Nancy Valent – Creative Rainmaker for NMV Strategies is an expert in branding, crisis communications and public relations. Nancy has created a proprietary way of creating elevator pitches that strengthen your brand while delivering your unique propositions.
Nancy has held executive positions for Fortune 500 companies and was Chief Marketing Officer for a premier international franchise where she developed a strategic marketing initiative that enabled franchisees to achieve image awareness, sales growth and dominance throughout the USA and Canada.
Nancy has trained more than 500 executives and small business owners in proactive media awareness and crisis procedures utilizing her background in media relations.
Transcript of Biz Chat Ohio’s podcast 2.2: Nancy Valent
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Biz Chat Ohio, the podcast bringing you big ideas for small businesses and the best of small business news and industry trends from Ohio’s thought leaders. This podcast is made possible by Lakeland Community College and the Ohio Small Business Development Center. I’m your host Cathy Walsh, director of the Small Business Development Center and I’m joined by my co-host Gretchen Skok-DiSanto, director of the Lakeland Community College Entrepreneurship Center and business advisor for the Ohio Small Business Development Center.
So we have turned the page to a new year. Happy 2022 to all of you. And one of the items many small business owners have on their resolution list is to get their marketing in order. Now that’s a pretty big bear to wrestle with and there are many good strategies that small businesses can start incorporating. But if you’re looking for something simple and achievable to get a quick win as we start this 2022 let’s go back to networking basics.
Whether the introductions are in personal or virtual you need to have a clear and understandable opener, or as it’s often called, an elevator pitch. According to a recent article on LinkedIn an elevator pitch is where you sell yourself and your qualities to other people in a short amount of time, about the length of an elevator ride. So making a good first impression and connecting with the right people can have a significant impact on your ability to succeed when networking.
Today our guest is bringing to us a wealth of knowledge about networking and elevator pitches along with general communication skills. She has actually developed a method to create a successful elevator speech through her years of networking and conducting research, and we’re incredibly excited to have her join us with us today.
Today we welcome Nancy Valent. Nancy is the creative rainmaker for NMV Strategies and has multi-level experience in the areas of marketing, strategic planning, branding, media and public relations, crisis communications, and competitive analysis. Before starting her business she held executive positions for Fortune 500 companies and was a chief marketing officer for a premier international franchise organization of promotional products, business documents, and printing solutions. Nancy developed a strategic marketing initiative that enabled the franchise owners to achieve image awareness, sales growth, and dominance throughout the US and Canada.
Nancy has trained more than 500 executives and small business owners in proactive media awareness and critical steps to take when a crisis develops and the reporters and influencers are calling and knocking on the door. She has experience in the communications handling of many crisis situations including plant explosions, chemical spills, gas leaks, company espionage, social media and negativity, recalls, and disgruntled employees. Her background in media relations is well established, having directed media opportunities throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Welcome, Nancy, to Biz Chat Ohio.
Well thank you, Cathy. Thank you, Gretchen. It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Well thank you for being here. And I’m not going to waste a minute. I’m going to jump right in with a question for you. So at the Small Business Development Center when we work with our clients even from the very beginning we do a startup business workshop and we discuss the importance of networking and having a good elevator pitch to use at these events. Talk to us about elevator pitch basics and the method that you recommend for developing the pitch.
That’s a great question. As you know, Cathy and Gretchen, small business owners take every opportunity to network and connect for a potential client. Having an interesting and captivating elevator pitch is crucial so that it’s not just wasting your time at an event but giving you the opportunity to make an impressive first impression. What’s the saying? You only have one chance to make that first impression.
The term elevator pitch caught on years ago to provide a quick, brief, succinct and persuasive presentation that would spark interest in what you do and what your organization provides. So it’s just like a little commercial, but it has to be impactful. With many of us working remotely or engaging with potential clients through Zoom it’s critical that, even though you’re not on an elevator with the 20 to 30 seconds to give your pitch, the same scenario happens for being powerful, engaging, and interesting when you’re either on a Zoom meeting or in a short amount of time when you meet somebody in a Starbucks line or whatever to really put yourself forward and talk about your company and what you can do for that potential client.
