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A fool uttereth all his mind.

– Proverbs 29:11

While I enjoy playing the game of golf, it also tends to drive me crazy. The problem is that I have a tendency to pick my head up a fraction of a second before the point of contact. As result, I occasionally “top” the ball, hitting it with tremendous topspin and sending it scurrying down the fairway just inches above the grass. My father has a wonderful and vivid term that he uses to describe a ball hit like this.

He calls it a “worm burner.”

I love this concept so much that I use it to describe a type of elevator pitch. Just as a worm burner in the context of golf is a shot that hugs the ground, a worm burner in the context of an elevator pitch is a pitch that starts out – and stays at – an extremely low level. Rather than giving a 30,000-foot overview of a Solution, a worm burner quickly gets into opera­tional, technical, and other unnecessary details.

The problem with a worm burner is that, because no effort is made to first establish the context of the Solution that is being pitched and what is being said, in most cases all of that detail goes right over the head of the audience and leaves them wondering what you are talking about.


Worm burners are a particular problem when it comes to engineers, pro­grammers, scientists, and other very smart, very technical people. The problem is that they spend so much of their lives dealing with the HOW of their Solution – HOW it should work, HOW to get it to work, and HOW to make it – that they end up getting lost in the HOW.

An example of HOW-focused thinking is represented by this quote from inventor Dean Kamen...

People used to tell me that if you can't explain your idea in the span of an elevator ride, then it's not a good idea. My answer? If I have an idea that I could explain completely in an elevator, it ain't much of an idea.

There is certainly some truth to what Dean Kamen is saying. A good innovation has to have some magic, secret sauce, miracle, or other unfair advan­tage behind it. Otherwise, it will be too easy to copy and compete with.

However, Dean Kamen completely misses the point when it comes to an elevator pitch. That is made clear by his use of the word “completely” in the last sentence of his quote.

Your elevator pitch is not the time to get into the details of your magic, secret sauce, miracle, or other unfair advantage.

For one thing, there isn’t enough time. You also don’t want to make it too easy for people to rip you off by spilling all of your secrets in your elevator pitch.

Instead, the point of an elevator pitch is to just give the audience a basic, high-level understanding of your Solution. If the audience is interested, then you can get into all of the low-level details at a later date and in a more appropriate setting.[6]


In terms of SalesLogix, our Solution was made possible by multiple pieces of technical magic. These included the ability to modify the application at run time and our database synchronization technology. However, when it came to the SalesLogix elevator pitch, we only touched on those things but didn’t get into the details of them...

In contrast, SalesLogix delivers the best of both worlds...

• The affordability and ease of use of a contact manager.
• The scalability, database synchronization, customization, and reporting capabilities of a high-end CRM system.

In general, the SalesLogix elevator pitch focused on WHAT our system did and WHY people needed it rather than HOW it did what it did. That is one reason why it was so effective.


Most people will either never care about the HOW of your Solution or they will only care about the HOW of your Solution after you first explain…

What…Is It?
Who…Needs It?
Why…Do They Need It?
WhoRU…To See The Problem And Build The Solution?

Only after answering those much more basic questions, and establishing the context of your Solution, should you even think about getting into the HOW of your Solution.


When presented with any idea, the first questions the audience will ask –- explicitly or not –- are the Whatzit questions...

• What is it?
• What is it like?

People do not process new information in a vacuum; instead, they tend to relate new things to what they already know. That enables them to more quickly make sense of and put to use what they learn. The easiest way to explain the WHAT of your Solution is to give a plain-English definition of it and then explain what your Solution is like. Of course, you then have to explain how and why your Solution is different than the state of the art.


Once you have explained WHAT your Solution is, you must then explain WHO needs it...

• Who will use it?
• Who will buy it?
• To Whom does it apply?

Touching on the WHO of your Solution in your elevator pitch is important because it makes it clear that you have some sense of the customer and are not talking about a Solution In Search Of A Problem (SISOAP).


Of course, it isn’t enough to explain WHO needs your Solution; you must also explain WHY they need it. You must explain the problem; the thing that is wrong with the state of the art and that will drive people to abandon their existing solution and change and adopt your Solution.


Explaining the WHORU of your innovation involves establishing your credibility. Most people -– including investors, executive sponsors, and customers -– will only pay attention to what you say if you can convince them that you know what you are talking about; that you understand the problem and are qualified to build the solution.


Only after you have established the WHAT, WHO, WHY, and WHORU of your Solution should you even consider getting into HOW your Solution works. The logic is that if the audience understands the WHAT, WHO, WHY, and WHORU of your Solution, then they will usually tell you so and you can then just skip ahead to the HOW. However, if your audience doesn’t understand them and you just skip over them and go straight to the HOW, they won’t tell you that they’re lost. Instead, they’ll just smile and nod as if they are listening, but you’ll never hear back from them.


When creating an elevator pitch, it is important that you not go into too much unnecessary detail. The problem is that sometimes people have a hard time knowing where to draw the line. Let me give you a list of some things that are too HOW and that should be left out of an elevator pitch...

• Proprietary algorithms or formulae.
• Technical or operational details.
• Anything you would consider to be proprietary.
• Anything that should be discussed only after signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

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This document is copyright © 2009 Chris O'Leary and the LIMB Press LLC. It is licensed for personal use only. Any organizational or institutional use must be approved by Chris O'Leary.

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