After my Spanish Bible app experienced some success I made plans grow it even further.
Since lots of people were already buying our Bible audiobook inside the app, I figured it was a natural extension to offer other items to our users. Like ebooks.
The problem of course was that I didn’t own the rights to any good Christian ebooks. Publishers do.
So somehow I had to figure out how to convince them to let me license their books to sell as in-app purchases in my apps.
Eventually I convinced LifeWay, The American Bible Society, Barbour Publishing, Biblica, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, and other publishers to sign book licensing agreements with me.
Cold calling and email would have made this hard if not impossible. So I found a conference that’s devoted to the Spanish Christian publishing industry and bought a plane ticket to Miami.
My goal was to convince as many publishers as possible to license their books to me so I could convert them to ebooks and sell them in our apps.
Step 1: Know What You Want & Who Can Give It To You
When I showed up I didn’t know who were the decision makers at the publishers. So I just started asking the employees at the booths and eventually found out that each company has a licensing manager who has the authority to sign license agreements.
Unfortunately when these same booth workers asked me what kind of terms I was looking for, I didn’t know.
I’d never seen a licensing contract in my life. But this had an easy solution!
I hopped on to Rocket Lawyer and downloaded one of their example contracts. They have tons of contracts you can use (or at least start with before you get an expensive lawyer). You can see the example I started with right here.
With that example agreement, plus talking to a bunch of publisher employees, I learned the following about the publishing industry:
– Since I was in the Spanish publishing industry, sometimes there was a single person for Spanish licensing. Other times Spanish was just a part of a larger licensing job.
– Licenses are sold regionally, by country. You can also ask for a worldwide license
– Everty medium (book, ebook, audiobook, etc.) is a separate type of license
– You can also get a license to create and sell something new based off of someone else’s work (e.g. a license to make an audiobook)
I’ll spare you more details, so just know that was enough to learn what I needed, and from who:
A worldwide license to sell Spanish ebooks, signed by a licensing manager
Step 2: Learn How to Pitch a Stranger on Their Terms
When I very first arrived and started talking to booth workers my pitch went something like this (warning, it’s awful):
Hi! My name’s Trevor McKendrick. I’m the founder of Salem Software and we make Bible study software for mobile devices. We focus 100% on native Spanish speakers because we believe they’re a neglected demographic. This is natural since most companies do English first, then Spanish as an afterthought. We also sell other Christian books and content in our mobile app store.
You probably didn’t even read all that because it was so boring. And it was boring because it was about me!
A pitch needs to be from the point of view of the person you’re pitching.
How will they benefit? What’s in it for them? What words do they use to describe what you’re talking about?
After politely being listened to for a few hours, I changed my pitch a bit. After some experimentation and listening to publishers for a few hours, I got it down to this:
We do digital distribution.
So much better!
The publishers now instantly understood 2 things:
1. What Salem Software does (sell books digitally)
2. How we could help them (sell more of their books)
Of course at this point I was still a long way from closing a licensing deal, but at least now we could have that conversation using terms we both understood.
Step 3: Find The Decision Maker
Because the licensing managers have so much power they’re also in high demand, and can be hard to reach.
One of the things I learned is that most of them were not on the ground floor of the conference. They were up in private offices on the 2nd floor. The offices were for meeting with distributors like me, but most people seemed to already have appointments before the conference even started. Oops.
So instead I had to do a great job pitching the booth manager so they would feel comfortable introducing me to the licensing manager. This worked roughly 50% of the time.
The other 50% of the time the booth manager would happily give me the name of the licensing manager, but tell me that either 1. they weren’t at the conference at all (bad), or 2. they were already all booked with appointments (not as bad).
In that case, I’d go up to the offices upstairs and just ask to speak with the licensing manager, by name.
This worked every single time.
Step 4: Pitch the Decision Maker
Now I had the full attention of the licensing manager. Perfect. This was the exact moment I was hoping for when I flew 3,000 miles and spent $1,000 to get here.
I’d then go into more detail about how the arrangement would work. To my surprise, what we were doing was fairly new to most of these managers.
So instead of asking whether I could email them a draft contract, I’d ask permission to email a one-page summary instead.
This gem of a PDF explains step-by-step how the process works, and how it benefits them.
(Had I created that one-pager yet? Nope. I did that via Elance later that night for $100.)
