Letters and emails to company executives become a more productive option
Now your snail mail will reach executives in person, bypassing the usual “gatekeepers” who would have received it before the pandemic.
BY JACK LANDER
As I write this, several U.S. state governors are partially opening their states for business and recreation again. It’s a gamble, because none of us knows the optimum balance point between exposure to what may remain of the COVID-19 virus and the potential bankruptcy of businesses that would continue to remain closed.
But one thing is certain: It won’t be business as usual as we venture out. We may find some of our sources of services and supplies are permanently closed. And those of us who have planned on attending trade shows to locate potential licensees may find indefinite schedules, or the trade show sponsors are out of business.
So, what can we do while the degree to which states are open is changing daily? What can we do from home, if we have time but not yet the inclination to venture out except for essentials?
Pitches that hit home
Those of you who have been steady readers of my column know that I have preached in favor of attending trade shows in order to find your potential licensee. There, you can learn a lot about companies that may be a good fit for your invention. You can meet directors of marketing or at least their immediate subordinates, persons you would have difficulty meeting almost any other way.
You’ll also recall that I’ve thought of email contact or letter-writing as typically being a second-rate approach. Well, at least temporarily, I’ve changed my mind. Now may be a productive time to write letters.
Many of us are still working from home. Newscasters, comedians, politicians, cooks, interviewees and others seem to have adapted quite well to working solo from their den, basement, or even their kitchen.
No doubt executives are part of this group, too. And your snail mail will reach them in person, bypassing the usual “gatekeepers” who would have received it before the pandemic.
Their company mail is forwarded to them at their home—where they have access to at least one phone, a computer, and Zoom or its equivalent. Zoom enables them to engage in conferences. (I suspect that Zooming may replace a lot of face-to-face conferencing from now on, reducing the expense of travel.) Except for face-to-face contact with their fellow workers, their jobs and their old routine survive in a new form.
Why contact executives by mail? One reason is, they’ll find it easier to open and read than to pass it on to a subordinate. Another is that your mail may be a refreshing change from their mode of trying to maintain business until the company is fully open again. The chances are fair to good that you’ll receive a reply, possibly even a hand-written note.
Of course, they may toss it in their overfilled wastebasket. But if you’re very lucky, the recipient may send you an e-mail with a Zoom response number, suggesting a time for a visual conference call.
Even if your letter’s only effect is to make them aware of your invention, (oops, sorry, your product), the next time they receive your mail they may be back in the office. They’ll hand your mail to an assistant, saying something like, “Look into this. It could be worthwhile.”
Meeting directors of marketing at trade shows could be a year or more in the future—especially if we experience a second wave of infection and the virus stays with us for longer than some medical professionals had estimated. A well-prepared mailing is worth a try.
Don’t sell in the letter
So, here’s what an ideal mailing consists of:
- A brief cover letter.
- Your sell-sheet.
- A return postcard.
If you’ve been reading past issues of Inventors Digest, you’ll know how to prepare an effective sell-sheet. If not, e-mail me for a free copy of my paper on how to prepare one.
But don’t attempt to “sell” (license your patent, etc.) in a letter. Letters don’t show your product or convince the reader to take action the way a sell-sheet will.
So, when I say a brief letter, I mean bare bones—a polite greeting; a sentence stating the purpose of the mailing, which is to introduce your product; and contact information including e-mail address, phone number and street address.
Let your sell-sheet do all the selling. If you’ve prepared your own sell-sheet, you probably followed the time-honored rules and have spent several hours making it the best you can. Inventors who attempt to write a sales letter typically whip off something in 15 minutes—which is why they don’t get results.
Your letter should be little more than a large version of your business card. Its brevity leads the reader to review your sell-sheet. Long letters create impatience and reduce interest.
Your return postcard should have options that the reader can respond to with check marks. For example:
[ ] I’m interested. Contact me again when my company opens.
[ ] Tell me more.
[ ] I’m not interested.
[ ] Other (leave room for writing)
Be sure to put the name of the company on the front of the card so that you will know which company has responded. And add your address, of course.
Postcards may not be available from your local post office, but you can purchase them at the Postal Store at usps.com. Standard cards come with postage in a set of 10 for $3.90. Or, you can cut card stock to as large as 4 l/4 by 6 inches. A minimum of 35 cents postage is required.
It is difficult to get the name of a director of marketing under the best conditions, but mail directed to that title is now much more likely to actually reach the director than before the quarantine.
An internet search is one of the simplest ways to find the names of companies that are candidates for licensing.
Suppose you invented an accessory for hairdryers, and you want the names of hairdryer producers. Search “companies that produce hair dryers.” Goodhousekeeping.com lists the 20 best dryers, and several more sources are listed.
Such lists provide the brand, but you must backtrack to find the company’s website and mailing address. Many brands are imported, and their company headquarters may not be in the United States even though the website provides a U.S. address.
All of the above assumes you have your patent application on file or issued patent in hand. If you are closer to the beginning of the invention cycle, you can spend hours, even days, searching the patent files.
To get the most out of searching, buy a copy of Nolo’s “Patent Searching Made Easy” and learn the advanced and more productive methods for searching before you start.
If you’ve completed your search but haven’t yet filed, put your nose in either of patent attorney David Pressman’s books, “Patent It Yourself,” or “Patent Pending in 24 Hours.” The more you know about filing before you approach a patent agent or patent attorney, the less money you’ll spend—and you may end up with a better patent.
Attending trade shows as a walk-in, not as an exhibitor, is still the most promising way to find a licensee. But every trade show doesn’t exhibit every brand. So the letter approach has the advantage of finding more complete prospects.
Let’s hope you can use both methods soon. Stay safe.