Adventures in the Product Licensing Game
I’d like to tell you a little story that doesn’t necessarily put me in a favorable light, but illustrates a few important ideas better than any way I can think of:
I live in Philadelphia and there’s a little company here that makes a few products for the big stationery supply companies like Staples, Office Max and Office Depot. I had a product idea which I thought might interest this company, and although their competition was bigger, I decided to give them the first shot, if only because they were so close to home. Lazy slug that I am, it seemed like a sensible move.
I did what I always do – I called the company and told the operator that I had to send a letter to the president and needed his name. She readily supplied it and a few days later I called again asking for “George Allen” (not his real name). A few clicks and the operator was back again. “May I ask what this is in reference to?” “Sure,” I said, “we’re a product development company and have come up with something that I know he’ll be very interested in seeing.” Again a few clicks, and then: “I’m sorry, Mr. Allen has stepped away from his desk. Can you call back later?” This was obviously a stall – but I’m a big boy.
Over the next few weeks I called Mr. Allen more times than I can remember, always to be told that he stepped away from his desk. It became a game. I put him on my speed dial and whenever I thought of it, I pushed the button, laughing to myself with the knowledge of what the response would be. Finally, I sent Mr. Allen the following fax:
Dear Mr. Allen:
Over the past few weeks I’ve called you more times than I can remember, only to be told each time that you were “away from your desk.” If I were thinner skinned I’d think you were avoiding me – but then I ask myself: “Why would he? We’re an internationally known product development company, creating new product concepts for some of the most famous names in American merchandising. If I’m calling Mr. Allen (I tell myself) because I think we’ve come up with a new product idea that would interest him, why in the world would he avoid me?”
Since I could not come up with a reasonable answer, I must assume that it has actually been a case of miraculous bad timing – and that each time I called you really were away from your desk. That being so, I’m faxing now to request a brief (about 10-15 minutes) appointment. If you’ll fax me with two or three available times, I’ll pick one and confirm back.
(Signed) Harvey Reese
The very next day I had a message on my voice mail from a Ms. “Jane Smith” (another fictitious name) identifying herself as the Director of Marketing for the company. This prompted the following fax:
Dear Mr. Allen:
I had a call on my voice mail from Jane Smith, presumably in response to my previous fax to you.
Please extend my apologies to Ms. Smith (whom I don’t know), but I won’t be calling her back. If I wanted an appointment with her in the first place, that’s who I would have called – and frankly I find it disrespectful of you to turn me over in this manner.
However, apparently you’ll be pleased to know that I won’t bother you any more and will simply move on. Fortunately, there’s no scarcity of companies who know us and are always anxious to see whatever new product ideas we’ve developed for them.
(Signed) Harvey Reese
And that’s the end of the story. I never did meet Mr. Allen and moved on to place the item elsewhere, just as I told him I would. This was no great triumph for me, but it serves to illustrate two important points:
1. The first point is to assure you that this is an EXTREMELY rare event. Over the years I’ve set up hundreds of appointments for myself, and I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I didn’t sit down in front of the person I wanted to see. The lesson is to NOT be afraid to make the call, and NOT to be afraid to ask for an appointment. If you do it right, you’ll almost always succeed. Mr. Allen turned out to be an idiot; the exception to the rule. Almost always, the person will take your call, will treat you with respect, and will be happy to see your new product idea. All he or she wants is to be convinced that you’re not weird and that won’t be wasting his time. There are tricks how to do this and I refer you to my article on appointments – or my book, How To License Your Million Dollar Idea. There is NO substitute for a personal visit – and if you can’t or won’t do it, then you should try to get someone like me to do it for you. It’s what I enjoy.
2. The other point is to stress the fact that you cannot be successful if you are not meeting with the decision maker – and to assure you that it’s a waste of your time to meet with anyone else. Mr. Allen’s company was a small one – and I know from long experience that in small companies, no matter how many titles are given out, the person who makes the decision is the owner. I could have met with Jane Smith, and she’d have dutifully taken the information, but I know I’d be wasting my time. The Jane Smith’s of the world are gate keepers. They have the authority to say no, but are never given the authority to say yes. In small companies if you don’t see the guy who signs the checks, you’re wasting your time. Besides – if you go to the design or engineering departments, you’re consorting with your enemies. These folks do NOT want the company to accept your idea because they feel it reflects badly on them. After all, the company is paying them to dream up clever product ideas, so why should they pave the way to make a star of an outsider?
I moved on and licensed the concept elsewhere, as I told Mr. Allen I would. The man’s a fool and it’s his loss, not mine. There are far more companies looking for fresh new ideas than there are folks who can supply them. Just remember – don’t be put off if you run into a jerk once in a while, and make sure you only turn on your charms to the person who can say yes.
I’ll see you next time, and as always I welcome your comments and suggestions.