What Exactly Do You Do?

Too many people don’t explain their product or service when they pitch – and it makes them look bad.

I may not be on the Nobel Committee’s shortlist, but I hear a lot of pitches and I’m really good at deciphering what people are trying to say. Sometimes, however, a five or even ten-minute pitch leaves me confused – and often utterly ignorant.

This matters because it makes both you and your company look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Far too many people see pitching as an add-on or ancillary task. It is a core task. If you can’t explain what you do clearly so that even I can understand, you’re doing something wrong. The cause is usually structural and the following rules can help.

Statement

Describe what you do in seven words. For example, “our platform connects auto dealers with customers”. Do not use these words to explain how it works, what it’s like, or the benefits it provides. Do not confuse this with your tagline. Say what you do.

Use a use case

Explain how your product or service does what it does for a single user or customer. This is especially useful if you have many different types of users or customers. Pick one. Show me how your product works for that one user. No pitch can explain every facet of your product. It doesn’t have to. A pitch is there to ‘get the next meeting’, where you can go into detail.

Use personas

Let’s say you’re explaining AirBnB. “Jane lives in San Francisco. She travels a lot for work and wants to rent out her apartment while she is on the road.” “Tom and Sarah want an alternative to staying in a hotel.”

In a few short steps, walk us through the process of how it works, from Jane putting her apartment on the platform, to how Tom and Sarah find and rent it, to how Jane gets paid, and how the transaction ends.

Explain the value

Don’t make me guess the value you deliver. Tell me the insurance the platform provides makes Jane worry less about renting out her apartment. Tell me the guarantee of a place to stay makes Tom and Sarah more likely to rent through the platform.

Stick to your statement

Repeat your seven-word statement so I have a chance to remember it. Repetition is a powerful tool. Don’t be tempted to explain what you do in different ways. The more times you rephrase what you do, the more chances I have to misunderstand it.

Conclusion

Many pitches fail to explain the product or service. This failure can reflect catastrophically on you and your product. Explain what your product is. Then show me how it works with a use case. Finally, tell me why that matters. Fixing the rest of your pitch is just hard work and practice.