Without a doubt, the step product developers struggle with the most when it comes to licensing is cold calling. You aren't in the game until you begin reaching out to potential licensees about your ideas for new products. Still, most people would rather do anything but. I'm not particularly wild about cold calling either, but this business is about building relationships. It's easier for me when I approach what I'm doing as making friends. And that starts with the gatekeeper, of course.

Think about it. This person knows everyone. They can help you reach the right person. That's more than half the battle! There's a very good chance you will need a gatekeeper to help you navigate and find a home for your sell sheet, which could take time. If the company is small or medium size, you will most likely be talking to the same person again.

If you become friendly, a gatekeeper may champion your product idea and do things for you without having to be asked. I've heard of receptionists loving a new product idea so much, they shared it with the entire company. This isn't someone you want to focus on getting around as quickly as possible, in other words. This is someone you want to befriend. This person is not an obstacle. Dreading your interactions will only make them worse.

So, how do you make gatekeepers your friend? I caught up with Ani Manukyan, a product developer who has become remarkably skilled at getting in to companies, for her tips. Earlier this year, she and her business partner signed their first licensing agreement. Manukyan repeatedly stressed the importance of mindset during our interview.

"Gatekeepers are part of my success, so I treat them that way," she said. "Who doesn't want to be a part of someone else's success?"  

1. Smile naturally. You want to sound like a successful, confident person. Having a smile on your face already goes a long way towards conveying that impression.

2. Always take down the gatekeeper's name. If you don't get it, ask the person to repeat their name. This is so simple to do and indicates that you see them as important, Manukyan said.

Put yourself in the gatekeeper's shoes.

"She's probably been in front of a screen all day long. New product ideas are exciting!" Manukyan explained. "If I can engage her in my creative efforts, that is going to break up her routine."

3. Believe that the company wants to hear from you. On the phone, you have but a few seconds to convey who you are and whether you're worthy of assisting. The tone of your voice is important. If you are unsure of yourself, that will come across.

"When I call, I do not want to sound like I am begging," Manukyan emphasized. "No one wants to associate with failure."

4. Know what you want to say before you get on the phone. Manukyan keeps it simple.

First, she says hello and repeats the gatekeeper's name. Then, "Thank you for picking up. I'm Ani, a product developer, and I am wondering if your company is open to new product ideas."

5. Before you begin contacting potential licensees, practice your delivery. You could practice in front of the mirror and/or on a friend. But the best way to hone in on your delivery is by calling other companies -- companies that are in another industry entirely, or maybe at the bottom of your list. You'll sound professional when you begin contacting companies that you actually want to license your product idea.

6. Manage your expectations. Some companies are more open than others. There may be a reason. For example, Manukyan was often referred to the legal department when she contacted companies in the baby products industry. Eventually, a product manager she messaged on LinkedIn explained that was because there are so many rules and regulations regarding baby products.

Keep in mind that while some companies have established procedures for reviewing new product ideas, others do not. The larger the company, the more challenging it can be to connect with a decision maker.

7. Don't despair. If you don't get in the first time, try again later. Your mind might race to conclusions. Don't let it. You can't be sure why.

Looking back, when I was developing my rotating label innovation at a manufacturing facility in Southern California, I got to know an operator on the production line extremely well. Chris Creel was his name, and he operated the press. Together, we worked through problem after problem. After work, we ate dinner together. In time, our relationship grew very strong. I got to know his family too. If our relationship hadn't been as solid, I'm certain my label never would have made it to market. He was absolutely critical to the success of my licensing deal. 

Honestly, befriending the sales team at your licensee is equally important. Without their support, your product may make it out of production, but never into a retailer. Typically, salespeople want to sell products that require little or no extra work. If your product idea will take extra time and money to develop, it's especially important that you get someone in sales to buy into your vision.

In my case, at CCL Label he was a salesman named Ted Wade. He was my champion. He had the personality to take on a tough job! There was no doubt that my rotating label was going to take additional time and work. But he didn't care. He was up for the challenge. Even after we'd figured out the manufacturing issues, we all knew the label wasn't going to be an easy sell: It required education at retail as well as an extra piece of machinery.

I am equally sure the project would have failed without him.

It's the people who actually get the job done -- who do the day-to-day heavy lifting -- that are so critical to your success. So please, take the time to forge relationships with these people. You cannot overlook this piece of the puzzle.

Most people try to build a relationship with the head honcho in the corner office. But, in my opinion, the people behind the scenes actually making things happen are far more important. If these people are not motivated to work hard on your behalf, progress may stall.

It definitely takes a village to bring a product to life. You're going to need a lot of help from everyone, including the gatekeeper -- so treat everyone with respect, and act like a team player.

Published on: Oct 18, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.