In business, an elevator pitch is a 30-second verbal blurb one may offer in response to a stranger’s casual and polite inquiry, “So, what do you do?” Stereotypically, such an inquiry is made by a stranger with whom one happens to share a ride in an elevator.
The concept is that the elevator pitch must be succinct enough to convey necessary information during the several seconds (give or take) of a typical shared elevator ride. Business owners and marketers are taught to be always prepared for the elevator pitch. Selling a product makes such a response easy. “I sell Fuller Brushes. Would you like to buy one?” So does selling a service with common familiarity. “I am a dentist” requires no further elaboration.
Stigmas and Their Avoidance
We call ourselves environmental consultants. However, the term “consultant” has come to have a negative stigma. To some, it can connote an unwillingness or incapability to get one’s hands dirty or to implement recommendations.
Increasingly, to underscore the inaccuracy of that stigmatized perception, we find ourselves saying in our elevator pitch, “We provide environmental services.” We have coined buzz-terms for our work as “…environmental services and solutions” to sound less stigmatized. Usually, it is simplest to say that “we are an environmental firm.”
Misconceptions and Their Avoidance
Nevertheless, even calling ourselves an “environmental firm” has problems. For one thing, it has the potential to be misleading. There are many kinds of environmental firms and few provide services and expertise covering the full gamut of what the field has come to encompass. Cleanups of contaminated properties fall into the field of environmental work. However, so do various other vocations.
- sanitation work in a nursing home;
- changing linens in a hospital;
- performing janitorial work;
- being a heating-and-cooling contractor; or
- providing flood and fire restoration services.
While these are noble endeavors without exception, they are not the professional environmental services we provide. We seek not to mislead when in an elevator pitch situation.
For these reasons, we have found ourselves shying away from “environmental” in an elevator pitch. At least, we shy away from this without further descriptors or modifiers. We would not want the inquirer to form an incorrect impression. More generally, we would not want the elevator pitch to end without exploring the nexus of working together for mutual benefit.
“We do environmental work” or even “we are environmental consultants” do not work well. They find us spending the remainder of the elevator ride disabusing a fellow passenger of all that falls under “environmental” that we do not do. The term simply does not work, as it by no means connotes sufficient specificity.
Example Elevator Pitch Challenges
An elevator pitches rarely occurs in elevators anymore. Most of us are content with staring at the numbers above the closed doors or at our reflection on the shiny door. Sometimes we look at our feet. Still, we do get asked, “So, what does your firm do?”
The question gets answered, as an elevator pitch, but differently if coming from a fellow professional than from a layperson. The answer, boiled down to an “elevator pitch”, differs also with setting. Our elevator speech differs if asked at a cocktail party or networking event filled with people of disparate vocations, than it might at an industry trade show. We often feel that the answer needs to be modified for ease of comprehension.
Sometimes we say, “We solve water and related environmental problems. We solve them in outlying areas, where public utilities have not yet come.” This line often might open an elevator pitch, but can beget confusion or misunderstandings as much as it achieves comprehension.
Clarification often helps, along the lines of… “We are not well drillers nor septic installers, but we perform scientific evaluations and work with regulatory agencies to help assure that associated water and wastewater development activities (like drilling a well or building a septic system, for example) occur efficiently and with maximum odds of success.” Still, even after this further explanation, large parts of our diverse professional services are left unsaid. The elevator doors open. Conversation ends.
Another elevator ride and another, similar inquiry might find us responding differently. We might say, “We apply science to assess and support the development potential of rural properties outside of public water and sewer service areas.” Though descriptive, the problem with this response is that it connotes that our clients are largely developers and misses the important role of government agencies (and fellow professionals who serve them) in forming the backbone of our clientele. “We support the water supply and wastewater discharge needs of public and private sector clients…” conveys “who” and “where” but leaves the “what” part, importantly un-said.
Some Project Work Does Not Conform
Frustratingly, none of these approaches conveys the essential and rewarding part of our work that entails expert testimony, litigation support and pre-litigation evaluations for attorneys and those who may contemplate legal action based on our work and its outcome. In fact, litigation support projects are particularly valued by our growing list of highly satisfied attorney clients. Similarly, these responses often do not directly state our important and sometimes critical role in applying for and securing requisite permits and approvals to support new and/or expanded use of water supply or wastewater disposal facilities and the projects on which they rely.
Still left unsaid and not conveyed by any of these answers, moreover, is our work in supporting commercial and industrial real estate transactions, both of developed and undeveloped property, by performing accurate and cost-effective Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and other evaluations of property condition from an environmental perspective.
Many laypeople understand this aspect of our professional services the most clearly, but focusing on property assessments also misleads. It may leave the inquirer thinking that we are just another commoditized provider of supporting services to the banking industry. Unlike the termite inspection guy who critically depends on property transactions, ESAs represent only a small portion of our professional services.
Do You Have an Elevator Pitch Idea?
Suffice it to say that the elevator pitch remains both challenging and ever-evolving. We look forward to the chance to meet readers of this blog on an elevator ride. One of us might be the person who will be hoping we’re in a high-rise building, to give us the chance to lay out the full scope of the work we do and the range of highly satisfied clients whom we serve. Maybe we’ll press the button for every floor, to give us the time we both need.