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Selling Your Idea, Part Three

Find out what they want before you tell them what you have

If you reviewed “Selling Your Idea, Part One,” we talked a bit about how to find the ideal target, someone who would be interested in potentially buying your idea. And in “Selling Your Idea, Part Two,” we talked about making initial contact through a letter, to get them curious about having further dialog with you. Now let’s explore what to do when someone has expressed interest in your idea.

With all of our discussion about steps you could take before selling your idea, we’ll assume here that you’ve already protected your idea to the satisfaction of your attorney. With that being said, let’s talk a bit more about how to go about selling your idea.

One of the most common beliefs that people have about what comes next, is that they would want to go and actually pitch the idea to the person, to the company, to whoever is interested. What they envision is that they would make an elaborate presentation, they would come up with figures and numbers and charts and diagrams, and walk into a board room and make a presentation that explains exactly why the person or company should want to buy this idea—exactly how it’s going to affect their business (the other company, that is)—and that their audience would be interested and buy the idea. Even though this is what people think they should do, it’s probably not the most effective thing to do next.

The main reason is, your presentation might hit the mark about why they’d be interested in buying your idea and how it would affect their business, but there’s a very good chance that it’ll miss—that you’ll misunderstand what it is that they want, what their business problems and concerns are, and why they might potentially be interested in your product or your idea.

To see how this works, consider a time when someone was trying to persuade you of something, someone was trying to sell something to you, and they made incorrect assumptions about you and what you wanted. For example:

You’re looking to purchase a car, and the sales person says, “Hey, this car has the biggest engine and the most horsepower, and it can go zero to sixty in 5 seconds.” Well, you might not care about that. And if the salesperson acts as if you do, there’s a bit of a disconnect there. So that assumption could actually lead in the wrong direction. Their pitch didn’t bring them closer to making the sale; they’re actually farther away.

Now let’s go back to the person who’s potentially interested in your idea. If you make assumptions about them, you make assumptions about their business. And if you do a presentation based upon those assumptions, not only could you completely miss the mark about what they want, but you might also be convincing them of things that are actually disadvantages to them about your product or idea. In doing this, you might break the connection that you have with them and lose the opportunity to have them actually see the value for them in your idea.

So what is the best approach? The best approach is for you to find out from them as much as possible about what they want, what they need, and what they value. If someone expresses an interest from your first letter, make contact with them again, and this time, do your best to interview them about what the needs are of their company, what their current concerns are, and what it is that they’re looking for in a product that they would license.

Even if you only find out what makes a product a good candidate for them to license or purchase, you’re so far ahead of the game. Because anything that you present or pitch to them will be with a better understanding of what they’re actually looking for. You see, you have a certain sense of why your idea is valuable. In particular, you know why it is valuable to you. But what you don’t know is why it’s valuable to them. And if you’re looking to sell the idea to a company, what you need to be concerned about is why exactly it would be valuable to them. But it’s impossible to guess that.

Our suggestion is, to the greatest extent possible in your next contact with them, find out as much as you can about what they’re looking for in an idea, what their current business concerns and challenges are, and begin to explore where your product might fit into their world. Once you gather all of this information, you’ll have a clear edge when you actually do present about your idea. You’ll be able to present all of its advantages in the context of how it will fit in with their business. If you take the time to find out what’s important to them, and what’s valuable to them, you’ll set yourself apart from every other person who goes in to pitch an idea to them.

In summary, once you have a person who’s interested, don’t jump right into making a pitch. Instead, take as much time as you can—as much time as they’ll allow—to learn from them what’s important to them, what they value, and why they would be interested in your idea. Then get in there and start pitching to their real concerns.

Good luck!