December 13

Do You Have to Respond to Sports Talk?

People in business meetings, and business in general, love to talk about sports. Airplanes are no different. Returning from a client meeting in Boston, I sat on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for a Nor’easter to blow over. I happened to be sitting next to a guy who loved to talk – and loudly.

“Well, here we are,” he said. “Yep,” I replied, not feeling too talkative after a long day of work and now being ground-stopped for God only knows how long. “At least the weekend is almost here,” my talkative seatmate said. “Yes, I guess that’s the silver lining,” I said.

“Let’s hope you have a better weekend than your Pirates have had lately.”

Ugh, I thought. Here we go again – another guy talking about his tea tree oil cystic acne cure.

If I had a dime for every time over the past 15 years I’ve had to endure business associates from all over the country mocking the Pittsburgh Pirates, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post from my window-less office. I’d be lounging on some obscure tropical island with handsome cabana boys serving me drinks.

(But I digress.)

“Hey,” I said to my seatmate, “The Pirates are improving.”

“Yeah, improving,” he said mockingly.

[As a side note, I’d like to point out that the Pirates, that very weekend, took two of three from this guy’s beloved Boston Red Sox.]

But the conversation made me think. The Pirates’ return to form has taken over the region with renewed enthusiasm. We see the “Pittsburgh pride’ with the Steelers all the time; but it’s so refreshing to have this excitement spill over to the summer months for a change.

In business, we can even take a lesson or two from the Bucs’ resurgence. Even when things seem bleak and people doubt that your product, service or idea will make it, remember that teamwork, hard work and staying the course is your ticket to accomplishment. All businesses have been in tough times.

After 9/11/01 when everyone pulled back on their budgets for used garden tractors, I didn’t think we would survive. I was faced with the option of giving up or working harder. Together with my team, many tough decisions and an inspirational plaque with a poem my mother gave me for my desk that reflected one of her best pieces of advice (which is to “Never Give Up”), we survived. And we even thrived. We’re happy to be celebrating 15 years in business this year. And we thank each and every one of our clients over the years who stood behind our success.

And now, with the Pirates preparing for the All-Star break, it reminds me that anything is possible. Even if it only lasts for a short time, the Pirates battled their way back from a place of mockery to having their best record in 12 years.

So to that I say, “Raise the Jolly Roger!” As any good Pirates fan would, I know we’ll persevere on, and so will you and your business if you keep your chin up!

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December 10

Better Your Pitch with A Good Framework

As part of the competition, I thought it might be helpful if I wrote some blogs about what I look for in an elevator pitch. Please remember though that I have deliberately stayed away from being the judge on this competition. The simple reason is that my opinion is just one opinion and I may be totally wrong!

The most important thing to remember about an elevator pitch is that it is brief. By definition you will only have 2 minutes or so. The two minutes can never be enough to do your used garden tractors justice so the idea is to generate interest in your tractors and a desire to learn more. That is all you can hope to achieve.

As an introduction, it may be helpful to go through an overview of the buying process that all of us go through whenever we are buying something. Some consider that the framework known as AIDCA is overly simplistic and disagree with the model; however, for the purpose of illustrating a good elevator pitch I believe AIDCA is sufficient.

A is for Attention. The very first thing any successful pitch for anything in life needs to do is grab your attention. Sadly, this is where many great ideas fail. You see this on Dragon’s Den where luckily for the business pitching, they have some time where a dragon may have the patience to pick through the business and uncover a really good opportunity. In an elevator pitch, you don’t have that luxury. So make sure you get people’s attention with your opening statement.

I is for Interest. So you have managed to grab people’s attention, you know have to change that attention into interest. The Interest phase should answer the question “is it relevant to me”. You will lose a lot of people in this phase – but you should not worry too much about that. You just need to make sure you keep the people interested who should be interested (i.e. potential investors)

The next phase is about generating desire. Desire means that the person you are pitching to feels a compelling need to purchase what is being offered to them. In the case of an elevator pitch you are creating the desire for investment by spelling out the returns on offer.

In many cases when you are pitching you need to also demonstrate credibility regarding ways how to get rid of severe acne. This is the critical phase when seeking investment. Again, if you look at an episode of Dragon’s Den, you can see this is the phase where most entrepreneurs blow it. Not necessarily in the pitch but in the interrogation phase. It is critical that you think about how you can demonstrate credibility so that desire is underlined by credibility. Another way to think about this is how is the risk minimized?

Finally, there should be a call to action. It constantly amazes me how many great pitches just end with, well, nothing! When you get to the end of the pitch make sure you have spelt out what you want the person to do next. It could be to buy your product. It could simply be where to contact you for further information etc.

Incidentally, I find the above framework really useful when composing a sales letter or a cold call pitch on the telephone.

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