Elevator Questions & Elevator Statements

Tim Connor
January 16, 2013 — 927 views  

Selling can be a challenging and difficult process, I know, because I have a number of clients in the software business.

The one concept that when fully grasped and applied in your sales process that can have a significant positive impact on your sales results, is the ability to ask elevator questions and make elevator statements.  Let me explain.

What are elevator questions (E.Q.s)? Let me ask you a question: If you were told by a prospect that you had sixty seconds to sell him[1], what would you do? Would you condense your sales message into a one-minute presentation or talk about your organization and its strengths and history?

Would you ask a few thought-provoking questions or sit or stand there dumbfounded, wondering what to do or what to say?

I recently met an individual on an elevator. He looked like he was a business person, so I asked him, “What do you do for a living?” He responded, “I am in the insurance industry.” My follow-up question was, “What do you do in the insurance business?” He said he was the president. (Keep in mind, I don’t have a lot of time here; we are on an elevator.)

My follow-up question was, “Are you aware of what your lost sales are costing you every year?” (E.Q.)

He responded with, “What do you do for a living?”

I said, “I am in the business of helping organizations increase their sales.” (E.S. – elevator statement)

Needless to say, we continued the discussion in the lobby of the hotel and we left that initial meeting with an exchange of business cards and a commitment to discuss his challenges and my services later in the week by phone.

An elevator question is any question that cuts to the heart of your prospect’s challenges, concerns, or fears and makes him think. It also implies that you or your organization may have a solution for his problems.

Elevator questions are designed to encourage more dialogue between you and your prospect. At this point, you are not selling, you are probing. Remember, there is a time to sell and there is a time to prospect. While on an elevator is not the time to sell. However, based on the other person’s response and emotional reaction to your question, you will begin to determine whether this prospect is worth more of your time, energy, and resources.

Their Purpose

I am constantly amazed at salespeople who jump too quickly from the probing and qualifying phase of the sales process to the presentation phase. And then they wonder why they are not closing more sales.

In the profession of medicine, we call a diagnosis without proper information malpractice. In selling, you may not get sued, but you will certainly blow another sale.

If you can master the skill of elevator questions, you will be astonished at the results you will achieve with them.

Remember that elevator questions are not used only on elevators. They can be used at social settings, while selling on the telephone, or at any point during the sales process.

All of the great salespeople I have ever met or had the privilege of having in my audiences were masters at elevator questions.

How about you? Do you have any? Do you use them regularly? Do they work?

There are two outcomes that are the result of your sales efforts: a sale or no sale. That's it. Yes, at some future point you can close a sale that was postponed or delayed due to some internal or external circumstance that was beyond your control. But, this is still either a sale now or it isn't.

The purpose of elevator questions is to peel away the layers of excuses, stalls, and lies (yes, people lie), and to get to the truth. One way you know you are getting truth from a prospect is when the answers she gives to your various questions are consistent. Elevator questions, when designed and delivered properly, will ensure that you don't get any surprises later in the sales process after having invested your time and resources. Their main purpose, however, is to help the prospect "self-discover" what her real issues, needs, problems, desires, or challenges are, and to do it in a way that makes you look like you understand her problems, needs, etc. These questions should:

-Create or discover a sense of urgency on her part;
-Come from her perspective, not yours;
-Be easy to understand;
-Make you look knowledgable;
-Create a desire for more information from you;
-Position you as a professional rather than just another salesperson;
-Build trust;
-Create a desire for a solution

The Process

Selling is a process, not a transaction. Selling is about developing relationships and building trust. Neither of these comes easily or quickly, but with patience, the right focus, unfailing integrity, and a willingness to serve, they will come to you in the end. The process for developing elevator questions is simple.

1. You need to know what your prospect's greatest needs, desires, problems, or challenges are - generally speaking.

2. You have to have the courage to ask difficult and thought-provoking questions.

3. You need to phrase the questions in a way that they imply you have an answer or a solution.

4. They should be bried and not complicated.

5. They should ask for only one piece of information in the other person's answer.

6. They should be free of technical or industry lingo.

7. They should be open-ended questions.

8. They should make the other person uncomfortable with his answer.

9. You should be prepared with additional follow-up elevator questions to probe even deeper.


Effective E.Q.s contain one or more of the following ingredients:

1. They create a sense of urgency on the prospect's part.
Urgency means that the othe rperson wants the problem solved now rather than later.

