Why an Elevator Pitch is an Ineffective Tool for Selling ERM

You may understand how ERM can be a valuable tool for ensuring the organization’s success, but unless an executive has some prior positive experience with ERM, you as a risk professional are about to experience an uphill battle: convincing them to adopt ERM to help improve the way the organization performs.

After all, without buy-in and leadership from the top echelons of the company (…which is a top challenge of risk professionals by the way), ERM will simply spin its wheels and be seen as more of a nuisance than something for helping the company succeed.

A few reasons for needing this buy-in include:

  1. The organization has been doing ERM for a while, but needs buy-in from new leadership.
  2. One leader is really supportive but others need to be brought on board.
  3. Your organization is just starting out and there is no executive buy-in.

The topic of gaining leadership buy-in came up briefly during a workshop led by Dr. Mark Beasley, Director of the ERM Initiative at NC State, during their semi-annual roundtable event in late 2018.

In his remarks, Dr. Beasley explained to attendees how they need to develop an elevator pitch in order to get buy-in from executives…

In my experience though, an elevator pitch is not the right way to go about selling executives on the idea of ERM and the value it can deliver the organization.

There are several stories on the origin of the elevator pitch, but it was essentially a way for inventors to sell their idea to a manufacturer or for entrepreneurs to propose their idea to a venture capitalist or angel investor.

While the elevator pitch can be valuable in some circumstances, it is an outdated method that many find pushy and “lacking of substance.”  When it comes to selling your organization on the idea of ERM, you don’t want to be seen as this guy…

(Actor Kurt Russell from the 1980 satirical dark comedy Used Cars – Image courtesy of imgflip.com)

Instead of a pushy sales tactic that most find off putting, risk professionals need to invest time in building relationships…

As I explain here, relationships are an often glossed over part of a successful ERM effort.

Since you are an internal consultant of sorts and not just another employee, an elevator pitch is not what you need to build a relationship to drive ERM forward. As author Michael Port explains in Book Yourself Solid, you are “…trying to earn the status of a trusted advisor.”

Instead, Port explains your goal in the beginning is to elicit questions, not just a nod of acknowledgement. To do this, you have to talk with people, not at them. You need to listen and understand their interests and needs. Ultimately, your potential “client” wants to know – “What’s in it for me?”

Another suggestion for starting this conversation is to develop what author Stu Heinecke calls an “anti-pitch” in his book How to Get a Meeting with Anyone.

Rather than an in-your-face elevator pitch, Heinecke explains how collaboration, participation, and scrutiny do a far better job of drawing the interest of an executive. You are simply bringing something to their attention that you think they will find interesting and strategically important to the organization.

Both of these books are written to consultants, but in reading them, I found they also include a wealth of information risk professionals can use to approach and discuss ERM with executives.

Before initiating a conversation with an executive, do your homework on how the organization makes decisions so you can provide specific information on how ERM can help improve business performance. Demonstrate this value through examples from either within or outside your organization.

Also, and this is key, be sure you discuss ERM in language executives will understand. Simply using risk terminology will have zero meaning as to how it can help them make risk-informed decisions. Instead, connect ERM to the way they think, their motivations, and their key concerns.

While I appreciate Dr. Beasley and the efforts of NC State’s ERM Initiative in helping inform risk professionals about best practices, I respectfully disagree that an “elevator pitch” is sufficient for getting vital executive buy-in for ERM.

Instead, risk professionals have to take the time to get to know executives and demonstrate the value of ERM through a “…creative – but not scripted – conversation that will spark interest.”

What methods have you used to discuss ERM with executives and get buy-in?  Where do you come up with examples to demonstrate the value of ERM?

I am eager to hear your thoughts about ways for approaching and getting buy-in from executives. To share your perspective, leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

And if you are struggling to demonstrate ERM’s value with executives, contact me to discuss your organization’s specific goals and how ERM can help achieve those goals.

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