The elevator pitch can also be used in different situations and that means not just having one elevator pitch but a variety that meet the situation that you’re involved in. When developing your elevator pitch I tell clients and other consultants and other colleagues that you should ask yourself these questions. Number one, what is interesting about my business? Why would anybody care? What’s in it for them? This goes along with talking about your unique selling proposition which we’ll talk a little bit more about later.
Number two, in your mind you should keep three skills or expertise or talents that would be thought-provoking to the people you’re pitching to. So, you really have to dig deep to find out what makes you different, what’s interesting to that person you’re telling about your company? And number three, what do you want the elevator pitch to do for you? What’s the takeaway after you have the conversation with that individual? You have to get your thoughts together you have to plan you have to prepare and you have to practice.
Thanks so much, Nancy. So a follow up question to that, can you share some insights on how to make the elevator speech process really work for a small business owner?
Well, Gretchen, it’s all about being prepared, as I said, and being authentic. It’s saying your story but saying it in such a way that people can relate to it. And the three points to keep in mind is, ask yourself, what is my objective? What am I trying to share about the information about my company? You want to get the audience or the person you’re talking to engage you for a project, to show them that they need your expertise to be a success for their business. So it’s a win-win situation.
Number two, I tell people to think in 3’s. It’s important to really boil down what you do into three points. Explain what you do and also incorporate your unique selling proposition. With me, it is marketing, branding, and crisis communications. I do a whole lot more, but I tend to center on these three points.
95% of the people I pitch to ask, what is crisis communications? Why do I need it? I then ask them if they think they ever need to protect their brand if a situation would occur in a crisis, or that there’s a recall, or if there’s a negative event that the media and influencers will report on that would create a negative reaction to their company, their brand, their services, and what they do.
A lot of people say to me, why do I need crisis communications training? And I say to them, “no comment” is not a way to handle things. A lot of people say, well, I can’t comment on that. I’m not going to talk to the reporter. I’m not going to talk to the influencer. That doesn’t work because it puts you in a light of showing that you’re guilty and that you don’t have a good response.
The third point to keep in mind is try to discern where your sweet spot is and where their sweet spot is that you’re talking, the person that you’re talking to. As an example, if they are in manufacturing do you, does your company, does your team have a solution to streamline one of their operation’s processes? Do you have a product that can help them with safety issues, or can you work into your pitch an example, if appropriate?
As an example, when I talk to people about what I do. I try to give a little bit of an anecdote in terms of what it means to them, what it means to the success of their business. As an example, you could say, my team and I just finished a project that resulted in 30% more productivity for our client by using our proprietary software platform. And again, this has to be credible. It has to be factual.
As an example from my business, I often use the term NMV Strategies has developed a unique research tool called The Voice of the Customer. Right away people say, well, what’s The Voice of the Customer? And it’s where you interview your customers to determine how they are viewed and how you can develop more business with their current clients.
One of the clients that I worked for, and I did a Voice of the Customer, we ended up talking to 30 of their clients, getting information that they never had access to and developing a very good plan in terms of how they should strategically position themselves in the marketplace. When they looked at the report from the interviews that we had done it became very clear that they needed to change their business strategy. And we had done the survey work in November and it was coming to year end and they were planning for the next year and they totally developed a new business strategy, and it has been very successful. And they got all this information from The Voice of the Customer.
You know something just came to my mind, and it’s not along the lines The Voice of the Customer, but to the development of the elevator pitch. Cathy and I go to a lot of networking events and a lot of those events are oftentimes held by Chambers. And the Chambers are always great. They have this opportunity where they’ll give every, everyone at the networking event their 30-second opportunity to talk to the crowd.
And there have been a couple of times where I’ve seen businesses use humor in their elevator pitches, which I thought was very effective because it was something– Now off the top of my head, I can’t remember it now, so maybe it wasn’t that effective. But at the time I was like, well that was really creative. That was funny.
What are your thoughts on using humor in an elevator pitch? And I appreciate that for some businesses, for example, your business when you’re dealing with crisis communications that may not be appropriate. But do you find that with some businesses that would make a lot of sense?
Well it goes back to being authentic. If you can really pull it off and interject a little bit of humor that’s great. We’re a society that always wants to be entertained. So if your elevator pitch can have a few points of humor that makes sense. I would say go for it.
