Each element of the AIDA formula requires distinct tactics

The sell-sheet is essential, because you can perfect it as you learn by doing all the incidental steps along the way to the main objective.


One of my inventor acquaintances asked my advice about submitting material to a potential licensee who had responded to a letter he had written, using my suggestions from the June Lander Zone. He proposed including questions and answers regarding the hoped-for licensing agreement—along with his sell-sheet, prototypes, and a published publicity article.

I advised him to not include anything about licensing at this early stage of negotiations. The reason is that his objective was to sell the prospect on the benefits of adding his patented invention to the company’s product lines, so to dilute that objective with legal and money matters too soon would weaken or interfere with that main objective.

So, is this a one-off case, or is there a principle of marketing here?

Definitely, there is a principle. If you’ve been reading my column over the years, you’ll know that I’ve often cited AIDA, the “formula” used by successful advertising writers. It stands for

  • Attract Attention
  • Arouse Interest
  • Create Desire
  • Call to Action

You might think these are artificially discrete fractions of what essentially is a smooth flow of effort in the process of marketing a license for your patent or patent application. I prefer to think of each of them as separate and valid, requiring distinct special tactics.

The courtship

Think of a love affair, for example.

First, we strive to be attractive to the opposite sex. Then, we engage in conversation and dating to arouse interest.

As we get to know each other, and if the match seems good, we may create desire by presenting as a good exclusive partner. We give gifts, listen to and sympathize with each other’s aspirations and problems, etc.

When the time is right, we ask or suggest that we live together in a permanent, bonded relationship. The need (or not) for a marriage license is a technicality that, if raised before desire is firmly established, may cause a setback in the relationship or even end it.

So, what is the first step in a quest to license a patent? How do you attract attention? It’s not a bouquet of flowers or a copy of the novel everyone is talking about. It is the creation of a professionally appearing sell-sheet. You are trying to attract attention to your invention, not yourself.

In my opinion, the sell-sheet is essential, not optional. The reason is that you can perfect it as you learn by doing all the incidental steps along the way to the main objective.

A licensing deal generally doesn’t happen overnight. It may take a couple years or more to land your licensee. During that time, you will discover things you want to add to your sell-sheet—better ways to say what we wish to say; more benefits; improved illustrations, etc. Or you may expand it because of other new ideas that make the invention more valuable.

Your do-all sales pitch

My point is that the process of explaining the benefits of your invention is not one that you can whip out in a few minutes and complete. Above all, most of us are not accomplished at giving a fast, complete and effective answer if someone says to us, “Tell me about your invention.”

The sell-sheet is your alter ego, the competent salesperson with the best sales pitch ever. No “do-overs” are needed. No hating yourself in the morning because you forgot to mention an important point the night before.

Everything is contained on a single sheet of paper, perfectly written and illustrated. And the best part is that it can be carried away for other stakeholders to consume.

How many times have we been interrupted when we’re trying to make a point verbally? The sell-sheet is tolerant of interruptions and gets right back on track.

There are other ways to attract attention. If your patent has issued, you can safely seek publicity in magazines, on TV, blogs, radio interviews, etc. Even then, your sell-sheet is the best cheat-sheet ever.

You must explain why your eventual product will benefit the consumer. Some inventors make the sales pitch to the licensee, rather than the consumer. I think that’s a mistake; it’s like telling people in hell that they’ll love ice water.

Your potential licensee already knows why he or she wants your product—to make more money. What the licensee really wants and needs to know is why his or her customer will want to buy your product. So, your sell-sheet must begin with the benefits to the ultimate customer.

Sell-sheet mechanics

It is more effective for most of us to sell by using the written word, rather than the spoken word. And by us, I mean my fellow inventors who are not professional salespersons.

If I had to give an impromptu talk on the subject of this article, I would probably miss 20 percent of the good stuff; I would fail to get things in the best order; and my delivery would not be impressive.

A sell-sheet needs no rehearsal. That has already been done—several times. It never needs to say, “I’m sorry.”

You must create desire. The main benefit belongs in your tagline, (headline). This should be broken down into the details that support it, and in other benefits that stand on their own.

Bulleted statements below the tagline seem to work the best. Most people are not fond of searching for the point in long-winded paragraphs.

A narrative can also be used following the bulleted points if you feel you need to say something that can’t easily be reduced to a bullet-point sentence. But save space for endorsements from users.

If you haven’t been able to produce a few working prototypes for evaluation, quote people to whom you’ve shown your sell-sheet and ask them for their endorsement based on the expectation of the invention becoming an available product. Endorsements from users and potential users help convince others to want your product. But make sure they don’t all look made up or written by your relatives.

Read aloud to amplify

OK, now you’re ready for the “call to action,” closing the sale.

Essentially, you’re going to speak to a few people who have already read your sell-sheet, and have one in front of them. You did arrange that, right? So, use the sell-sheet as your speaker’s notes and follow it as an outline for both you and your audience. Having each person hear and read your pitch is powerful, and it ensures that you cover everything.

If you’ve been successful in convincing your potential licensee that he or she will gain sales and profits by owning the rights to your invention, you will be asked what you want. That’s ideal.

For you to have to change the subject from the product’s benefits to licensing can be awkward. But it’s even more awkward to leave a meeting without at least a definite maybe from your prospect.

If no one brings up the subject of licensing, you might try something like this: “Is there anything else you’d like to know about my product before we talk about an agreement?”

Consider: The people in the meeting at which you present your proposed agreement are marketing people. They may or may not have the authority to agree to license. In any event, they will probably want to involve manufacturing and the legal people before they can commit. Never agree to anything legal not in written form that you can take away with you for further study and your lawyer’s approval.

And always remember that a sell-sheet is like poetry. It says a lot in a few well-selected words and brief phrases or sentences—that probably shouldn’t rhyme.