The L Words: Lift, Lobby & Latte, Part 2

The Lobby

Never heard of the lobby pitch?  I never did till my friend Sam Salih told me about it. The Lobby Pitch is that pivotal conversation that gets the listener to sit down with you.  To engage a customer, you need to get your business view out of the way quickly, as to get the listener talking.  Communication requires both sides talking, and you cannot listen when you are talking.  This quickness does not sacrifice communicating the idea. We have a check list for not forgetting your points in this pitch: NABC.
When your elevator pitch is done, imagine that you have stepped into the lobby of the building.  You now have a couple of minutes to talk about your idea.  Cadence plays a role.  There is a pattern to describing the company’s value: NABC.  NABC (Nab-See) stands for Need, Approach, Benefit and Competition. Its a technique I learned from Doug Maughan at DHS back in 2005. This format was really spearheaded by SRI International and was designed to provide the value proposition for a business plan.  I use it for most of my presentations.
The NABC is a perfect fit for our lobby pitch, for here we are trying to convey value in a clear, concrete manner. It also provides us structure to ensure we say all that we really what to say in a limited time period.  It adds the cadence of transitioning to the lobby pitch, while also providing the cadence internal to the flow of the pitch.
Here is how SRI describes in a simple statement:
I understand that you are hungry (the need). Let’s go to the SRI Cafe (the approach). It is close, the food is good and it is quiet there so we can continue working (the benefits). The alternative is McDonald’s, which is noisy at lunchtime (the competition or alternative).
To chop up SRI’s long definition,  a NABC comprises the four fundamentals that define a project’s value proposition:
  • Need: What are our client’s needs? A need should relate to an important and specific client or market opportunity.
  • Approach: What is our compelling solution to the specific client need?
  • Benefits: What are the client benefits of our approach? Each approach to a client’s need results in unique client benefits, such as low cost, high performance or quick response.
  • Competition/alternatives: Why are our benefits significantly better than the competition? Everyone has alternatives. We must be able to tell our client or partner why our solution represents the best value. To do this, we must clearly understand our competition and our client’s alternatives.
This is a pitch, not an obituary. We are looking for four or five minutes.  The objective is to have the listener understand that there is a need for your approach, and that there are customers (in this case the listener).  You convey the benefits (inward) and then differentiate (outward) by comparing against competition.
Why do we structure a conversation?

Eric Koester talks about Cadence.  Good companies have cadence.  Like a drum beat, they know what they are trying to accomplish and what is next.  Its sequence might be, “Create Value Statement”, “Confirm Customer Need”, “Iterate Value”, Confirm Customer Need”, “Create Approach”, “Confirm Approach”.  And the beat goes on.
Cadence is structured improv.  “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”, Helmuth Von Moltke.  This includes your business plan or a planned conversation.  At the same time, we plan in order to prepare ourselves to the changes that we will face.
The benefit of NABC is it provides both a cadence and a checklist.  As the listener interrupts, you do not loose sight of where you are leading the conversation.  While talking about need, if the listener asks about technology (approach), then you must hold off going into technical details, “I think the technical aspect is important, but do you agree that this is a need?”
Great speakers may be able to improvise the whole lobby pitch.  Evangelists often believe that their conviction will shine through this moment and the listener will want to sit down to further understand them.  I am sure that such people, like Steve Jobs still exist.  You might also find that going to the technology first makes the story flow better.  But moving away from a NBAC structure places too much emphasis on chance.
Through my experiences, this format works well.  It focuses on need, placing it first before features.  It provides a clear structure.  It is versatile, and you will find that it expands to address many needs when communicating an idea.
In fact, you might see that this blog entry is written in NABC.


  1. Nice. I will have to practice the NABC pitch!

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