Some of the best made plans are created in the middle of the night – some people even keep a notebook by their bedsides in hopes of catching a dream-induced innovative idea. Others are just lucky – innovation seems to land like raindrops and ideas for the next best money-making invention fall steadily.
But a great idea is just the beginning. We’re all capable of creatively crafting an idea worthy of sharing. It’s what comes next that matters most. The pitch.
It’s how you sell those great ideas, get your listeners to remember you, and more importantly, want to hear more about what you have to offer.
How do you pitch an invention? You pitch an invention by carefully crafting an introduction to your product or service to an audience in an attempt to sell your idea. Your pitch is the one chance you have to make a good, lasting impression. A good pitch requires a much information as possible, not only about what you have to offer, but about your audience, what they will want to hear, as well as how you fit into their overall business and profit strategy.
Pitching an idea requires planning. It’s less about what you say and more about how you say it.
Pitching a Product Idea
You’ve crafted a solution to a market problem, and it’s time to capitalize on it. But, before you hit the ground running and share your proposal with the world, there are a few things you’ll want to master first – including where and how to pitch your ideas, as well as how to protect your intellectual property.
Before you Pitch: Understanding First Impressions
All too often, many of the seemingly best ideas are rejected. Why? Because as human beings, we place people into categorized boxes. We make assumptions and we stereotype. Of course, we are all convinced that we would never do such a thing, that we judge on talent and merit alone, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
The first thing you need to remember when preparing your pitch is that your audience will indeed make a judgement – not on your invention – but rather, on you. And, they’ll do it fast – within seconds, as a matter of fact. And, within about 30 minutes, that first impression is quite difficult – potentially impossible – to change (Source).
Your listeners are looking for a particular trait, one you no doubt possess as an inventor: creativity. Part of your job in crafting your pitch is to both communicate this and make your audience feel as though they are part of the creative and collaborative process. Your audience will quickly identify ideas they view as “no-go” ideas based often on preconceived notions of the speaker and look for those that are likely to contribute to the success of the business (Source). While this can seem like a dismal, frustrating reality, remember that pitching an idea is a skill, and certainly one that can be learned and perfected with time and practice.
You need two essential ingredients at the start: enough technical know-how to convince your audience that your idea can be developed within resource constraints and to a clearly identified target market, and an ability to do so with passion for your product or invention, all while keeping them at rapt attention (Source).
The latter is likely easier for many, but not always. The “technical know-how” requires intimate knowledge of those you are pitching to, including how you see your invention adding value to their overall business plan, and more specifically, the roadmap in getting there (aka marketing, marketing, and more marketing).
Of course, you will likely not be an instrumental part of the business planning strategy of the company, but the idea is that you communicate the balance between your creativity and your knowledge of how to reach your target market and sell an idea to the public. It’s a little bit of a give and take game, and if you embrace it and prepare well, your pitch will have what it takes to be one of the few whose become successful.
How to Pitch your Idea
Not everyone is going to make it onto the next episode of Shark Tank to pitch an idea, but if you’ve ever seen the show, there are some good ones…and some really, really terrible ones. If you think back to your favorite speeches, Ted Talks, or even product pitches you’ve viewed on- line, there are likely some striking similarities: They’re not too long. They get (and keep) your attention. They somehow connect with you emotionally. And, you find yourself rooting for the speaker. That’s precisely what you want to achieve.
Here’s the key: Marketing your idea or invention is not just about talking about what you’ve invented. It’s about researching and understanding how your product is going to solve a consumer problem and explaining and showcasing it in both an effective and entertaining way.
Step One: Know Your Product and Your Customer
Sure, you’ve invented it. But, do you really know it? You will need to be able to artfully express how your product will be used, what problem it solves, and how it fits into a business – whether that be yours or someone else’s (Source). While you may think your product is great and certainly, everyone will want it, it is important that you take a step back and recognize that what we deem to be the next best thing may not be the perception of the buyer.
Not everyone is going to buy your product, but you need to know and be able to communicate precisely who will. Avoid phrases like “everyone will want it.” Rather, identify specifically who will want it and why. That’s the story you want to tell – the one that illustrates a buyer, and how your product has made his or her life better.