2. They come from the prospect's perspective, not yours.
These questions should not be about what you or your company does, but should focus on the project.

3. They are easy to understand.
They should use simple, common words (8th grade level) and should be free of industry jargon.

4. They make the prospect think.
They provoke thought in a way that creates a little unrest that she has (still has) the problem.

5. They make you look knowledgeable.
When delivered with confidence, they should send a message loud and clear: You are different.

6. They create a desire for more information from you.
They imply that furthur conversation with you will be a wise investment on her part and not a waste of time.

7. They position you as a professional rather than just another salesperson.
They set you apart in the profession because you demonstrate that you are not there to waste the prospect's time.

8. They build trust
One of the best ways to build trust is to be interested in others and their needs and problems.

9. They create a desire for a solution.
If you have a problem, when do you want it solved-now or later?


Here are some sample elevator questions:

How are your competitors dealing with _____?

What would be the biggest negative consequence of your waiting to take action on _____?

What is preventing you from addressing and solving this problem now?

What do you feel are the critical factors for success with (or in) your industry or business)?

How do you determine and define quality, organization effectiveness, or _____?

How do you feel that your present strategy (approach) is preparing you for the future?

What are the three critical factors for success in your business, industry, or _____?

What is one lesson you have learned about _____ that has made a significant difference in your success?

If you could do one thing better than all of your competitors, what would it be?

What does the loss of a good employee, customer, or supplier cost you?

Where do you see your business in five years? Ten years?

If you could improve one area of your business that would increase your profits, effectiveness, etc., what would that be?

Elevator Statements

Most salespeople talk too much and say too little. These people believe that what a prospect wants to hear is everything the salesperson knows. If this were true, every prospect would want to participate in all of your in-house sales-training programs.

What your prospects want answers to is:

-Can you solve my problem?
-Can you do it better than my current supplier?
-Can you do it cheaper than my current supplier?
-Why should I do business with you?
-Can I trust and believe you?

Yes, you need to tell prospects something, but what if you don't have a lot of time? What if they ask you on an elevator what you do or how you can help them--what do you do, or what do you say? What if a prospect tells you, "You have one minute: Why should I buy from you?" Da!

Elevator statements are concise, simple, easy to understand, general yet specific, and are positioned so that the prospect can relate to them from the perspective of her needs, problems, or desires.

Elevator statements are not feature-based, but prospect-based, not long definitions, but short ideas that convey precisely how the prospect will benefit from your product or service and how she will benefit now.

Elevator statements are only mini sales presentation statements. They are not intended to move the prospect from not buying to buying. Their purpose is not to thoroughly educate them on a particular feature or benefit and they are not meant to replace your normal presentation message or approach.

Defining Statements

A defining statment is a very specific and precise elevator statement. It combines all of the necessary ingredients so that when a prospect walks away from an elevator conversation with you, he knows who you are, what you do, and how he will benefit by doing business with you.

Adefining statement should include all of the following ingredients:

1. It must use common one-syllable words that are easy to understand.
If you stick to the language an 8th grader would understand (and I am not referring here to slang), you are in good shape.

2. It must be conversational.
It is not an advertising theme or slogan; it is a conversational answer to, "What do you do?"

3. It must create some attraction on the part of the other person.
It should make people want to talk with you, be with you, learn from you.

4. It must have a dream focus.
If it helps the prospect see the future as better than the present in any way, you have a dream focus.

5. It must contain the what and the who.
It defines outcomes and who would be served by working with you or buying from you.

6. It must have a dual focus.
Create a two-part statement that has two outcomes and you will thereby appeal to a wider audience. (See my defining statement below.)

