You’ve spent countless hours developing, revising, and perfecting your product, not to mention the money you’ve invested. Now you’re ready to take it to market, but don’t know what to do next. One of the first steps is figuring out how to effectively pitch your product to potential investors, buyers, and consumers. Unfortunately, for many inventors, this is one of the hardest, and most overlooked, parts of the process. As someone who does it for a living, I get asked all the time for advice on how to sell a product. While entire books have been written on the subject (**at the end of the article are three I recommend), I will run you through some basic pointers that I hope will make a big difference in your approach.
It’s Not About You…
I know this part of the article will sound harsh, but it is the best advice I can possibly give. Effective product pitching is about exactly that… the product. As compelling as it may be, and as much as it may make for a great reality TV show down the road, very few potential buyers and investors care about the backstory of the product or what your process was to bring it to market. At least not in the beginning. A good product is a good product, plain and simple, so focus on that. Conversely, a bad product will not become instantly more viable because of a good backstory. There will be plenty of time later to talk about yourself, but, for now, you need to get people to believe in the product first. I have seen more opportunities wasted because of this concept than the next five combined and, truthfully, it’s not your fault!!! With the recent influx of product and talent competition shows, which focus on competitors’ life stories and struggles as much as anything else, we, as consumers, have almost been brainwashed to consider that aspect as a factor in purchasing decisions. Heck, even the coverage of the Olympics spends as much time on tear-jerking vignettes as it does the games themselves. The problem is that those shows are meant for ratings, but it’s nowhere near how things work in the real world. Think about your day-to-day purchasing decisions in life and how infrequently those decisions are made based on the inventor’s story behind them. In developing your pitch, never let that concept escape you.
What Does It Do, What Does It Do for Me?
As consumers, we are inherently selfish. With some exceptions, we buy products mainly because they solve a problem or take care of a need. Either consciously or subconsciously, when evaluating a product for purchase, we ask ourselves, “What does it do and what does it do for me?” You’ll notice that the questions are rarely, “How?” or “Why?”, but, rather, a much more self-centered focus. It doesn’t sound right at first, but if you really think about it, maybe the next time you’re at the grocery store, you’ll realize it’s true. This concept is amplified even more when it comes to products that are new, or at least new to us. This concept is also fundamental to effectively pitching your product. There are several other factors that vary uniquely in developing a great pitch, but, across the board and without fail, the best inventor pitches I’ve seen have these two questions answered concisely.
I know what you’re thinking, “That’s great Scott, but how do I figure that out?” A fair question and a fairly simple answer. Great pitching is all about features (What does it do?) and benefits (What does it do for me?). Figure out what the best features of your product are and how those features best benefit a potential consumer and you are on your way. Unfortunately, I said that the answer to your question was fairly simple, but I didn’t say it was easy. Figuring out the features and benefits of your product takes a lot of honesty and soul-searching. The hardest part of this step for an inventor is always overcoming the idea that your product is your baby and that your baby is beautiful. That may be the case, and your baby is beautiful, but it just may need a haircut. What I mean by that is don’t look at your product solely through YOUR eyes when trying to determine the features and benefits. Get opinions from others, including strangers, as to why they would, or would not, buy it. When you think that way, you start to think the way a potential investor or corporate buyer might think. You need to convince them that people will buy the product, not for your reasons but, rather, the actual reasons.
A good way to think about is when you buy a candy bar. When going through the features and benefits you might think about it this way:
What does it do (feature)? It is a snack packed with chocolate and nuts
What does it do for me (benefit)? It satisfies a craving
And you wouldn’t be wrong to think that way. However, is there something else it does? Maybe it reminds you of when you were a kid and were having a blast trick or treating with your friends from the neighborhood. Maybe it was the candy you used to steal out of your grandmother’s candy jar, which brings back fond memories of her. Or maybe it is the little boost you need after a tough day at work that prevents you from loosing your marbles in a traffic jam. In any case, it is more than just a snack that satisfies a craving. Pay attention to a candy bar commercial and you’ll see what I mean. There is a concept in marketing called the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that, again, entire books have been written on. The basic tenant of the USP is that if you find what makes your product unique in a me-too world of similar products, you’ve found your marketing edge. Search it online and you’ll find great examples. Find enough realistic features and benefits and you’ll be able to pitch your product.
