You’re just a small business, but you have big dreams and an awesome product. If only you could get it into the hands of the established player that could bring it market and make you a mint. But you can’t just give that dream partner’s busy CEO a call, can you?
Probably not, but you can send them a LinkedIn invite.
What difference will that make? In the case of Metric Lab, it made all the difference in the world.
The tiny product research company had a prototype for SkyView, a gizmo that converts an airline seat into a hands-free viewing station for your smartphone or tablet, and they knew top hardware company Griffin Technologies was their dream target to license it. But, as company co-founder Bryan McClain explained to Inc.com, all routes to reaching Griffin’s top decision makers had failed.
Attempts to get connections lower down the chain of command to pass the idea up had gone nowhere and boldly picking up the phone and attempting to blag their way to a meeting were likewise fruitless. Then one Thursday, a frustrated McClain had one last idea.
"I am going to ask to be a friend of the founder and CEO, Paul Griffin, via LinkedIn and I’m going to tell him: ‘I’m the president of this company and I’m not sure why I can’t get ahold of you but I have something amazing that you need to see.’ So I write this little summary and I shoot it off," McClain narrates. "I expect not much in return--kind of a shot in the dark."
But his message did get through, leading to an email from Mark Rowan, Griffin’s president, then a phone pitch then an in-office meeting and finally the coveted licensing deal. How did McClain and the other three members of his product team reel in this very large fish?
Be a Stalker
In your personal life stalking is a sign of mental illness, but when you’re trying to get the attention of very busy people, it’s just good sense. "We studied [Griffin] like you wouldn’t believe," says McClain. "We looked at every single product they created. How they built it. Who works at their company. What is their philosophy. We looked at every angle you can imagine."
This obsessive targeting paid off when they got the first bite from Rowan. Besides knowing in advance that he was a frequent traveler who would likely be a receptive candidate for their pitch, the team was also prepared to show how their product could be integrated into Griffin’s product line.
"We actually purchased a couple of their products, hacked up their parts and installed their parts into our prototype to show them, hey look, if you take your existing parts and you put them into ours then you’re going to have this product that’s ready to go," says McClain.
Nail the Narrative
Obsessive preparation isn’t just about laying out a detailed and compelling business case (though that’s certainly essential). For Metric Lab it was also about getting the story and experience right. From the beginning the team was determine to make their pitch an immersive and compelling story.
"We believe in a narrative as a way of getting people onboard and conveying high-level concepts," explains Demetrius Madrigal, Metric’s VP of R&D and McClain’s co-founder, so the presentation they developed was designed to convey exactly what it’s like to be a user of the product, up to and including storyboards visually illustrating major use cases.
"You can’t just lay everything out in a presentation. You need to tell a story about what the user is going to do from the second they wake up until they go to bed," says McClain, who reels off a little tale of a weary business traveler with the product on his nightstand and limited space in his carry-on.
The Metric team didn’t just want the Griffin execs to understand what hypothetical users of the product would experience, they also wanted Rowan to feel what it was like to use the product for himself. That meant getting a prototype into the hands of Rowan and his team. "They had to be able to hold it, touch, it break - do whatever they want with the prototype," says McClain.
But the Metric guys didn’t stop there. They also went on an epic six-month quest to get their hands on an actual pair of airline seats (no small feat in the post-9/11 world and an adventure that spawned a BusinessWeek article onto itself.) “We refused to do a presentation in front of anyone unless they were able to sit in a pair of airline seats and actually have the full experience,” McClain insists.
Some companies might be tempted to avoid the hassle, but McClain “felt that Mark and Scott [of Griffin R&D] took many hours out of their busy schedules to come and see the product. I feel you have to go that extra mile and give them what you would consider to be your best pitch, and for us that meant we had to have airline seats here in the office.”
What’s Metric’s final message for fellow small business owners trying to get the attention of that elusive big wig? Simply, be bold.
“Take that shot in the dark. The audacity to try is a big deal. If you really want the meeting, you can get it. You just have to be creative and be persistent and work your angles until you find it,” concludes Madrigal.