Really important: By the end of the conversation it should be crystal clear what the next step is in the process, and who will be doing it. In my case, I was going to email the manager that 1-page summary.
I don’t know for sure, but one of the keys to convincing publishers to work with me was that I did all of the work for them. They just signed the contract, sent over the PDF’s, and then received a quarterly check. I promised to convert the PDF, upload it to our platform, answer customer support, send them a royalty report, etc.
If you’re still trying to just get a leg up, I’d suggest doing as much as reasonbly possible for the person on the other side of the deal.
Step 5: Record Notes From your Conversation Immediately
After every single conversation I would immediately write down the details of what happened. This included:
– the person’s name
– something specific about them to help me put a face to the name
– the follow up we agreed on (phone call, email, etc.)
– any personal details they might have mentioned
This would all go on their business card. Later that night I’d type all my notes into my giant tracker (aka a Google Spreadsheet, see Step 6).
Step 6: Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up + Track Deals
It’s amazing how many people don’t follow up. By just showing up and doing what you promised to do, you’ll be ahead of 80% of the field.
Here’s an example of the first email I sent after the conference (names changed):
We met the last day of Expolit after I spoke with Allison down at your booth.
By way of reminder, we do digital distribution through our Bible study app in the App Store. We’re looking to license additional Spanish Christian content to sell as in-app purchases (Our website is here: http://salemsoftware.org.)
I’ve identified a few titles that look like a good fit for our customers (e.g. Diario Vivir|Muerto, Fe Asombrosa). It would also be good to know if you have any Bible study guides, translations, or study plans available.
Attached is a 1-page PDF explaining how we usually work with publishers. Let me know if you have any questions and what next steps are.
With hindsight (this was one of the first followup emails I sent) this did some things well and others poorly:
– I followed up quickly and mentioned when I met him
– Reminded him of who we are and what we do
– Should NOT have asked him what next steps are
– Instead should have asked if I could send over a copy of the draft contract
– Should have been much shorter. 5 sentences or less, ideally.
Some people will say I should have just included the contract in this email. But I like sending the 1-pager and contract in separate emails. By allowing him to specifically agree to let me send the contract he’s also agreeing to read it and respond.
This is exactly what customer-relationship management (CRM) tools are for. But if you’re not trying to contact hundreds of people (I reached out to maybe 20), this is totally doable with a spreadsheet.
The most important thing is update it after every conversation. Whether an email or a phone call, you gotta write it down.
If you don’t you’ll lose track of the status on each person and you’ll have to dig through your entire email chain to figure it out.
Step 7: Keep Going Until You Get a No
This is the hardest part. These people work in big companies with huge bureaucracies. They can’t move as quickly as small companies like us.
So you have to kindly stay in touch. Once every 2 weeks. Once a month. Email them. Call them and leave a friendly voice mail.
One important thing to do: don’t say the same thing every time. Show them you’re making progress.
Even better is to show them you’ve made progress with one of their competitors.
For example, this would work in an email:
I’m still looking forward to hearing back about that contract I sent over. I’ve attached it here for your reference.
We just got INSERT COMPETITOR HERE on our platform and things are going great. We’d love to have you, too.
Let me know when works for a phone call with you… I’m available all day Thursday and Friday.
This does a few things:
1. You can follow up without sounding stale. Nothing is worse than being bothered by the same person with the exact same request, over and over.
2. I made it easy for them to see the contract again. They don’t have to dig it out and search for that old email.
3. By mentioning the competitor it implies they are missing out.
4. I have zero idea what their schedule is, but I don’t want to just say “tell me when works for you” because that’s too broad. So instead I tell them I’m totally free for two specific days and let them work that with their schedule.
Follow up is the name of the game. Don’t get discouraged! One of my contracts took over 7 months to close. The VP in-charge of the deal was just incredibly busy. She wasn’t annoyed by me. She wanted to work with me. It just took some persistance to get to the top of her todo list.
Some people will eventually get back to you and say they’re not interested. And that’s actually a good thing, since it lets you focus your efforts on other places.
But if talked to your contact in person and they were interested then, don’t stop reaching out until you get a definite no. They’re probably like most people and are just busy.
This would work with finding customers, vendors, partners… anyone you want to do business with. Find them, show them how you add value, and keep in touch until you close that deal!