How Inventors Can Help Their Licensees Sell More Product

by | Sep 25, 2020

You just licensed your idea for a new product. The feeling is fantastic. It’s taken time, effort, determination, and of course a little luck.

There were moments when you felt like contract negotiations would never end, but they did, and finally, you’re officially partners with a company in your category that has great distribution at retail.

What next? Now is not the time to sit back and relax! No, absolutely not. Your goal should be to help your licensee sell more product. You’ve made it this far, but that’s no guarantee your product will actually make it to market — or become a hit with consumers.

There are many ways to increase your likelihood of success when licensing a product. One of the most obvious is by keeping your ear to the ground, so you’re aware of any issues that come up during the development process. There’s a very good chance that before they commit to going into full production, your licensee will show your product at a tradeshow. This is a way of reducing their risk, and it makes perfect sense. They want to be sure that buyers are actually interested.

So, what can you do to make sure your product is being displayed and pitched correctly

Attend the trade show. Show up on the first day of the show, dressed appropriately, and ask if there’s anything you can do. In my experience, trade show booths are often understaffed. If it’s busy, having an inventor there to pitch their product can be extremely helpful. I’ve been to many tradeshows where inventors are on hand to demo their product, because it works. The inventor is very enthusiastic. Retailers like it because now there’s a story behind the product.

The best example I have ever witnessed of this was at the housewares show in Chicago a few years ago where I saw Miguel Valenzuela — inventor of the PancakeBot — proudly demonstrating how his product worked in a chef’s coat and hat.

There’s an additional benefit, which is that if your licensee isn’t displaying your product correctly, you have an opportunity to fix the problem right then and there. Let’s be real. Most likely, your product is one of many. Your licensee may be so busy they haven’t had the time to showcase your invention in its best light.

Basically, by attending the show, you can verify they’re doing a good job. This strategy isn’t failproof. Some companies won’t want you to be on hand. (This has a lot to do with how professional you are.) Be respectful of their wishes.

That said, you’ve worked too hard to let your invention fail to attract the attention it deserves where it really counts — at tradeshows. Recently, one of my students shared an image taken of how his product was displayed a trade show. His licensee had told him buyers weren’t interested, so they would be returning his invention to him. In other words, due to lack of demand, they were declining to move forward. When I looked at the photo, I wasn’t surprised. They had placed his product on a bottom shelf in a glass container where you barely see it.

When you’re not there, it’s difficult to gauge what actually happened. So, don’t take any chances! I also recommend befriending salespeople at the company so you have a better sense of what’s going on.

Presenting products in their best light is an ongoing challenge at retail as well. Depending on where your product is placed and how, it may fail to attract any attention. This is why so many manufacturers regularly visit their retailers in person to ensure their products are being displayed correctly and that consumers can indeed see them. And — nothing compares to observing how consumers interact with your product in real time and space.

You can’t rely on your licensee exclusively to sell your product for you. I learned this firsthand many years ago when my rotating label innovation won Best in Show at the largest packaging tradeshow in the United States. My licensee didn’t even attend the ceremony to pick up the trophy. (To make a long story short, there was a lot of politics between various product managers.) Most companies would have placed the trophy next to the product moving forward to help drive traffic. For whatever reason, that never happened. It was a learning lesson for me.

There are other ways to make sure your product is actually seen. You can contact potential customers yourself to gauge their interest. Once you receive interest, share that with your licensee. You’re basically handing them business! Ask to be included in future meetings. I can remember being on a sales call that I had arranged when the salesperson started selling another product instead of mine. That really opened my eyes. I realized I needed to be on those calls to keep the salespeople on track.

You can also help your licensee sell more product by doing media appearances. You have a story, so tell it well! Establish a presence on social media. Reach out to podcasts, radio shows, and television programs. You have an edge, which is that your story is newsworthy! Everyone loves an inventor success story. Companies have a hard time doing this because it just seems like an advertisement for their new product. Most media won’t pick it up — whereas your story is personal, specific, and unique.

Many inventors today are starting social campaigns early and building a fan base before their product even launches. (There are some risks involved with this.) For example, Lauren Piccirillo — the creator of Baby Soothe, a baby massager that simulates a mom’s gentle touch — has been promoting her invention for years on social media. It’s just now hitting the market.

In many situations, you will still need to be involved after you license your idea. Prepare for that. Don’t walk away. Your work isn’t done yet. Ensuring your product is being shown correctly — and thus creating demand — is one way to help guarantee you royalties.

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  • Stephen Key

    Stephen Key is an award-winning inventor, renowned intellectual property strategist, lifelong entrepreneur, author, speaker, and columnist.
    Stephen has over 20 patents in his name and the d...