Most everyone when they’re involved in networking or the Chamber of Commerce at those meetings, they’re dedicated to talking to people, to want to be successful in their networking. And also, when you’re talking to a person you want to solve a problem for them. Most everyone wants to find an answer or a quick fix to what’s causing their business pain, or not being able to be as profitable as they want to be.
And everyone is saying, what’s in it for me? Why am I talking to this person? It’s kind of in their subconscious. And your elevator pitch must be interesting and powerful and could add a little bit of humor. But there shouldn’t be a lot of jargon or technical words or information unless that’s what your unique selling proposition is and you’re talking to the person who on the other end of the conversation is technical also.
I like to give the example that, if someone asks you for the time, you don’t have to launch into how the watch was built. They’re just asking for the time. The idea is that, in an elevator pitch it’s not it’s not a marathon. It’s a short sprint. So you have to get all your points across very succinctly and very interesting and make it so that at times, if you can interject that little bit of levity that will go a long way.
So, so often when we’re at a networking event, as we all know, a business owner gets asked all the time, so what does your company do? And it’s kind of an off the cuff. And a lot of times just out of habit somebody might start answering with language like, we produce, or we are, or we do. We try to get them to start thinking about the benefits to the client, which sounds like what you were talking about before.
So taking that and switching it around to, to language more like, “our clients see” or, “you would benefit by using our, you would benefit using our company by x, y, z.” So it’s still sounds like that’s relevant and how we should be coaching our clients. I just want to know, do you agree with that? Because it sounds like you do. But secondly, are there exercises that a business owner can use to turn their story around and not use the features language and go to the benefits language?
I think it comes down to, just like when you do a cover letter or a pitch deck, you want to get to the core of what can you bring to the table that they don’t have that could be a solution. So I tell clients to go through the exercise of, in your mind, what is it that you do best? What examples can you give that, in your elevator pitch, that will resonate with that person you’re talking to?
And for me, I lead with three points again. That we provide marketing strategies and a game plan that meets your objectives. What does that mean to the audience that I’m talking to? Well, she’s providing– she being Nancy –is providing a solution to a problem that I might have.
Number two, I usually say we have a team that incorporates new ideas that you haven’t tried. Again, that might tend to pique their curiosity in terms of, well, what new ideas haven’t I tried? What can her team come up with?
And then we provide reports on the success of your ROI of your marketing budget. It always comes down to, what am I going to get in return for the money that I’m going to spend with you? So if you can cite an example that you’ve done with another client, and you don’t have to name names, but make it more generic of something that you’ve been a success at and helped the client with, that adds credibility and it also confirms that you’re the team that they should go with.
I’d like to also add that, at the end of your pitch it’s not always all about you. Ask them, tell me a little bit about your business. What challenges do you have? Have you ever done such and such that I can provide for you? Do you want to set up a meeting so that we can talk more about this later?
And again, we’re providing tips to your audience, but you have to think fast on your feet. And you have to have an elevator speech that– or pitch –that is dynamic so that it’ll cue the person that you’re talking to ask the questions to engage you while you’re engaging them.
And I’m going to guess that a lot of this just is going to get easier with practice. So it’s not about pass-fail. It’s just about just keep working on what you did. And maybe after the fact you think about, how did I answer that question? How might I have answered it differently? Going back to think of, in thinking about it.
So I would just encourage anybody who’s out there doing this as a newbie to don’t kick yourself if you didn’t answer it the way you want. But just start thinking about how you might have answered something differently. Because you never know what you’re going to get asked at an event until you’re there. And it might change every time. So I do think the practicing thinking about it and going over it might be a good best practice for you as a business owner.
So you mentioned earlier, Nancy, the USP, the Unique Selling Proposition. And I know, at least from our clients’ side, many small businesses find that hard to develop. They often try to cast a wide net in their product or service offering and it ends up resulting in a lot of words without much information. It’s not clear to their target customer. So what steps can a business owner take to develop a successful USP? Or do you have any thoughts on what they should stay away from when they are developing that?
