This particular musing is directed mostly towards Licensors, but I believe the contents will prove to be useful advice for all our Members. As a licensed artist – that is, a designer/creator who generates revenue from licensing your property for income, selling your work is the most crucial aspect of your career, perhaps even more so than designing – though it is close. Without sales, you have only a collection of beautiful artwork, but no residual income being derived therefrom. I do realize that, for some of you, painting is more of a hobby, and the fact you generate spending money is a welcome bonus; however, for many Members, the income generated from licensing is vital to your success. Those of you in the latter category must, of course, continue to sell in order to generate more and more revenue. There is a caveat; many of you Members are actively licensing and count on the revenue stream as your source of regular income, but have Licensing Agents representing you and handling all of your sales. You may not currently need the suggested musings below, but it can’t hurt to keep reading … you never know when these thoughts may prove useful.
I do want to add one small caveat before moving on: please understand that I am not an expert in sales, nor am I professing to be such. These are just some points and ideas I have garnered from my years of work in the licensing business. As with all of our writings, please take them for what they are, our ideas and perhaps some new ways of thinking about your participation in the world of licensing. Some may apply directly to you, others may not. Hopefully we are providing you with suggestions for moving forward and being the great licensing successes we know you can be.
Most people in sales live and die by the mantra “A-B-C”, or Always Be Closing. This holds true for any aspect of sales. Closing a deal is the single most important element in the sell; that is, getting your target to agree to purchase that which you are selling. To stop closing is to stop working. Okay, so if the close is the end game, how do you get there? What steps must be taken in order to get to the point when you are ready to close the sale, and what pratfalls happen to even the best of us during this process?
Sales is much like any other aspect of your daily work life, you must be mentally prepared to accept the challenge and take it on with gusto. It’s one thing to understand conceptually that increasing sales leads to increasing revenue, but it’s altogether different translating that into your work ethic and daily/weekly habits. One important question, thus, is how do you go about preparing yourself and what do you do when you just can’t muster the will to get “aggressive”?
Let’s face it, no one likes to feel as though they’re not wanted; and this is precisely how salespeople feel, at times, and this feeling can be a monumental stumbling block. I’m reminded of a particular Seinfeld episode where a telemarketer calls Jerry to see if he is interested in switching long-distance service. Jerry asks the man if he can get his number so he can call him back later. The telemarketer responds with something to the effect that they are not allowed to do that. So Jerry states, “Oh, I guess you don’t want people calling you at home.” The telemarketer replies, “no”, and Jerry responds, “Oh, well then, you know how I feel”, and hangs up. Now, this is an extreme example, because we aren’t talking about calling people in their homes and interrupting them over dinner; however, you have to admit that it can feel as though you’re just an unimportant interruption, even though you’re calling someone at work. And even though executing licensing deals is a major part of their job, they can still make you feel like a bother or a burden. Don’t get me wrong, I do commiserate, for I have to admit that, when someone calls me at the office to see if I’m interested in a new color copier or switching to a T-1 line, I probably sound a bit off-putting, because to me, at the moment, I’m focused on something else. Even if what they are selling is important and could save me money, I fail to see it that way at that very moment. My first instinct is to think that they are trying to take advantage of me and they are taking me away from something more important.
If I feel this way, others must as well. So how do I reconcile my feelings when I am called by a salesman with how I act when I have to turn the tables and try to sell to someone else? Because I was always taught to live by the motto “do unto others as you would have done unto you”, I try very hard to make sure I don’t come across as a bother when I sell. I find that the people who sound genuine to me in their sales approach, who inquire whether or not I am too busy to speak at that moment and accept my protestations without pushing back too hard, are the ones who receive the best response from me in return. I may not buy what they are selling, but at least I listen to what they have to sell. If that approach works on me, why would it not work on others?
There is no denying that making sales calls can be intimidating, and this intimidation factor can lead us to decide that it’s easier to just not make the call. The problem is, unless you receive regular calls from Licensees and exceed your projected income by leaps and bounds every quarter, sales are essential to your business survival. Too many decisions not to call can eventually lead to the demise of your business.
So how does one go about combating the paralyzing feelings of intimidation? Well, one answer may have been best paraphrased by Nike, as in, “just do it.” Sounds overly straightforward, but it’s true. Just pick up the phone and make the call – it works. I know many people in sales, and the one trait I see in all of them is the unrelenting need for a sale, at all cost, with no obstacle too great. It is the essence of their very being to continually push for one sale after another. It’s as if they were put on this Earth to do but one thing; convince people to do something they had not intended to do when they woke up that day. And for these ‘expert’ sellers, securing one sale is never enough; there is no limit to the potential number of sales, in their eyes, only a limit in the number of hours in a day. Every call they make could be a sale which leads to an exponential increase in their income. And when it comes to income, it’s never enough. This is why salespeople are paid on commission. Companies know that, to harness that drive, you must dangle the proverbial carrot in front of the horse. That carrot is the commission on each sale. You have to think of your business that way; that selling someone a license is only the tip of the iceberg, that for every one company that signs a license agreement with you, there should be a hundred more waiting in line; that for every call you make a potential new licensing partner (which typically means 2 – 5 years of steady income) could emerge.
