Patents and Intellectual Property

While I'm not an attorney I've been involved in numerous IP deals sitting on both sides of the table.   One of the biggest misconceptions about patents is many people believe having one is an iron clad wall which will protect them from competition.  It just doesn't work that way.   I believe that patents are most useful as a negotiating tool used for licensing deals.

The first hurdle in patents is the extent of the claims.  Many people try to get them to cover everything they could ever think of doing.  The problem with this approach is it's darn hard to prove those claims (e.g.  prior art).  Instead it's best to keep them tight and well defined to your core business.   That way it's much easier to prove and show infringement.   

Other companies like to use them as a club to beat down any perceived competition especially after the fact.   They like to "stretch" the meaning and intimidate others into sending them money.  If you are on the receiving end of this behavior it's best to stand up to them.   Most of the time they will back down before going into full scale litigation because they know they can't win.  But this is a great opportunity to get them to the table and figure out why they are exhibiting this behavior.   Sometimes something good will come of this, but at least you can make them back down.

Years ago we were using a non-Intel chip in a new computer.  We knew there was some bad blood between Intel and the chip maker about a potential infringement of one small portion of the chip.  So our engineers made sure that portion of the chip was never used.  We went to market.  Sure enough our attorneys came back to us saying Intel was going to start litigation and we should settle.   I stated we had done nothing wrong and if they wanted to litigate that would be just fine, we could pay our expenses from the marketing budget: the publicity would be worth it.   The issue died quietly.

So by all means, file those patents, but realize their best use is to promote licensing deals.   But if you are being treated unfairly, get the best legal representation you can afford and stop that behavior as quickly as possible.  You don't want to get the reputation of being an easy target.  And that's in the best interest of your customers and investors.

Trade Show Tips

It's off to a trade show this weekend and here's a collection of thoughts as you prepare for your trade shows:Aa

1) Vertical specific and regional shows return the best bang for your buck.   Unless you have a gazillion dollar marketing budget avoid the big general purpose shows.  Why?   Because when you are focused on your shows your odds of having interested attendees go way up.

2) Bring lots of business cards.   Make sure that someone looking at your card knows what your company does.  And have it blank on the back side for those hastily scribbled notes.

3) If you're introducing new products bring in the entire field sales team.   Not only do you energize the team, they can start talking about the new products to potential customers right away.  And they'll have questions.  And you're there to answer them.  When they go home, they'll hit the ground running.

4) Simplify your booth.   On your banners be explicit in what you do.  Lose the cute slogans.   Make sure other banners can be used as a selling tool.  Instead of handing out glossy brochures (which get tossed in the trash), point to a banner and walk a customer through your product.

5) Embrace the Brownian motion.  Don't over schedule your time.  Walk around, see what other vendors are offering, talk to random strangers.   Otherwise, why did you come if not to learn and connect?

6) The 48 hour rule.   If you made a commitment at the show, make sure you follow through within 48 hours after the show.   Interest decays rapidly with a very short half life.  And you need to demonstrate commitment to build relationships.  And this is an easy place to start.

And finally:
7) Just because you have a show list of all attendees does not give you the right to spam their email inboxes.   And if you do call someone who was at the show and you did not meet, make sure there is a single point of contact.   Nothing makes a company look more foolish than three different people communicating with the same potential customer.    With the CRM systems available out there for free, there is simply no excuse.

Sales Leads: Ignore them at your peril

In order to close business you actually need to interact with potential customers.   And leads are one way to do that.   I break leads down into 3 groups.   The first group are lists.   If it's a big list and you send them a postcard, good luck on getting a 2% response rate.    If you send them an email, that's spam.

The second group is a response list where in order to get some sort of information, they have to register.   You should get a higher response rate from this group, but I recommend a passive approach.  Just because they attended a trade show, downloaded a white paper or  gave you a business card does not give you the right to bombard them with email and phone calls.   The best approach here is to followup with a short email thanking them and give them the opportunity to opt in.  Then stop.   

The last and my favorite group is the ones who contact you and want to buy your product.   And you better get back to them within a couple of hours or a day at most.

Our credit union has a car buying service.  Since a family member is in the market for a new car, we tried it out.   We sent requests to 3 dealers each for Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai.   Out of the nine, only two ever replied.    The other seven just didn't care to sell us a car.    Now I don't know about you, but last I heard auto sales were down and everyone is hurting.  So when a well qualified customer wants to buy a car from you I don't think ignoring them is such a good idea.

Aa Perhaps those 7 car dealers have salespeople of the more traditional type.

Web Site Red Flags

Whenever I see words like "leaders", "innovators" or "guaranteed" I cringe.  But my all time favorite is the asterisk *.   It refers to a footnote buried far below the fold, which almost always limits what you thought you were getting, or moving some risk from them to you.

Don't use them.

If you must have some sort of footnote to EXPAND the explanation, put in a link for the explanationAa .   Please.    If you indeed do have some sort of qualifier, then don't use it. 

Run - Trip - Run

I like to ski.  Especially here in Utah with really deep and fluffy snow.   Trip We have a saying "If you're not falling, you're not trying".   The same applies to how we do marketing.   In the old days everyone said " Crawl - Walk - Run".   These days we just don't have the luxury.   You better have a team that can run right out the gate.  And you'll stumble.  But dust yourself off, and start running again.

It's a matter of momentum.  The more you can get out now, the better it builds a year from now.  And the further you distance yourself from everyone else.

And how do you know when you're succeeding?   You'll hear constant grumbling from engineering and operations as they try to keep up with demand. 

And that's a good thing.

Business Development: It's Not Sales

If you're good at marketing, you're a natural for business development.   And business development is all about developing relationships with people who are strategic in moving your business forward.   I categorize them into two groups:
-The Cool Kids -- those folks recognized as thought leaders
- New Markets -- those folks already playing in a market you wish to join
Like marketing, business development is all about engaging in conversations.   

But many people just don't get it.   They think "I'm important, so you should be talking to me".  The proper approach is "I am helpful and you want to talk to me".   This should be obvious, but usually isn't.   And you're not selling them anything.  What you gain by this approach is providing actual value from the beginning and by providing this service, eventually you will get attention.  And as you continue to work together it will be obvious to both sides if you have a parting of the ways or move forward.

A test I like to use to see what kind of person you are is eating out.   Wait_staff How do you treat the wait staff?  Do you look them in the eye, acknowledge them and pay attention to what they are saying?   Or do you treat them as staff, there at your beck and call?  Too many people fall in the latter category and  will fail horribly at business development.   I also pick up verbal cues on how other people are described.   If you say "She's just the marketing chick" you're not in business development and probably shouldn't be let out in public at all.