Your 20 Second Pitch: Don’t Cold-Call Without It!

Whether you’re in sales, business development or a job search, effectively cold-calling “strangers” to get the meetings you seek is a crucial skill. For jobseekers, this is called accessing the “hidden” job market, where you’re developing new long-term relationships that can lead to opportunities.

When you cold-call, you have only roughly 20 seconds to gain their interest. At that point you need to give them an out or you risk making a bad impression; they may be about to run off to a meeting and keeping them on the phone would be a no-no. So if you haven’t interested them enough by then, you’re done. That’s why you need a 20 second pitch.

In 20 seconds, you will have time to bring in 2 elements of a longer pitch:

  • How they should categorize you, that is, what “box” you’re in
  • What differentiates you from other callers that makes you useful to them

Here’s an example. My client, Susan, is a tax expert and legal counsel who was trying to get a meeting with the Chief Strategy Officer of a corporation who she believed could benefit from her company’s consulting services. Susan started by emailing the CSO first (which is what I usually recommend). When she didn’t get a response after a few days, she tried calling the person well before 9am, when she was more likely to get them on the phone. On her second try, the CSO picked up. This is what Susan said.

“Hi, this is Susan Smith. I sent you an e-mail earlier this week, perhaps you saw it. I’m the tax expert and counsel with specific experience in Latin America and, in particular, Brazil, where I know you’re expanding. I believe my company can help you with this expansion; it might be mutually beneficial for us to have a conversation. Do you have a couple of minutes to hear more now?

The CSO responded by saying “sorry I’m preparing for a meeting, can’t talk now.” Susan said “Is there a better time to speak, perhaps later today or this week?” They ended up agreeing on a time for a longer call. That call led to an in-person meeting, a referral, and ultimately new business for Susan’s company.

Note, if Susan had left a voice message instead of speaking to the CSO, she could have simply altered the last part of her 20 second pitch (following the semi-colon) to leave a powerful message:

Can we set up a 20-minute call for a mutually beneficial conversation? My number is 555-555-5555. I’ll try your office again as well, as I may be hard to reach.”

Let’s analyze why Susan’s 20 second pitch was so effective. In roughly 20 seconds, Susan was able to bring in both how they should categorize her (“I am a tax expert and counsel”) and how she differs from other callers (“experience in Latin America and, in particular, Brazil, where I know you’re expanding”). You want to get these two elements into your 20 second pitch.

Susan also tried to ensure that as many elements of the RESULTS Method (the basis for my book Peak Presentations) as possible were included in her pitch.

First, she kept the message Really Simple. She said nothing that the recipient wouldn’t understand instantly the first time around, no jargon, obscure references, etc.

She also Engaged the listener by asking a question: “Do you have a couple of minutes to hear more now?” She made it Useful by mentioning how she could help, specifically highlighting her knowledge of their “problem” (i.e. their seeking to expand in Brazil). She Tailored it by keeping in mind the 20-second time frame and their likely need to set up a separate time to have a longer conversation. Lastly, she indicated that she was Licensed to provide this help to them by mentioning her experience.

In 20 seconds, she didn’t have time to include an element of Surprise; that part of the RESULTS Method is highly effective in creating a powerful presentation, but you need more than 20 seconds! She also didn’t have the time to include any “Stories,” that is, examples from her experience. In longer, two minute pitches, these examples should be introduced; in full-blown presentations, story-telling can be the key to  reaching your audience objectives.