7. It must have repeatability.
This may be the hardest one to accomplish, but if you can get other people to be able to repeat it-watch your referrals soar

A few tips to consider:

1. Use the words work with.

2. Use the word want.

3. Use one and in your statement.

4. Use three-to-five word outcomes.

A few ways to use a defining statement:

1. Introduce yourself with it whe appropriate.

2. Use it in your telemarketing efforts.

3. Turn it into a headline for a brochure.

4. Use it on the home page for your website.

5. Use it on your voice mail message.

6. Put it on your fax cover sheet.

7. Write articles built around it.

8. Order promotional gifts and give-aways with it printed or engraved on them.

I thought I would wrap up this section with my own defining statement:

I own an internation business that works with large and small organizations worldwide who want to increase their sales and improve their management focus.

Take your time developing a defining statement. This one took me several hours over a period of a few weeks. But, once you have it, now let it get a hold of you and believe it, memorize it, practice it, use it, and watch it galvanize the people with whom you interact.

Their Purpose

Elevator statements are not mini sales presentations. They are not disccusion of a feature and its benefits. They, by themselves, will not sell or educate your prospect; they will, however--if carefully designed and executed--ensure that your prospect or customer will want to hear more.

If you can tell me everything your product or service does in 15 words or less and leave me totally understandign how I will benefit from doing business with you - you are a genius; I should be reading your book. However, if you can tell me with the same 15 words-or-less sentence how a particular problem or challenge of mine will be solved or a desire answered, I will give you more of my time. The main objective of elevator statements is to buy little blocks of the prospect's time, one block at a time.

Ask a prospect if she has 20 minutes or all day for you to sell to her and don't be surprised with her answer. Ask a prospect if you can have a minute of her time to see if you can show her how to make more money, save more time, have more fun, have better relationships, and so on, and most people will give you that minute. Now, you better perform flawlessly during that minute.

The sequence is: an elevator question followed by an elevator statement: Total time, less than 60 seconds, not counting her answer.

The Process

A process is a strategic flow of events that leads to a predictable predetermined outcome. The process of developing a series of elevator statements should paraphrase key elements or benefits of your product or service to help your prospect clearly understand what your product or service can or will do for him.

Elevator statements are only mini sales presentation statements. They are not intended to move the prospect from not buying to buying. Their purpose is not to thoroughly educate them on a particular feature or benefit and they are not meant to replace your normal presentation message or approach.

The process of developing elevator statements is as follows:

1. Develop a list of the major general problems or concerns that the typical prospect has when it comes to your product or service.

2. Prioritize this list in terms of their importance to the prospect.

3. Now take each item on your list and develop a statement that clearly states how you, your product, or your organization addresses this issue for him.


Effective elevator statements contain one or more of the followign ingredients:

1. They use pronouns such as we, you, and us rather than me or I (use these sparingly if you must.)
These include the other person in your discussion.
2. They focus on how the customer benefits.
Prospects care primarily about what they want or need, not about what you have to sell or like.
3. They are limited to one major topic area.
When you covor two concepts or benefits in one sentence, it will be too long or too complicated.
4. They are action oriented.
If the statement does not imply an action that you or she will take, then you will need to follow it up with a second question. This defeats the purpose of the single elevator statement.
5. They use little or no jargon or slang.
Assume that your prospect knows nothing about your product or service. Using jargon sets up the communication for confusion and misunderstanding.
6. They relate the statement to your defining statement.
Every elevator statement should reinforce or relate to your defining statement in some way.
7. They use very little technical language.
If the prospect has little background or understanding of your product, tech talk invites confusion.
8. They use simple and straight forward language.
KISS-keep it simple, stupid.


Here are some sample elevator statements:

Let’s demonstrate our competency so you can make a better informed decision.

There is always a risk/reward ratio in everything and we want to help you keep your reward high and your risk low.

We always promise a lot and deliver more by exceeding your expectations.

If anything happens during our relationship that might disappoint you, I will take personal responsibility for making it right.

When you achieve the results you want by using our product or service, you will be glad you decided to invest in this program.

If this program is important enough to start, by working together we can ensure its success.

You will significantly reduce your overhead by investing in our product/service.

This feature will guarantee that you save valuable time, once you begin using it.

Master these two critical sales skills -the ability to ask effective elevator questions and make elevator statements and I guarantee you will sell more software and sell it faster and easier than you ever dreamed possible.

Tim Connor

Connor Resource Group

Global renowned sales and management speaker and trainer and best selling author of over 80 books including several international best sellers.