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While the elevator pitch can be valuable in some circumstances, it is an outdated method that many find pushy and “lacking of substance.”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.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up For Our Newsletter


Meet Carol

Helping companies achieve their vision and strategy, and succeeding in today's turbulent world, is something I'm honored to be a part of. Whether you're an occasional blog visitor or a long-term client, thank you for letting us be a part of your journey.

Most Recent Posts

The 12 Days of ERM Christmas

Without a doubt, one of my family’s favorite holidays is Christmas. Part of the fun, especially for our son, is seeing what “Santa” brought, but most importantly, we treasure the spirit of peace and goodwill the season brings. And after what seemed to be a never-ending warm spell, the weather is expected to be good…

Read More

Don’t Let Goals and Initiatives Be Blindsided by External Events

As the end of the year draws near, I think we’d all agree that while it wasn’t without its challenges, this year also wasn’t quite as turbulent as the previous two. While a lot of people are juggling company parties, shopping for friends and family, and special activities for the kids, most companies are putting…

Read More

Going the Distance: Ensuring Successful Execution of Strategic and Annual Initiatives

Strategic planning is a challenge – of all people, I understand… After all the meetings, risk and data analysis, and brainstorming of the preceding months, it’s tempting to think this is the end of the road and you can relax. Contrary to this common perception though, this is exactly not the time to relax, but…

Read More

Avoid Rookie Mistakes and Protect your Internal Reputation

Be honest – have you ever done something that you soon realized was a real rookie mistake? Me raising my hand… Considering the nature of ERM’s role to ask questions and challenge assumptions (often during conversations with executives), it can be argued that, in at least some cases, the expectations bar for risk professionals is…

Read More

ERM at Thanksgiving – An Illustration of Risk Management in Action

On occasion, I like to take some of the concepts we risk professionals think about in our jobs and apply them to different personal situations…take some of the same concepts we use when working with executives to develop corporate strategy and manage risks or uncertainty around that strategy. It’s Thanksgiving week in the U.S. –…

Read More

Why Quantitative Risk Assessment is Not Just the Best But the Only Option – A Conversation

Periodically, I have the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with Hans Læssøe on a variety of topics around ERM, strategic risk, and other issues and trends. As you know from my previous conversations (here, here) and posts featuring his work, Hans was formerly a practitioner at the iconic LEGO Company, but even more notably, is a…

Read More

The Three Lines Model – 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Like It

Everyone likes a clear-cut template that offers an easy way to create or manage something…I mean what’s not to like about a step-by-step process for accomplishing what you want? Sometimes this can work without any issues, such as the case with the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), ISO 9001 standard, or a new cooking…

Read More

5 Avenues for Expanding your ERM Knowledge

One thing I was taught to appreciate from a young age was the value of education and knowledge. It didn’t necessarily matter what the subject was, just that I always maintain a learning or growth mindset regardless of my current status in life. This mindset has served me well over the years, and it’s a…

Read More

Storytelling and Risk Management – Developing Skills that Technology Cannot Replace

It’s amazing how technology has developed and changed our working world over time. Imagine trying to run my risk and strategy consulting firm without tools like Zoom, Box, Slack, and other ERM-specific technology tools. There is no way we would be able to serve our clients the way that we do. Just consider how the…

Read More

3 Phases to Creating and Launching an ERM Program Focused on Organizational Success

If you’ve been handed the task of creating an ERM program for your organization, let me first offer my congratulations quickly followed by my empathy for the task ahead of you. I don’t say that to scare you but to provide a small dose of reality. Building, launching, and refining an ERM program that is…

Read More