David Trapani.

David Trapani has never given an “elevator pitch” in an elevator. The concept of an elevator pitch has caught on big time in the business world. The idea is that you should distill your entire case to prospective clients into a snappy presentation that can be delivered in conversation between the first and third floors of a building while riding in an elevator.

The big flaw with this concept is that hardly anyone talks in elevators — mostly, elevator rides are about long, awkward silences between strangers. But that doesn’t mean the elevator pitch is useless, far from it.

“I use it all the time,” Trapani says. “Your elevator pitch is a universal tool. Not only do you use it as an ‘elevator pitch’ when you are calling somebody, but you can use it at meetings or as a way to engage a prospect into learning more about me. I call it a multi-use elevator pitch, and I am using it all the time.”

Trapani, CEO of Sandler Training – AGT & Associates, will lead a workshop on building elevator pitches at a meeting of the Princeton-Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 26, from 7:30 to 9:45 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Tickets are $35, $25 for members. For more information, visit www.princetonmercerchamber.org. In the interactive workshop, Trapani will teach the art of making a strong first impression and give attendees a chance to practice it on one another.

Trapani likens an elevator pitch to a 30-second commercial.

Who needs an elevator pitch, anyway? It’s not just startup founders who can benefit from preparing a good pitch. Trapani says salespeople, sales managers, owners of companies, and client service personnel should all have one.

The first goal of an elevator pitch is to grab the attention of the pitch-ee. “The biggest challenge in the world of business development or sales is that everybody sounds the same,” Trapani says. “We have to do something in a first interaction to look and sound a bit different than all of our competitors. When everybody looks and sounds the same, everybody becomes a commodity.”

Trapani says there are a few ways to stand out from the pack. One method is to say something within the first 15 seconds that may appear not to be in your best interests. “I might say to somebody, ‘Hey, you’ve probably never heard of us at Sandler Training,’” Trapani says. “Chances are you’ve never heard of me. I would just stop right there and pause, which is an automatic response, and the person receiving the message will kind of lean in and enter into a dialogue.”

This is attention-getting because it breaks expectations. “Most people lead with how good they are or their features and benefits right out of the gate,” Trapani says. “Let me tell you why you should do business with me.” When the opposite happens, the client has to pause and rethink what’s happening, Trapani says, likening the process to a pilot removing a plane from autopilot.

A well known example of this tactic is Domino’s Pizza, which launched an ad campaign that proclaimed how bad its pizzas were and what it had done and was doing to improve their quality. No one watching TV expects to see a commercial where a pizza company apologizes for making a substandard product. It worked.

“That’s a great example,” Trapani says. “You do the exact opposite of what everybody else is doing.”

Of course, there is a fine line between getting attention and undermining one’s message. Domino’s commercials, for example, always pivoted to a positive note by emphasizing improvements they had made. “You’ve got to be sophisticated enough to know not to get too cute or you might sabotage yourself,” Trapani says. “I’ve seen that happen before.”

Trapani has seen plenty of examples of success and failure in his more than 20-year career in corporate insurance and, since 2011, in his work in the training business. He grew up in Manalapan, where his father owned an insurance agency. He graduated from William Paterson University in Wayne with a degree in finance and then embarked on a sales career in which he worked for Prudential in Toms River, Copeland in East Brunswick, and ultimately Prudential again for 11 years, where he ran teams on the retirement side of the insurance business.

Over the years he has perfected his own “30-second commercial.” After gaining attention, he says, the next step is positioning: to use emotional words (since people buy emotionally, he says) and then provide a quick anecdote about how a third party benefited from your business.

In pitching his own sales training, a conventional pitch would go something like: “Hey, listen, we are great at helping people close more business. We’ve got a proprietary system that helps people close business at a higher rate than they’ve ever closed before.” This is what in sales lingo is called a “push” methodology in which information is “pushed” to a client.

These days, Trapani is an evangelist of the “pull” technique. His pitch goes: “Hey, chances are, this isn’t going on with your company, but some of the companies that come to us have struggled with and need help with moving deals over the finish line. I might add a little anecdotal story about that if necessary.”

In fact, Trapani is addressing a common problem in sales, but he doesn’t want to indict the potential client without knowing anything about them, which might put them on the defensive. Instead he is giving them an opportunity to tell him if in fact the company is having trouble closing deals.

This also turns the “pitch” into a conversation that can go somewhere. “I’m doing everything in my power to get the other person to grab on to one of those items,” Trapani says. It also solicits a response without asking a direct question. “Sometimes instead of continuing to pile on, I’ll say ‘tell me more about that,’” Trapani says.

If a good dialogue results, the next step might be to invite the prospect for a meeting or a cup of coffee. The response to the pitch determines if it’s worth moving on to a meeting. If the response is negative, not much time has been invested anyway.

Dreaming up a good pitch is one thing, testing it out is another. Trapani says it’s important to not only write down your pitch, but to test it out on colleagues and peers and improve it based on feedback. The pitch should also be customized to appeal to different types of potential clients in different industries. Trapani has different versions for insurance, lawyers, and financial advisors.

“Why do we need a good 30-second commercial?” Trapani says. “We want to engage people and make them actually listen to what we are talking about, and we want to honestly and objectively determine if we should have a further conversation … you only get the one chance to get a good first impression.”

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