Look the Part!!
It is hard to find a concept in pitching that is so easy to understand but so easily overlooked. I fully understand that I just got done telling you that potential investors/buyers rarely care about the backstory of how your product came to life. I also just got done telling you that, for the most part, consumers don’t really care about the science or the “How?” and “Why?” your product does what it does. And I stand by those statements. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t care about you. Everyone in the process, especially in the beginning, is betting on both the horse and the jockey. No different than seeing bad products get rejected simply because they are bad, I have seen great products never get off the ground because the inventor couldn’t get out of his or her own way.
My concept of “Look The Part” manifests itself in many ways, from the actual way you dress to the way you prepare. Here are some basic pointers that should help you:
- Dress the Part: This is the easiest one of all to understand, but the one most inventors fail in. You spend years of your life developing a product, spend countless amounts of money executing it, so why wouldn’t you show up to a meeting, or a trade show, or a pitch panel looking like you take it seriously? Trust me, I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a $3,000 Armani suit, but you also can’t look like you slept under a bridge the night before. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen inventors show up to meetings in cargo shorts and a t-shirt and I am dumbfounded every time. For a very small amount of money, you can go to a bargain store and find a nice business-casual outfit that will make people believe in you. Trust me, it is way more important than you think, because if it looks like a hobby, it doesn’t look like a business.
- Educate Yourself: Anyone who is seriously considering investing in your product will need to know a lot more information than is contained in a 30-second pitch. You will get asked questions, not just about your product, but about the market potential for your product. The former should be easy for you to answer, since you are the one who invented it. The latter takes dedication and research. Learn everything you can about the potential market for your product: size, growth, 3-year & 5-year trends, barriers to entry, and product differentiation. Be able to speak concisely about your product’s finances specifically: IP status, sales history, manufactured costs vs. landed costs, lead time, distribution, and warehousing. Also, keep in mind that it is completely fine to not have an answer to one of these questions, you just have to be able to answer most of them.
- Have Marketing Materials: Again, another basic, but often overlooked, element of pitching. There are a ton of companies that will print marketing materials for you online for a very affordable price. Same can be said for websites. Investors and buyers won’t believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. Get business cards, brochures/tear sheets, and a basic website that will quickly explain your product. Social media and YouTube as well. People need to be able to find you and your product easily. There are only a few products that are so incredible that people will spend more than 30 seconds looking for. More importantly, you don’t know where your next opportunity will come from. It might be in an elevator and you only have a few seconds to explain what your product does, but if you can hand someone a business card they can find you later when they have more time.That leads us to…
- Be Prepared, Always: There are several edicts I try to live by, some with varying success, but the one I believe in the most is, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Rehearse your pitch constantly because you never know where the next opportunity will come from. I mean it. I have seen products succeed because of conversations on a golf course, a bar, an elevator, the sidelines of a youth soccer game, and even an airport bathroom. I want to stress that you don’t want to be scripted, but just be prepared to speak quickly and concisely about your product at the drop of a hat. Have a 30-second pitch and a 2-minute pitch. Deliver it with passion and energy every time, but passion can only evolve from practice. Be flexible and ready to take questions. Have friends and family pepper you with questions so that you are ready. A trick I learned early in my television career is to put your hand flat against your face and talk to it. Same thing can be achieved by putting your nose in the corner of a wall as if you have been given a timeout. Learning to talk through distractions is a key element in being prepared. Just as important is to ALWAYS carry business cards with you. Brochures if possible. Leave your audience with a way to get in touch with you directly. Most important, be informative, be realistic, be positive, but always BE YOURSELF!!!
About the Author: Scott Hynd is a Partner at Brand Innovations (BI), a Philadelphia-based marketing firm that specializes in live television shopping and product promotion. Scott appears on-air regularly as a product expert both on QVC and in infomercials. Additionally, he has served as a spokesperson for numerous products and events in all forms of media, both nationally and internationally, and has served as a speaker, panelist, and judge at national trade shows, inventor workshops, and University conferences across the country. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors of the UIA.