With that in mind, do as much research as possible on your target market, including where they shop, what (and why) they buy, and their demographics (things like age, race, income, etc.). The more you know about your product and how it meets their needs, the better you will be able to sell it and market it to a company who will then do the rest of the work for you.
Again, there are lots of great ideas out there. The only way to pitch your idea successfully is to understand who your customers are (and in this case, that includes those who will buy your product as well as the company you are pitching it to).
Step Two: Protect Your Intellectual Property – Pitching Without the Risk of Stolen Ideas
Before you pitch your idea, you want to make sure that should the pitch not go as planned, your invention or product idea cannot be “stolen” from you. Your invention or idea is your intellectual property (IP), and you want to protect it. To do that, you should register your IP with the US Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) (Source).
Look to see if you are able to get a patent for your product or idea. There are multiple types of patents, but the two main types fall under the category of utility or design. Utility patents are specific to the functional aspect of your product, or how it works. A design patent covers the aesthetic appearance or design of your product. Getting patent protection ensures that others cannot make, use, or sell your invention without penalty – thus preventing your ideas form being stolen (Source).
Unfortunately, getting patent protection is expensive, but it is worth it in the long run. Often, it is suggested that you hire an attorney to help you with the process. If you are unable to get a patent right away and still want to protect your product while pitching your ideas, get a provisional patent from the USPO. Doing so will allow you to pitch your ideas and get feedback from potential consumers while having protection over your intellectual property (Source).
Just keep in mind that provisional patents only last one year – during that time you will need to complete a utility or design patent application to retain the rights over your ideas (Source).
One other option you have is to enter into a confidentiality agreement. Doing so will prevent the company from using your idea or invention except for evaluative purposes. In other words, they can take your product or idea and determine if they would like to invest in it based on market research and trends, but they cannot use it in any already existing product or service. Doing so would go against the confidentiality agreement, and you could potentially sue the company for breaking your contract.
Step Three: Begin Building Your Pitch
The idea of pitching an invention is reminiscent of those long ago fears we had when we were placed in our very first “Public Speaking” class. It can certainly be intimidating. Nonetheless, a great pitch is essential – and preparation is key.
An effective pitch is concise, compelling, and convincing. It also follows a specific structure that will allow your audience to anticipate what is coming next. The ultimate goal is to impress the company so that they buy your idea. Remember, your audience is filled with humans, and humans thrive on great storytelling. You are going to tell the story of your invention and show your listeners why your idea is going to make them a lot of money.
Below is a list of components you will want to include when crafting your successful pitch.
Remember when your high school English teacher forced you to write a whole bunch of “hook lines” for your 5-paragraph essay? She probably told you that you have to get the reader’s attention, and you have to do so quickly with a good hook. The same applies here. Your beginning statement is the first statement in your pitch, and it is designed to get the attention of your listener.
Remember, people (especially busy business executives) are getting, potentially, hundreds of pitches a month and you have little time to grab their attention (Source). Include the best and most important information about your product or idea in an engaging way.
Identify the Consumer Problem You are Solving
Here, you want to focus on the problems your product is solving, as well as, if possible, the problem that your product solves for the business you are pitching to. For example, if you see a gap in a current product line the company is offering, and your product fills that gap, address it in your pitch confidently.
It is imperative that you make your presentation about the consumer, not you. Identifying the problem form the consumers perspective, and how your product, idea, or invention solves it will show how you are adding a value proposition to the company. Answer who your product is helping and how. Additionally, show why your target market may be unhappy with current product offerings and solutions (Source), and how you can change that.
Do not begin discussing your product’s features, capabilities, or characteristics yet. Your audience first needs to know what the value of it is, and why they need it, as well as how they will get a return on their investment (Source).
Bring in Your Knowledge of the Company
Reiterating the idea that you are making your pitch about the consumer, you want to be sure that you’ve really spent a significant amount of time learning about the company you are pitching to, whether it is a small mom and pop shop or a global corporation. Right now, they are your only customer.
