When customers evangelize you to colleagues and friends, what they say is as important as the passion behind it.

To make it easy for customers to describe what you do, they must easily understand the “idea” of your company. If people quickly grasp the idea and benefits of your business, it's considered to be infectious.

It is, as author Seth Godin says, an “ideavirus.” Just like a biological virus, an ideavirus can spread very quickly from person to person.

It's a concept also known as the “elevator pitch,” or what you would say to a stranger about your value proposition (or someone else's) during the time it takes to ride in an elevator, roughly equal to the attention span of most prospective customers.

To create effective customer evangelists, your customers must know your elevator pitch as well as, if not better than, you.

How smooth is your company's pitch? Do people nod knowingly as you describe your company's products or services, or do they look puzzled and quickly excuse themselves?

ABC Technology Services (not their real name) asked for our help in landing new clients. Company executives described themselves this way: “ABC delivers network and systems management solutions that assist companies in cost-effectively maximizing the performance and availability of their network infrastructures.”

It was an eye-glazing description. Here's how tuning their pitch changed the game.

First, we interviewed 10 of their customers. We asked customers to describe what they valued most about ABC's services and how they would describe ABC to a friend or colleague. Understanding what customers say--in their own words-- is key to understanding how people to spread the word.

From the interviews, it was clear that ABC's customers were acquired during periods of crisis: computer systems were terribly slow, email was malfunctioning, or employees faced frequent computer crashes. ABC promptly fixed these problems and installed monitoring software to ensure these issues were history, not current events.

Next, using the words of their customers, we reframed ABC's pitch to focus on the pain felt by prospective customers. Since ABC's primary source of leads was via word of mouth, we added a casual tone.

From “network and systems management,” we changed the elevator pitch to: “You know how when you are at work, and you are pulling your hair out because of computer problems? Your system is slow; you can't send or receive email, or you have to reboot your computer a lot? Well, we fix those problems for businesses.”

Simple language and in a context that prospects identify with: pain.

The ABC executives tried out the new pitch at a networking event. Profuse head nodding ensued. A failing computer system is a simple “ideavirus” to grasp, and it's easy for someone to tell others, as we saw demonstrated several times at the event.

ABC landed six leads from that event.

The ideavirus spread quickly as one prospect after another sought out the ABC team leader after hearing about them from someone else. Today, ABC has more work than it can handle.

How do you create an ideavirus for your business? Follow these steps:

1. Interview (or have a third party interview) your current satisfied customers.

2. Ask customers to describe the situation (and pain), which first motivated them to buy your product/service.

3. Ask customers to describe the value of your products or services.

4. Ask customers how they describe your business to others.

5. Write down exactly--word for word--the answers to these questions.

6. Reframe your pitch using the pain points and description of how customers describe your services to others.

7. Test and refine your pitch at business networking events.

8. Use your refined pitch in your marketing materials.

A simple ideavirus is part of the contagion that helps create customer evangelists.

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.