Whether we are running a speaking business in a COVID-19 world where events are shut down, or whether we’re running a business when events are actively looking for speakers to present on their stages, there’s one thing that will be required to keep our businesses viable:
And while you may not be able to ask your decision makers to exchange money for your expertise for a variety of reasons (budget locked down, not deciding for a few months, etc.), there is something you as a professional speaker can do to increase your chance of making a sale, and that’s asking for the next step.
Wait, Steps? What Steps?
Critical to understand about any business model (at least if you want to be successful in that model) is their sales cycle. Without knowing the sales cycle of your business model, you’ll only be able to stumble into revenue. While that may have been a strategy that worked pre-COVID-19, many speakers are finding that not having a map for what the next step on the buying journey is means that they’re traveling blind.
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In a pre-pandemic world, many meeting planners were willing to take us by the hand and lead speakers to presenting on their stages. That, fortunately or unfortunately, has ended. What that means for professional speakers is that we need to take the initiative in our own business and sales, and that starts with a basic understanding of the steps we need to guide our prospects through in order to get them to proposal and ultimately, to them exchanging revenue for our expertise.
Step 1: Cold Outreach
While we never reach out to a completely ‘cold’ account in my speaking business, many accounts do begin never having heard of us, and us knowing minimal information about them. Our goal here: Discover who makes decisions.
Step 2: Decision maker identified
In this stage, we know who is buying speakers, but we don’t know budget, decision-making process or buying timeframe. Those things have t be discovered before we can ensure the account is worth pursuing into the future.
Step 3: Pre-select
These high-value accounts contain all that we need to close the sale – who know who’s making decisions, potential budget ranges, decision-making process (single person, committee, etc.), and when they plan on deciding. It’s that final piece that means we hold off on these accoutns until their ‘buying window’ open up.
Step 4: Active opportunity
In this stage, we are in active conversations/proposal review with our prospects. They have out proposals and we have firm follow-up dates in place to ensure they have all they need from us to make a decision about a speaker.
That’s how we ran our speaking business for years. Then COVID-19 happened. While the pandemic rocked the events world, what it didn’t do was eliminate the need folks have for our expertise – it only changed the way we deliver it. The buying steps remain the same, and while we may be offering virtual programming until in-person meetings resume, we can still guide our prospects through those steps to make buying decisions for our expertise.
Below, I’ll list the most effective tools or ‘closes’ that we use to do exactly that. Before using them, however, understand that without understanding exactly what your decision maker needs accomplished, the tools won’t work effectively and may do more harm than good. I liken it to a bandsaw – it can be used to build a house or remove a limb. It’s imperative that we understand the purpose we’re using the tool for, and in the case of professional speaking, we need to know about the challenges our folks are struggling with and how our value proposition helps solve it. From there, we can wield the following tools to great effect.
The Closes We Love The Most
Keep in mind ‘closing’ someone isn’t forcing them into a decision. Instead, it is closing the door on the previous stage in the selling cycle I outlined above and moves them into the next step. So in no particular order, here are the closes I (and the salespeople I train) love the most:
1. Assumptive Close
Best used: To present the next steps in a process to lock in a decision or meeting date
How it sounds: “I appreciate you taking the time to share issues XYZ and I’ve explained how we solve that, so does this coming Wednesday at 2 or Thursday at 4 work better for us to discuss how that would look for your event?”
Why it’s awesome: It presents the options of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they’d like to take the next step.
Why would it get shut down?: This will get shut down if your decision maker needs more information. Ensure you ask “What would you need from me ahead of time to have what you need to make a decision?
2. Alignment Close
Best used: To position your expertise in alignment with their pre-stated challenges
How it sounds: “Because you/your website mentioned you were concerned with XYZ, would you be open-minded in hearing about the ways we’re doing that for our other clients that’s yielding them ABC results?”
Why would it get shut down?: If what you state isn’t what they’re actually focused on, this has a strong chance of getting shut down (and this happens every time a speaker positions themselves as an expert in XYZ and asks if they need a presenter on that topic).
3. Conditional Close
Best used: To drive scarcity and accelerate decisions
How it sounds: “Based on what we discussed, I think this is a good fit. If I can clear this with (my manager, calendar, dog, etc.), can we circle back on XYZ date/time to discuss what this would look like at your event/conference?”
Why would it get shut down?: If you haven’t aligned your expertise with their needs, count on this to get shut down. Why would they care about your busy schedule if they don’t need what is keeping you busy?
4. All Things Considered Close
Best used: When your call/offer/proposal is being mad when they are busy/not considering speakers at that moment
How it sounds: “I totally understand you’re busy/didn’t plan to decide this now/are slammed with all that stuff you mentioned, but if you didn’t have that on your plate, would this be something worth considering? (After an inevitable ‘yes’) That’s great to hear, and here’s how we’re taking all the time and stress out of deciding to work with us …”
Why would it get shut down?: Again, if you haven’t positioned your expertise in a way that draws a clear line as a solution to their problem, they won’t want to take you up on even a free offer. However, if you get a ‘yes’ out of them to your first question and can then back it up with you pre-built marketing, videos, easy-to-decide proposal, you remove their initial objection of ‘I’m too busy right now for XYZ reasons.’
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