevator pitch today using Karasik’s three-part formula:

  1. First part. Ask a question beginning with the words “Do you know?” that identifies the pain or need that your product or service addresses.
  2. Second part. Describe your service, beginning with the words “What I do” or “What we do.”
  3. Third part. Explain why your product or service is valuable by describing the benefits it delivers, beginning with the words “so that.”

That's it. This simple formula can help you craft a memorable elevator pitch so you're prepared every time someone asks "So what do you do?"