Think of the company as though they are your target market. How can you prove that there is a cost (either financial or otherwise) if they don’t choose to buy the product you are selling? Utilize whatever data you can find. How might they fall behind their competition? Will the company eventually lose market share without integration of your new, innovative idea? If so, tell them. In a way, you are instilling a sense of urgency that they didn’t realize they had before you walked in the door.
One note: as in all pitches and public speaking platforms, there is a balance to strike between positivity and negativity. While you want to address how your idea fills a need that they have, don’t linger here too long and be careful not to speak in a discouraging way, but rather encourage your audience about how you can help to solve the problem.
Focus on Your Product’s Features and Characteristics
At this point in your pitch, you should have actively engaged your audience, created an atmosphere of trust, and convinced them that they need your product. Now is the time to focus on the unique characteristics and features of your product, explaining precisely how it solves a consumer need.
Bring a Prototype
You should have a prototype of your product, if possible. Your prototype is a working idea of your invention or idea, something tangible that has most (if not all) of your product’s features. If you are unable to bring in a prototype, a secondary option is to bring in a 3-D model of your idea and a diagram that shows how your product works (Source).
The goal through the prototype is to highlight what your product can do and explain it from the consumer’s perspective, helping them to clearly understand the benefits it offers. Another option is to create a short video of someone who fits your consumer profile using your product (Source).
Bring in Metrics, Data, and Marketing Opportunities
At this point, you’ve already demonstrated knowledge of your target market. Likely, the company already has an awareness of how they would structure a marketing plan and strategy, especially if they already have an existing product line (which is a plus), but it is important to showcase the technical know-how that we mentioned earlier and demonstrate that you have done your research.
You may want to include facts about market size, the percentage of the market you are targeting compared to the whole, pricing, promotion and distribution ideas, and anticipated margins. All of this information at your fingertips shows that you have done the requisite research and are an expert on the topic as it relates to your invention. It also gives them added confidence that your invention will bring in added revenue.
Since you are selling your invention or idea in its beginning stages, you likely do not already have a base of customers. That’s okay. But try to bring in something that shows consumer interest, even if it is a quote from a person who will buy your product (Source).
Differentiate Your Product or Solution from the Competition
Many pitch decks fail to analyze competitors. This information is, however, important for the company to be able to minimize the risk involved in investing in your ideas. Failing to address competitors may cause you to lose credibility, so be sure to include the competition and how your product is superior (Source).
Praise your Team
This might sound unnecessary, but no invention or product idea is accomplished in isolation. If you have had others work with you or help you, acknowledge that. If nothing else, it shows that you are a team player, and that is an invaluable soft skill for those who will potentially work with you. It can also open the door for future opportunities should you decide to invent additional products or services that may benefit the company.
Your pitch should not be long – think minutes, probably 30 or less. Nonetheless, a final conclusion and summary is a good idea. Focus back on the most important part of your presentation: the consumer problem and how your product or idea solves it. Think of this as the most important part of your pitch. Your audience is likely to remember the first and last things you’ve said, so what do you want to leave them with that will secure the sale?
Final Thoughts about Pitching Ideas Online
There are quite a few platforms out there that allow you to pitch your ideas online. In general, if you are hoping to pitch your product to a large company, you want an in-person meeting, and you want that meeting to be, if possible, with the decision maker.
One note about working with larger versus smaller companies is that it is much more likely that you’ll be able to get a face to face meeting with a top-level employee who has decision making power with a smaller company. Still, you want to aim for the same with large companies.
Some organizations do offer pitch competitions online. This is certainly an entry way into getting your ideas out there and sold, hopefully to a company who will invest in you and ultimately result in a deal. The note of caution here lies in ensuring that you have protected your intellectual product with a patent, confidentiality agreement, or provisional patent as discussed above. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing your intellectual property to become vulnerable to those who may copy it or use it to their own advantage.
Pitching your invention or idea is, in a way, the most important part of being an entrepreneur. Inventing is only half the battle. Think of the pitch as the final inning. This is your chance to show the world what you have to offer, and to win the game. Be confident. And remember, a good pitch is a skill that can be learned, and with practice and preparation, you will be well on your way to winning that sough after sales deal.