YOU’VE HEARD THE term “elevator pitch”—
a brief, one- or two-line statement of what
you and your business offer. It’s a way to sum
up your story in the time it takes for an elevator ride, for those times when you have a
brief moment with a potential client.
Business speaker, consultant, author and
Costco member Steve Yastrow ( yastrow.com)
offers another perspective in his new book,
Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised
Persuasion (SelectBooks, 2014; not available
at Costco). Here are some of his tips for a
Think input before output.
The best improvisers are the
best listeners. Observe the
information available to you
before you determine your
response and use it to help
you have a fresh, persuasive conversation.
Pay close attention to what your customer says and does. Customers’ words and
actions reveal what they are thinking and
what they care about, and this can be your
guide to creating a spontaneous conversation
that matters to your customer.
Size up the scene. Understand the context of the situation as well as who is involved.
Ask yourself who is participating in the scene, and uncover
motivations and characteristics, including your own.
Create a series of yeses.
Persuasion depends on how
well you and your customer
are moving in sync. Each time
someone says no, the conver-
sation loses momentum. Be
careful before making a statement that you are
confident it won’t put your customer into a
defensive mode. Don’t prescribe a solution too
early. Your primary job in a persuasive conver-
sation is not to advise the customer but to
move the relationship forward. Only prescribe
solutions when your client is ready to hear
them. Avoid yes-or-no questions. Phrase your
questions, when possible, as a choice between
yeses, i.e., “Which of these two options sounds
better to you?”
Explore and heighten. Creativity and idea generation are
iterative processes where you
improve an idea each time you
play with it. A collaborative,
persuasive conversation works
the same way. Explore ideas with your customers; you will inevitably heighten those ideas.
Focus the conversation on your customer,
who cares more about his story than yours.
You will have a better chance of engaging if
you focus on his story rather than your own.
Don’t rush the story. No matter how compelling your story is, you need the patience to
wait to communicate certain ideas to your
customer until she is ready to hear them. C
AS SMALL-BUSINESS owners we’ve learned that
some customers can try our patience. They may be
late or not show up, fail to their pay their bill on
time, want more and more for less, get rude, be
snappy or demanding.
Large companies may be able to write off
folks without concern, but usually a small
business needs and wants to keep customers
happy even when they don’t put their best foot
forward. We can’t let them take advantage of us,
of course, but we can’t afford to blow our stacks,
ream them out, tell them off, demean them or
otherwise lose our tempers. We have to keep our
cool, no matter how we feel.
Since that is clearly not always easy in the heat
of the moment, here are some tricks of the trade.
Know your triggers. Knowing your hot
buttons can help you be prepared to respond.
Among the most common triggers: behavior that
is (a) unexpected and out of the blue; (b) clearly
the customer’s fault, not yours; and/or (c) unfair.
Wait to respond. When your hackles rise,
Keep your cool
postpone your response. If the behavior is
something you need to talk about with the
customer, to be sure it doesn’t happen again,
contact the person after you have cooled down.
Be clear on your desired outcome. If it’s to
make the person feel as bad as you do or to make
the person sorry, rethink whether that’s really what
you want. You might feel good for the moment, but
you will most likely lose a customer.
Use an “I message.” For example, instead of
saying, “You are always late for your appointments,” you might say, “When you are late for your
appointments, I get behind for the rest of the day
and it upsets my other clients.”
Be specific. What behavior do you want the
customer to change in the future? Instead of
“Please do better,” or “Don’t do that again, please,”
ask for specific actions, such as “Would you be able
to be on time from now on?”
Listen carefully. If the customer is having
problems that cause the undesirable behavior,
don’t write off explanations simply as excuses.
It may be possible to change your arrangements
in ways that will prevent such behavior.
You may want to accept that the person is
having a bad day or has had a bad life. His or
her behavior might have been irksome, but not
intolerable. We’re all human, after all.
Say sorry. Should you slip and lose your cool,
apologize. Doctors who apologize are sued less
frequently than doctors who don’t apologize.
Keeping your cool and using these guidelines works. You will feel better when you handle
things better, and if your customers like you,
even when they’re not at their best, they will
stick with you. C
PAUL AND SARAH EDWARDS: LIFESTYLES FOR THE MILLENNIUM
are the authors of
Lifeboat and 16
other small-business books.
Ditch the pitch
You can chat
with a pro
THE SMALL BUSINESS Administration (SBA) website, www.
sba.gov, offers occasional chat
sessions with various business
experts but you don’t have to
worry about missing them. The
Learning Center has an archive
of previous sessions. Chances
are your questions will have
already been answered.
Archived business chat
• “Business Opportunities
for Young Women”
• “Contracting with the
• “Entrepreneur’s Spotlight:
• “Getting Your Small
Business Ready for the
Tax Filing Season”
• “Tips for Women
and Growing a Small
To find these and other chat
sessions, go to SBA.gov, click
on “Learning Center,” then on
“Chat Sessions.” C