1. Decide the kind of trade show that will have appropriate manufacturers present.
2. Search the internet, and make a list of those shows.
3. Phone or e-mail the show’s management and ask how to qualify to attend, and if there is a charge for non-displayers. Many trade shows discourage walk-ins who are not legitimate buyers. Some will want only a business card. Others will demand proof—such as your business license— that you really are in business, and a potential buyer of the wares that will be shown.
4. Ask the show’s sales office for a list of companies that will have booths at the show. If this upcoming show’s list is not yet available, ask for last year’s show’s list.
5. Research those attending companies that have a product line into which your invention appears to fit. Go to their websites. Call for an annual report, which often indicates the direction in which their product lines are headed. If their products are on display at a retail outlet, check them out.
6. Call the company and ask if it has a “new-product submission policy.” Most big companies will not even read an unsolicited new-product proposal until we sign an agreement to the effect that our only rights are those granted by our patent. That sounds scary at first, but in the end, that’s how it will work out in any case.
7. Sign it. Make several copies. Some of the executives you meet will refuse to talk to you about a new product due to the company’s liability. That’s when you hand him a copy of the agreement you signed with his company prior to coming to the show.
8. Prepare a professional sell-sheet. The sell-sheet should be pitched to users of your “product,” not to the licensee. Potential licensees want to hear why their customers will want to purchase the product. Sell them on that idea, and they automatically know why they should want to license it.
9. Attend the shows you have selected as a walk-in, not a booth taker. You need to be free to walk the show, have plenty of time to meet potential licensees, and to hand out sellsheets. But be on guard against letting your sellsheet fall into the hands of competitors.
10. Be considerate of your prospect’s time. Be brief. Hold your tongue. Let your sell-sheet do the selling. Remember, you are an amateur when it comes to selling your invention. I’ve witnessed inventors brag about how they got the idea for the invention, how it will make a fortune because all of their friends are sure it will, etc., etc. Boring and dumb! There is no more effective way to turn off a company executive than to waste his or her time with trivialities. Again, let your sellsheet do the selling.
11. Introduce yourself, state that you have a new product that you think the company will benefit from, and that all of the important information is in the sell-sheet. Give the executive two or three copies so that he or she can pass out the others to people who will be in on the decision to license.
12. Ask for a business card so that you can follow through a few days after the show. Most of the time when you phone, you’ll be talking to an assistant, not to the person you met at the show. Just say something like, “I met Mr. Smith at the trade show a few days ago, and I’m following up on the licensing prospect.” Administrative assistants are not the enemy. I’ve had excellent results by enlisting their help when it becomes clear that I won’t get through to talk to Mr. Smith.