So what are you up to? Your spotlight pitch please.

Beg to Differ on how to answer “spotlight questions”.

Yesterday morning, symptoms while doing client work in my “second office” (the local Bridgehead), buy I ran into a friend, an acquaintance, and a former colleague. In all three cases, I  gave them a “spotlight moment” by asking:  “so, what are you up to these days?” Trivial question? Not at all. The answer to that question – or others like “what’s your company all about?” “how does your product work?” or “what do you do?” – is something I call a “spotlight pitch”.

SpotlightSpotlight on… and… GO!

When I asked my coffee shop question, in all three cases, the answer was initially a vague “oh this and that”, or “getting by”, or “the usual”.

Sound familiar? That’s certainly what I want to say when someone turns the spotlight on me (and I’m a performer in my spare time). It’s like a moment of stage fright: uncomfortable, vulnerable, it makes us feel exposed, and we want to get it over with as soon as possible.

But those awkward spotlight questions are some of the most valuable opportunities any of us ever face. Because in that one moment, a person is asking you: “How are you relevant to me?” How can I remember you?” “How can I help you?” Or one step further: “How can this meeting become more than just an exchange of pleasantries?”

That’s a lot to pack in a short encounter I know. But essentially a spotlight question is the quintessential branding moment for products, ideas, or professionals. It’s your chance to either shine or be ignored.

Intrigue them. Wow them. Don’t settle for jargon, cheese-ball marketing speak, or pat answers. Most importantly: start a conversation.

In my coffee shop encounters, after probing a bit, it turned out that in all three cases, there were synergies between what they were doing and what I do for a living, and it turned out I could help each of them out. But that’s only because I kept asking questions. Most of the time, one spotlight moment is all you get.

So how about you?

Think about your answers to simple questions like that? The spotlight’s on. What’s your pitch?

I’d love to hear examples of Spotlight pitches that worked for you, or completely failed, in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “So what are you up to? Your spotlight pitch please.”

  1. My pitch is ever-evolving, but usually sounds something like this:

    “I am looking to help businesses protect themselves from information risks. Many of my clients are concerned about costly data leaks or system infections from employees using the Internet.”

    From there, I often mention how easy it is for businesses to have their systems breached in a single click… or how small businesses are becoming increasingly at risk from online banking fraud. This typically gets the ball rolling in terms of finding people with pain points that I can help address.

    But, I have to admit, when so many things are going through your mind – as an entrepreneur or business person – it’s hard to match the right focused pitch to the person you run into. They could be a prospect, a partner or a supplier who each views the world a little differently, in terms of problems that need to be solved. One size doesn’t always fit everyone.

    – Scott

  2. Absolutely. It’s never just one pitch. It’s many. And you actually have to try out more than one before you figure out what works. I used to just say “I’m the branding guy” always. But lately I’ve toyed with being much more specific (which is also scary).

    “I name companies and products”
    “I write taglines.”
    “I study why brands fail so I can make them work.”
    “I force brands to speak Human.”

  3. * I work on setting the record straight about pesticides and how they are regulated in Canada.

    * I look for ways of integrating sustainable practices into pest management.

    * I post things on people’s blogs.

    * I raise funny dramatic people.

    1. Rebecca, I think you got closest to your “day-job” pitch on #1. Interestingly #2 made me feel like I was in the “Round-Up” section of Home Depot. There’s just this smell in the air that can’t be right…

      Now, having done some work with your department, I’ll confess I’m not exactly unbiased. But if you really wanted to grab people, you could say something like: “I help people understand both sides of the pesticide story.” Which naturally leads to “there are two sides?” Or really simple and even more of a door opener: “I fight pesticide abuse.”

  4. This is a great topic Dennis. The reason being is that in some of our earlier iterations of our spotlight answer I could often see the persons “eyes glaze over”, and I knew that what we were saying was not hitting the mark. We were loosing them with our explanation, and as a result….as you pointed out in your post we were loosing out on an opportunity to have a productive conversation.

    I think that this is something that needs to be constantly monitored when having a conversation to see how the person on the other end is reacting. If they ask a valid follow up question….then chances are you are beginning to get it right. If you see them drift off into wondering what they are going to have for dinner that night then obviously the answer needs to be tweaked. Either way it is something that incorporates one of the key rules of communication in that you have to be engaged and paying attention to all indicators including body language, eye contact, etc to make sure you are getting it right.

    Here is what we use today when asked the spotlight question…”Everything we do is about customers and clients. We bring real-world clients to the table and help you to integrate them into all aspects of your business so that you can grow your company through repeatable, predictable, and profitable sales results” So, what do you think? 🙂

    Thanks again Dennis. Great topic for discussion. Hope all is well.

    1. Thanks for the sunshine Randy. You raise excellent points about the iterative back-and-forth that’s needed to find the right Pitch. I added some “ground rules” in the following post that flesh out how this is all about conversation, not monologue.

