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The Elevator Rant: A Prelude to a Value Proposition

I came across a great blog post at the Unintentional Entrepreneur titled “Do you know your customers’ elevator rant”.  In it, Bob London of London, Ink makes the case that before you can construct a clear elevator pitch (a description of what you do that’s succinct enough to convey over the course of an elevator ride) you need to clearly understand the “Customers’ Elevator Rant”.  I would add that this is helpful for creating Value Propositions in general and not just elevator pitches.  From the post:

The Customer Elevator Rant (CER) is what your ideal prospect says on
the elevator ride with his/her boss when you are not around. The CER is
your prospect’s candid, specific and sometimes emotional articulation
of his/her pain in trying to get some part of his/her job done
correctly–perhaps something your product or service can address.

I love this concept for a couple of reasons.  Firstly I think it’s very important, especially for startups, to be able to clearly articulate the business problem that they are solving in order to provide context for a value proposition.  Secondly, I like the change in perspective from company to customer that goes along with this thinking.  It makes a lot of sense to start with the customer pain and then describe what you do to solve it, rather than starting with your great “features” and then trying to tie those to customer “benefits”.

In fact, I like it so much I’m going to propose a structure for an Elevator Rant (with a hat tip to the value proposition format from Crossing the Chasm):

{Who} are really mad because whenever they {The Activity}, they end up with {The Poo}.

Who – The specific ranting customer.

The Activity – The specific activity the customer is engaging in when the problem arises.

The Poo – The measurable undesired result of The Activity according to the customer.

Here are some examples related to products I’ve worked on:

Customer service reps are really mad because whenever a customer calls in they have to spend 3 minutes verifying the customer identity and bringing up the customer record.

Enterprise conference call participants are really mad because whenever they get on a call they spend the first 10 minutes verifying who is on the call.

Marketing executives are mad because whenever they want campaign response data they need to make a specific request to IT who often takes a day to respond.

One of the things I like about this exercise is that it gives you some of the basics you need to develop a value proposition (namely the bulls-eye customer, the key purchase insight and a view to what your key benefits should be) while forcing you to think from the customer’s point of view instead of a product or company centric view.

If you are working on an elevator pitch for potential investors (as I happen to be at the moment, can you tell?), Don Dodge has a great post called An elevator pitch in 5 minutes – TechCrunsh50 tips. Notice that the first step is defining the problem you are solving.  A great quote from the post  is here:

“…too many entrepreneurs start by talking about their solution and whiz
bang technology. How they do it versus the problem they solve. If the
investor is not interested in the problem…there is no way they will be
interested in your solution. Once they are nodding their head about the
problem, move on to the solution.”

Having a short clear description of the business problem you are solving will go a long way toward giving your solution and its value some context.

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  1. Depending on what you mean by problem statement but you could definitely call it that. The point is whatever you call it, I see it done poorly a lot.
    What I like about the exercise is how you go about developing it as much as the end result. I’ve seen a lot of “problem statements” that look like “Data integration in a problem” where if you put the end-user in the elevator, she’s ranting about turn-around times on reports or if you put the IT developer in the elevator he’s ranting about how long it takes him to respond to user requests or his inability to give end-users the power to do ad-hock queries.
    Almost everything about communications in theory is simple. It’s the execution of it that’s hard.

  2. April – great way to look at the construction of your “pitch.”
    Once again, this comes down to the market problem. If you understand the problem (and users and buyers) well enough to re-enact an elevator rant, than communicating the solution becomes much easier. If you don’t, you will always miss the mark and ultimately not be as successful.
    Thanks for breaking it down to level 101.

  3. Just an observation – assuming you would still leverage the concept of a user story, in a standard format such as “as a {role} I need to {activity}, at {x} frequency, to achieve {benefit}”, to help define what the market wants or needs, I see your proposed approach as a great way to apply the same concept to customer retention (correct me if I’m wrong in drawing this conclusion!). Essentially what you’re doing here is trying to determine and elicit detail on what your customers don’t like about you as a company, which may or may not point to a product deficiency. I think the idea is fantastic, and I might go so far as to offer up a similar but slightly modified version of the structure you outlined:
    As a {role} I can’t do {activity} effectively because of {my problem}, which results in {negative impact to customer’s business}.
    Most of it is essentially the same, but I think obtaining that last data point is critical because it draws a definitive connection to an “anti-benefit” – once that has been identified and made clear you should not have any problems justifying appropriate action towards resolution.
    This is a very insightful concept and one I will likely do something with in my own company very soon! Thanks,
    Jason Miceli, Product Ninja

  4. Hi Jason,
    Thanks so much for your comment and I totally agree that drawing the line through to the negative impact to the customer’s business is important. I like your format as well.
    Frankly, I think that if companies make an effort at all to really describe the customer pain from the point of view of the customer (not from the point of view of their own product and features), however they choose to do it, it will really help them in building a value proposition that works.
    Thanks again,

  5. Agree with Jason’s post but I would modify his take slightly to “Cost In Terms of Their Comp Plan.”
    Using this example:
    “Customer service reps are really mad because whenever a customer calls in they have to spend 3 minutes verifying the customer identity and bringing up the customer record.”
    I would add:
    “which affects my ticket close rate so I’m not getting my maximum bonus.”
    Hard dollar impact on the company is very important to understand. However, hard dollar impact on your decision maker’s or decision influencer’s pay check gives you invaluable insight into how they make their decision and lays out the right language to use when communicating with them.

  6. Thanks April and Bob for the great concept.
    Tim – I go back and forth about agreeing with you. As a user-centric guy, I completely agree. The reason the _CSR_ cares is that it affects comp, and undermines her practical goals (personal goals in support of company goals). However, in the context April presents – pitching to potential investors – the business value (loss of 3 minutes) is what needs to be emphasized.
    In the spirit of Bob’s original article, I agree that you should mention comp. As April has adapted it, I think the focus should be on the 3 minutes.
    I’m not convinced that this anti-value format could be used to replace user stories (not sure if that’s where you’re going, Jason) – I think it depends on where the “design” happens. The traditional format expresses “I want to do X…to achieve benefit Y” which sets the stage for clear acceptance criteria, versus “I can’t do X…realizing cost Y.” Will have to think about this some, in the context of one of the teams I’m working with. Maybe it is a genius idea, I’m concerned it will be too ambiguous – it certainly requires additional conversation to clarify.


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