Every business has a USP or Unique Selling Proposition and sometimes you really need to take a step back to see what is interesting, curious, or different from you and your competition. It could be, as an example, that you are 100% made in the USA. Maybe you have a dedicated sustainability and environmental stewardship mission. Maybe your client retention is 95%.
And it just, you have to really take a step back and say, why would I want to do business with myself? Ask the question, why am I different than anybody else? With me, one of my USPs very early on, when I started my business, was that I wanted to differentiate myself as any one of 100,000 marketing people in Northeast Ohio. And how could I do that?
So I looked to see what the Unique Selling Proposition might be for my background to put me forth in the marketplace. And I became an affiliate instructor at Case Western Reserve University for their Executive Education Program and teaching Crisis Communications, Image Management, and Media Relations. In that way it differentiated me from all the other great colleagues out there doing the same thing that I did. Because in working hard to develop the course curriculum for Case I also was making a pathway to establish myself as a subject matter expert.
For your clients, they can do the same thing. Maybe they’re involved in civic organizations that do philanthropy. Maybe they’re involved in a new research study. Anything that’s just a little bit different that will add the credibility and also develop their Unique Selling Proposition that they can formulate and characterize to that audience that they’re talking to.
So now that we understand the importance of having an elevator pitch, is it beneficial to have more than one elevator pitch and why?
Starting out, I recommend to clients that they look at developing three elevator pitches to start out with. And as you mentioned, going through networking and practicing they can also tweak and really make this flexible in the situation that it needs to be when they’re talking to somebody. The three pitches that I recommend is developing a general elevator pitch that is interesting when you’re just being introduced, or maybe you’re giving a summary over a Zoom meeting, or maybe you’re just even starting a conversation in a Starbucks line.
The second one is to develop a more targeted pitch to zero in on your ideal client. This can be used at a networking event where everyone is going around the table to describe what they do. And this also can be tailored to your audience, depending on if it’s an event with a specific industry or market area.
The third one is to do your homework to create the specific pitch for an event where you have background information on some of the companies or individuals you’ll will be meeting with. You’ve done your homework. You know that there’s three companies that you want to talk to, or three individuals. You know the background of the companies. So you develop that pitch, your elevator pitch that will go along to your discussion with those companies.
In following up on that, is there a sweet spot as far as how long they should be? I know we say the length of an elevator ride but what does that mean?
It really depends on how the conversation is going. Through your body language, through making eye contact when you’re giving that elevator pitch, it’s important that it doesn’t come across as too canned. You’re dealing with an individual, you’re picking up on their cues with their personality and you should make it conversational. And you should also be aware that they’re there to network also.
It’s important. I’ve seen so many situations where people are at networking events. And instead of talking to the person and making eye contact they’re having their conversation, but they’re looking all around to see who the next person they can target. It’s important to really be in the zone, to be authentic, and have that one-on-one conversation with the person.
And also listen for cues that might change your elevator pitch a little bit. So be able to think on your feet. Be able to pivot a little bit from what the person you’re talking to is asking you. And I think that’s really important. You have to be authentic.
Nancy, thanks so much for being with us today. We greatly appreciate you sharing your marketing knowledge with our listeners. We have your website listed here as www.nmvstrategies.com. And we’re going to make sure that we include that address in our show notes that go up on our website.
Are there other resources that you can mention for small businesses who want to make sure that they stay up to speed on effective communications and marketing trends and approaches? Is there any go to source that you’re constantly following that you think the listeners today should also follow?
I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. They publish a lot and they also have great articles on some of the challenges small business owners are facing. And also, just keep aware of all the trade associations. Be a voracious reader on anything that comes across.
Thank you, Nancy. And like Gretchen said we’ll make sure that your website is in our show notes. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Well, thank you. And I also would like to add that if any one of your listeners would like to share their elevator speech with me, give me a call. I’d be happy to critique it for them and help them out. My number is 216-513-8740.
Wow. That’s an awesome offer. Thank you.
I hope you have a great day.
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, Gretchen and Cathy. It’s been wonderful.
Thanks for listening. Look for Biz Chat Ohio on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Spotify and subscribe to receive our latest episodes and business blogs at BizChatOhio.Com. If you would like to learn more about the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Lakeland please visit our website at www.landelandcc.edu/sbdc.