      As an experienced salesman, you already know that.

      And speaking of which, good start on the Spotlight Pitch. But apart from being a bit long (elevator length actually), the one thing I need in sentence 1 is the word “Sales” – and preferably an indication of where you fit in the sales universe: Training? Consulting? Outsourcing?

      Your first is “Everything we do is about customers and clients” but Sears, IBM, and Monsanto can all say that.

    1. Hey Pete. Wow. As an old college friend, I have to admit that I’ve been interacting with you on Twitter without ever asking you the spotlight question. And that’s too bad because this is an interesting line of work – and of course now my head is full of questions about it. Which is the point of the Pitch right?

      Yours is concise and hits the right basic points. Have you tried this at a London cocktail party yet? I think “development capital” could just be “money”, and maybe “from investors in the UK”. Is that right? Or is it Americans actually DRILLING off the UK?

      However, just like Rebecca in pesticide management, yours is a field that most people have strong feelings about. So a relatively “neutral” pitch might be your best bet at a family picnic. But depending on how deeply you wanted to get into it, you could “drill” a bit farther into the conversational substrata here by being a bit less direct.

      “I help find oil by paying for drills.”
      “The world needs oil. But oil costs money. That’s where I come in.”
      Or for a real question generator: “I help you get to the shop to buy your groceries.”

    2. Hi Dennis,

      You’re right, it could be less in your face, but it’s always fun to see people’s eyebrows go up at cocktail parties in the UK.

      “So . . . that’s not a local accent. What are you doing here?”

      I’m in the UK to raise development capital for American oil companies.

      What an opportunity! I get a chance to make my pitch, trade cards, and I try to make an effort to follow up the next day with a phone call.

      And again, you are correct that people have mixed reactions. We make sure that part of our presentation includes addressing the ethical questions.

      Have you imagined a world without oil? Tomorrow?

      That usual brings it home. We all want a world without oil long-term, but we prefer to have a few decades to pull it off. And in the meantime, if you’re still ethically opposed to oil, how did you get to work this morning? Even if you biked, you drove on asphalt, an oil product. And how do you heat your home? And how did your groceries get to the store?

      But I digress.

  5. I create relaxation DVDs that combine video images of nature with beautiful music and, if you’d like, you can have text appear on-screen, too. Perfect for [spas, waiting areas in clinics, hotels, lobbies, daycares at naptime, at home to decompress…..]

    What they’re not: guided meditation, yoga exercises.

    No one seems to be doing anything quite like this at the moment so it’s a bit of a mouthful.

    1. The good news is: I get it. I clicked through to your You Tube video of fall leaves with soothing music, and I started to relax. My heart rate dropped. Very pleasant.

      But your pitch (and the rest of your brand package) needs something else if you’re going to grab people’s attention and memory. You need a hook beyond “relaxation DVDs” to get me focused on YOUR specific product. And that can come from the Content (e.g. a great musician or photographer) the specific audience (e.g. relaxation for home yoga enthusiasts or for working moms), and / or the branding (Baby Einstein repackaged synth versions of Beethoven).

      1. Cool to hear you “get it” and even cooler to hear that your heart rate dropped. It means the product is working. I like your suggestions about the three areas I could really zoom in on to get others focused on my product. As my sales are picking up, I’m starting to see some patterns in the WHO so will build on that. Generally they are men and women in their late 30s to 60s who have been told by loved ones or health practitioners that they need to slow down, at least a little bit. Yes, I’d like to build on the content, too, by hiring a hot and happening young photographer to videotape them for me. The final one you mention – branding – is the one I am struggling with most of all. I hired a designer to help capture my look and feel based on my brand and she did a fantastic job but wonder if it needs an update, perhaps to something a bit bolder. What do you think?

  6. As a social worker for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, I don’t have to seek out clients. But people don’t really have a clear idea of what I actually do, perhaps because it encompasses so much. An opening spotlight may be: “I assist troubled families develop healthier relationships and lives.”
    I’m not quite satisfied with the “troubled families” simplification and labeling, but I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonably short, non-stigmatizing, non-stereotyping alternative in the time I’ve allotted for thinking about it.
    By the way, the CAS’s of Ontario have a new ad campaign which was just released. I’d love to hear your feedback on it!

    1. My sister Sharon became a social worker as well, and I have to say this publicly: you folks can not be thanked enough for what you do – or paid enough as far as I’m concerned. Brands are easy compared to the work of trying to heal families in crisis.

      Probably the best way around applying a pejorative label to your clients like “troubled” or “broken” or “damaged” is by talking about a “family in trouble” or a “family with broken relationships”.

      Beyond that, you could focus not just on your job description, but on what you specifically bring to the task. i.e. “When a family is in trouble, I try to listen harder and care more than anyone else about fixing the problem.”

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