No more elevator pitches – Start using a positioning statement


I propose you stop using an elevator pitch to describe your advisory business.

You have likely been told every advisor needs to have an elevator speech. You need a way to summarize your value proposition. A fast and concise way to describe your worth to a prospective client. A clear statement that differentiates you from other advisors.

And you need all that. But I recommend you stop using an elevator pitch.

I suggest this because you may think an elevator pitch is something that a salesperson uses. Because you are uncomfortable selling your services. Because it feels fake. Because it is too “salesy.” Because it is uncomfortable. And that, because of all these reasons, you resist doing it. I have clients who have spent months working with me to refine a unique and succinct elevator pitch who, months later, still do not use it habitually because they are uncomfortable saying it. So you should not have one.

That still leaves you with a need to concisely describe to people what is special about the kind of advice you provide. That explains quickly and clearly what sets you apart from other advisors and why your target client should hire you over the other advisors they might meet. To address that need I recommend that you develop a positioning statement for your firm.

“Positioning” refers to a marketing concept first popularized by legendary marketing strategists Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book of the same name in 1981. In the book they discuss the problems faced by anyone trying to communicate something in an over communicated society. (Imagine – it was an over communicated society and we had not yet invented the World Wide Web! Think of the scale of that problem today.) They point out that the attempt to communicate what you do may be futile and that what you really want is to occupy a certain position in people’s minds. The goal is to become associated with a concept that is not occupied by other companies. The way that IBM occupies the position of big computers, Kleenex occupies the position of facial tissue, and Lego occupies the position of plastic interlocking building blocks. What I refer to as “owning a spot on the client’s brain.”

Everyone has a filing system in their mind. And for every concept, every product, every person, every brand, we attempt to find a pigeonhole to put it in. Your goal as a marketer is to occupy the right cubby. You cannot occupy a space that another company or person occupies and you cannot occupy something that has no pigeonhole, like service or peace of mind. So your objective when you meet someone new who asks about your firm is to help them file you in the right place.

You have probably had an experience like I did early in my career. I was visiting a client’s office. I managed the investments in the company’s 401(k), and the personal portfolios of several of the firm’s executives and managers. I noticed that the client had a life insurance illustration on the desk in front of him. He was looking to add key person policies for several of the top people. I asked if I could bring him a proposal if only for comparison purposes to make sure they were getting the best value. His response? “Oh, you do insurance?”

I had inadvertently positioned myself as an investment manager even though my original training was as a financial planner and I always took a comprehensive approach with my clients. This client had worked with me for several years. When I put together his original personal financial plan, I reviewed his risk management program and determined neither he nor his wife needed any additional coverage. Over time, our original conversation about insurance faded in his memory and what replaced it was the ongoing work I did for him. And since I never taught him any better way of describing me, he talked about investment management when he mentioned me to other people. And why he almost went to another advisor when he found that he needed insurance in his business.

This is why it is so important to make it clear what makes you different from other advisors the first time you have an opportunity to describe your firm to someone. And to repeat versions of it throughout your relationship. You want to make sure they file you in the right pigeonhole so that you are easy to recall when one of their friends describes a need for what occupies that same pigeonhole.

And so you need a way to describe what you do to position you in the right spot in the clients mind. Ideally it will start by identifying the unique need of your ideal client and the special way you address that need. It may lead to listing a couple examples of what kind of outcome or experience certain clients had because they worked with you.

Here is a structure I recommend as a way to start building your positioning statement:

  • A quick introduction that summarizes what is different and most significant about what you offer. It should run no more than about 10 seconds. And it should serve primarily to prompt a question if the person you’re talking to is in your target market or knows someone who is.
  • If they open the door to a longer conversation, give a sentence or two that summarizes the benefit you provide.
  • List a couple of bullet points with facts that are relevant to your target client.
  • Possibly include a surprising statistic that many advisors would not know if they did not have the same area of focus. You may want to introduce it with “for example, did you know…?”
  • Pivot to a client story that illustrates the benefit of the work you do. Stories are more memorable than a list of benefits and a great way to explain the outcome of working with you rather than what the process will look like.

A positioning statement is not a sales pitch. It is simply a more focused and meaningful way of explaining the business you are in. It is a way of telling people how to file you in their mental records. Even better, it is a lot more interesting than a sales pitch and does not come with the kind of pressure a sales pitch might generate.

I have created a short guide with 10 tips on putting together a great positioning statement for your company. You can download it for free here. I hope you find it helpful.

What’s your positioning statement? What are some of the best ones you have heard? If you use or have come across an outstanding one, or want to get an opinion on yours, post it to the comments below. Let’s see if we can collect some great examples.

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