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Perfecting the elevator sales pitch by channeling your inner Hollywood

Why don’t a CIO’s ideas stick? Your ideas are too complex. They’re not spoken in the language of the business. They solve the wrong problem. Customers don’t see what’s in it for them. Your boss doesn’t believe they will work. You come off as a buttinsky. Your timing is off, sometimes by years.

That was the CIO feedback in a workshop titled “How to sell internally without ROI” at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week.

The session no doubt began with a trenchant analysis of why CIOs often find themselves in the position of having to sell ideas that don’t have an ROI. By the time I walked in, however, attendees were engaged in that staple of CIO conferences — self-flagellation self-examination. This was followed by an exercise aimed at developing the perfect elevator sales pitch for executive peers and other business customers.

What? You’re not a salesperson, and all your constituents take the stairs? Irrelevant.

Developing an elevator sales pitch for your proposals, whether recited in an elevator to the people you’re trying to convince, or never delivered at all, is a useful exercise for CIOs, explained Leigh McMullen, the Gartner analyst leading the workshop and author of “Creating Proactive Proposals That Stick.” For starters, the process helps crystallize your ideas. The cost of sales is an important metric when you’re selling an idea or proposal, he said. CIOs have enough to do without wasting their time pitching ideas that don’t go anywhere. A good elevator pitch also forces you to think in terms of two things that don’t come naturally to many CIOs: affinity (as in, what you and your ideas have in common with the people you’re trying to sell to) and messaging (more on that in a moment).

So, how do you develop an elevator sales pitch that might actually get you somewhere — aside from couching it in the language of business (for example, “What if I can shorten the cash-to-close cycle to 15 days from 90 days?”), establishing trust and improving your “opportunity management” skills?

McMullen’s advice to CIOs is basically to channel your inner novelist — or better yet, your inner Hollywood scriptwriter. Turn your proposal into a story that will resonate with the people you’re trying to convince.

Without further ado, here are Leigh McMullen’s step-by-step instructions for developing proposals that stick, as well as a sample elevator pitch in which a hypothetical CIO of a major hotel chain tries to sell the idea of putting in check-in kiosks:

1. Good characters drive a compelling story.

Decide who the “main characters” in the story are. These aren’t necessarily the stakeholders or influencers who are being sold to. They usually are constituents of these stakeholders.

The main characters in the hypothetical automated-kiosk caper are the hotel’s frequent (aka high-margin) travelers.

2. Reveal the problem.

Determine the problems the main characters face. What keeps them awake at night, and what is the basic problem the proposed solution is trying to solve?

“Frequent travelers are always standing in line — at the airline check-in, at security, when boarding the plane. And finally, when they get to their hotel, there’s another long line.”

3. Allude to, but do not reveal the solution.

This is often called the compelling question, because it causes the stakeholder to focus on the answer that the seller is about to provide.

“What if, when they got to our hotel, there were never any lines?”

4. Pitch the solution, then anticipate objections.

In one or two short, simple sentences, describe your idea and how it solves the problem of the main characters.

“If we deployed automated check-in kiosks, we could virtually eliminate customers having to wait.”

“Now, I know that sounds expensive, but we can more than make up for the investment by reducing front-desk staff. Additionally, we’ll actually improve customer service and perception of value, because the front-desk staff will be more available to help serve the customer rather than be occupied with mundane tasks.”

Or you could just download “Get Shorty.” Not that I’m saying you or your customers have anything in common with loan sharks and petty mobsters.

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This is so yesterday. Who listens to anyone on an elevator or for that matter in meetings? Everyone is busy texting and social networking to listen to a speech. Take a lesson from Mark Zuckerberg. Create an app that rates two options like Mark did for females. Hot or Not,. Add some nice pictures, some hype terms like virtualization, cloud, SaaS etc. and have them vote on your question. Once they vote you have proof if they like your idea. You just state you have 50 yes’s and 20 no’s so the yes’s win. She is the best technology!