Originally published on Inc. magazine’s site https://www.inc.com/stephen-key/the-right-way-to-contact-big-companies-about-your-invention.html
By Steven Key, co-founder Inventright @StevenKey Media
LinkedIn has made reaching out and forging a relationship with decision makers at leading companies so much easier than it used to be.
When you’ve invented a new product, wanting to work with the largest company possible to help you bring it to market is natural. Market leaders have excellent distribution and brand awareness. But getting a large company to agree to license your invention isn’t easy.
Many of these companies don’t want work with inventors because of liability issues. Maybe they’ve been burned by unreasonable inventors in the past. Their R&D departments are large, which makes it’s difficult for them to know exactly what they’re working on at any given time.
They may feel they already have the best and brightest working for them, so why open their doors to work with outside inventors and product developers? This is a version of “not invented here” syndrome, the phenomenon in which ideas that are not generated internally are discounted. Big companies also tend to require idea submissions to be patented, which is an obstacle. That said, some market leaders have truly embraced the benefits of open innovation–and these are the companies that inventors should seek out for licensing consideration.
But how? Many of these companies have created portals for you to submit your invention ideas. On their websites, you will find buttons that say “submit idea.” They’re tempting–but there is a better way to reach out.
Licensing deals are forged based on personal relationships. Using a portal is like submitting your invention into a black hole. A better strategy is to send a simple three-part message using LinkedIn, which has made reaching out and forging a relationship with decision-makers at leading companies so much easier than it used to be.
First, before you send a single message, I recommend filing intellectual property on your invention, such as a provisional patent application.
Polish your LinkedIn page.
This will entice others to accept your requests to connect. Your page is like your own personal sell sheet.
So, look straight into the camera and smile in your profile picture. Don’t waste the space underneath your image on accolades. Instead, describe your mission in one sentence. People who share your mission are more likely to respond to your message, and this is an opportunity to highlight your value proposition loud and clear. If you are inventing and developing new kinds of sustainable packaging, for example, you might write, “Creating sustainable packaging solutions.”
Filling out your profile completely doesn’t hurt.
Do your homework.
When you are submitting your invention idea to big companies, targeting the right people at the right companies is critical. The only way to ensure you’ve identified a great potential partner is by taking the time to understand the company’s mission and goals first. This info is easily found by reading the company’s press releases and social media posts.
Determining who exactly to approach with your idea can be a challenge. So, I asked Lisa Rose, Chief Marketing Officer at LifeScan, the 40-year-old glucose monitoring and diabetes management provider, directly for her insights. Rose is a marketing veteran who has wholly embraced open innovation to develop and commercialize innovative new products
at some of the largest companies in the world, including Procter & Gamble.
In general, the best intake places for ideas and innovation at big companies, she told me, are business development, product development, and marketing. These groups can influence product choice, have access to budget and resources, and can serve as internal advocates. To get the most out of LinkedIn, Rose recommends checking to see if you or someone in your network is already connected with an employee. This person may be willing to give you more insight into the company’s priorities, help you navigate the company, and ultimately connect you with the right decision-makers–saving you time and effort.
Get your message right.
After you’ve identified some great candidates and sent requests to connect, now is the time to craft your first message. Big-picture-wise, your objective is to present the benefit of your product idea. It’s not to pitch your invention itself. It’s too soon for that. Please, no attachments or links. You’re trying to find out if they practice open innovation because you have a product that’s a good fit for them. And if they say yes? Follow up with a sell sheet.
First, acknowledge the company’s mission. Remember, this information is easily found online.
“On LinkedIn, the notices I get that are effective are the ones that say, ‘Hey, I’ve been watching LifeScan online and I see you are supporting people with diabetes with digital health and wellness as a strategy,” Rose explained.
She’s motivated to respond to people who tell her they’re working on something proprietary, and have proof of concept, and/or data on their invention.
Then, wrap up your inquiry with a direct request. Such as, “I would love to meet someone in business development to share my idea in 30 minutes or less.”
When Rose receives messages that include these three elements, she will respond, she said.
“We are actively scouting. A couple of folks on our team spend all day, every day talking to people about what they’re working on,” she explained. “The way to cut through the clutter is by showing you’ve done your homework and you have something to offer.”
As you craft each of your messages to employees at big companies, study the language these individuals use to describe themselves and their mission. The insights you gain will help you write a better value proposition, one that is more targeted to their employer. If you’re unsure whether they truly practice open innovation, ask directly: Do your work with outside product developers?
To summarize: Be brief. Don’t disclose any confidential information, including intellectual property. Instead, share the benefit of your invention.
Getting in touch with large companies is easy when you do and say the right things. It all comes down to doing your homework thoroughly. That’s the only way to pitch the right person to the right company with the right product.