Now I do realize that you, as artists, were not put on this Earth to sell; you were put on this Earth to create beautiful works of art and to design new products for everyone to enjoy. And the instincts, guile, and quick-thinking of a salesperson do not instantly materialize in people not born with such attributes. However, just think of it this way, salespeople (who are, on average, Type-A personalities) usually have to open up their creative side when working a deal. They may have to design presentations; they may have to think creatively to work through impediments to a deal; etc. Just as they were not born with the inherent ability to create, but have to figure out ways to compensate, you too have to figure out ways to create a salesperson’s mentality from a place it may not exist.
Now for the advice part, beyond following the Nike credo to “Just Do It”, what else can be done as motivation to push ourselves forward in sales? When I prepare myself to reach out to a new prospect, the first thing I do is as much research about the Company as I possibly can. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by trying to sell something to someone who doesn’t have any need for what you are selling. We all want to believe that what we have to sell works for everyone, but let’s face it, this isn’t true. Even in licensing; with respect to every design ever created; there are some product categories that are just not right for the art. It may seem to us that Hannah Montana is everywhere right now, but I guarantee there are some Licensees that have absolutely no need for anything with Hannah on it and it would be absolutely fruitless for Disney to try and sell them on licensing Hannah. So don’t target the wrong products: it’s just a waste of time to even try and only serves to take you away from the more meaningful calls that could actually generate positive results.
Once I have completed researching my prey, I mean “target “, the next step is to convince myself that, without a doubt, what I have to sell is the most important item this company needs. This is a very important point and is the essence of sales. If even a smidgen of doubt that your art is not perfect for this particular Licensee creeps into your head, it will come out in your presentation and will be picked up by the Licensee. There are verbal and non-verbal cues bounced around throughout any conversation, and any one of them can subconsciously lead to the target’s making a decision before you’ve ever had a chance to convince them otherwise. This is a competitive enough market (even without the terrible downturn) and you do not want to give Licensees another reason to say no. Having an unyielding belief in your property’s potential for success, and truly believing that by using your art, the target will have the most successful product ever manufactured, will come through on the other end of the line and, at the very least, get you an extended conversation.
On a related topic, I once read an interesting article regarding job searches. It was written by an expert recruiter speaking about how to motivate oneself every day when looking for a new job. Because finding a job is sales, the advice translates. This recruiter advised its readers that, whenever they felt like they just didn’t have it in them to make that next call; they needed to stand in front of the mirror with a big smile on their face for a few minutes. Seeing someone smiling back at you (even if it’s just your own reflection) has a profound effect on your attitude. It’s not such a daunting task and easy enough to test, so why not try?
Another technique is to be sure to have as many potential questions answered (at least in your head – if not in front of you on paper) before you make the call. You need to anticipate all potential questions so that your answers not only flow quickly, but are also made convincingly. Hesitation suggests uncertainty which raises questions on the part of the Licensee and, you guessed it, provides another reason for he or she to say no.
Also, and this is perhaps the salesperson’s greatest weapon, you must be prepared to deflect all declinations that may be thrown at you. There is an art to responding to reasons why a Licensee won’t license your work without antagonizing the target. If you can get them explore possibilities with you, they may reconsider their initial rejection. You must find that balance between convincing someone that your art is perfect for their product and simply trying to impose your will upon the person on the other end. Burning bridges because you pushed too hard can ensure you will never again have the opportunity to work with that Company, which is not something you want, I am sure. But that’s not to say that you should just accept what they say and move on to the next call. In a friendly manner, when the Licensee says they just don’t use geometric shapes, ask them if you can prepare some new designs based more on what they are looking for. If they tell you that they only review design submissions in July and it’s December, ask if you can send them color copies in the mail to be put in the “to be reviewed” pile. Again, don’t be pushy and don’t come across as needy, but be prepared to creatively try to deflect negative responses.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not forget the most vital component. It is amazing how many people do not understand this one, simple, yet oh-so-important point. You must ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. This is the essence of the close, for there is no sale without it. Your target may have an inclination why you called and what you want, but you will not get it until you ask. It’s as simple as that.
Again, these are just some ideas for you to choose to apply as you see fit. Every situation is unique and may be best served with a different action (or inaction for that matter). We can only offer you the opportunity to think about what we have written and apply it as you see fit. Until next time, happy selling and best of luck in all that you do.