September 22, 2020 Shawn

Overcoming Objections In Speaker Sales

If you’re taking the initiative on your speaking business and your sales, you’re going to run into objections. Objections in why someone should hire you, why they should pay you on your schedule and not theirs, and dozens of other areas. Speakers historically do a horrible job of overcoming objections because they don’t take the time to map out the objections they hear and find what others have done to build ways around them, and then ensure they have those solutions in front of them should that objection reappear in the future. This week, we’ll handle why objections occur in the initial parts of the outreach process, some of the common objections we hear, the process we use to capture them, and how we overcome them.

Why do objections occur in the first place in a speaking sale?

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Event planners have a clear idea of what they’re after, and if left to their own devices, they’ll likely choose someone who isn’t you – someone likely more expensive and less dedicated to serving their audience, but with a bigger brand or more talks under their belt. Meeting planners may be looking for someone in a certain budget range, a celebrity, someone who’s an expert in their industry or perhaps they only buy their speakers through a bureau. We’ve heard every one of those objections in the past and if you reach out enough, so will you. Often, if we don’t meet the ideal vision of what our buyers are looking for because we’re not a celebrity/free speaker/industry insider/represented by a bureau, most speakers simply bow out of the sales process.

By doing that, we’re robbing our businesses of potential revenue and our clients of the impact we can make on their audiences.

There’s a reason meeting planners are looking for ‘XYZ’-type of speaker, and unless we take the time to understand why, we’ll never have the opportunity to show them how we can also meet that need. It can be done via email if you are willing to stretch your sales cycle out by six months. But maybe you’d prefer to get that gig booked and get paid so you can begin building the presentation? That means we have to pick up the phone and have a conversation!

Before we address the most common objections, let’s dig into the process we use for capturing them and finding out how others have dealt with them. While it may be immediately helpful to give you the answers to each objection you’ll likely encounter as a speaker conducting outreach, that’s like giving you a fish. We’d rather teach you how to fish because you will encounter new objections and will need to know how to overcome them yourself in the future.

The Skillset starts with Mindset

First, overcoming objections starts with a mindset that hearing an objection we can’t overcome and not getting a gig does not equate to failure. Instead, it can mean we never lose a gig for that reason again. Personally, if it costs me $10,000 of lost revenue to learn a lesson but ensures I never lose a deal for that reason again, then the lesson could make me hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future. (And the reason I’m not worried about losing a gig is that I’m adding new, qualified leads into my pipeline every week!) Understand that as long as we’re learning from our losses, those losses can turn into gains in the future.

Second, it’s imperative that we capture objections immediately after we hear them. Otherwise, an objection just represents lost revenue and the next time we hear it we’ll be just as ill-prepared to deal with it. Capturing objections might look like a spreadsheet with the name of the prospect, the date the objection happened, what you did about it (if anything), and then what you want to try if you hear that objection in the future.

Third, there isn’t a new objection under the sun. Someone, somewhere, has heard that objection before and found a way to overcome it. Go looking online, through sales training materials and of course to find how others have dealt with a similar objection to get ideas about how to handle it the next time around.

Now that we understand why objections happen, the value of capturing them and building ways around them in the future, you’ve learned how to fish.

How do we go about fishing? That’s another story. The worst response we can make to someone’s objection is to confront it head on. If our meeting planner wants a celebrity, our job isn’t to talk them out of it – it’s to find out why. Only when we understand the reasoning behind wanting an industry expert, celebrity, or someone willing to work cheaply will we be able to show our prospects how we can provide that outcome with our expertise and at our fee level.

Now let’s talk about the most common type of objections we’ll encounter in the world of speaker sales and how we’ve learned to handle them.

Objection 1: We Only Use Industry Insiders/Our Own Members

This objection comes in two flavors. The first is that the buyer says they don’t pay their speakers. While this objection can be overcome early by not targeting organizations who’ve never hired an external speaker, we do occasionally run into it even in a qualified pipeline. Because we only pursue organizations that have hired external speakers, when we hear this objection we immediately look at our account notes and call the person out on what might be a misunderstanding or an outright lie.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you only used insiders/unpaid speakers. I saw that you brought in XYZ speaker last year – I’d love to know how you got them to speak for free?”

That line will either reveal that your prospect didn’t know you were a paid keynote speaker who was willing to do your research, or it will reveal that the person you’re speaking with isn’t the one who hires paid keynote speakers. In the second case, you can then find the name of the actual decision maker and restart your conversation. Occasionally, budgets might have changed and that’s why they’re not paying speakers this year. If that’s the case, get a firm follow-up date to circle back and see if things have changed there.

Objection 2: We only want industry insiders
We find this objection is most commonly due to the fact that most speakers aren’t willing to learn about their audiences enough to customize their content to that industry. Once we describe we can deliver between 50-60 customized references within our hourlong keynote, the objection tends to disappear. However, if a prospect is still set on only using people who have decades of experience in their audience’s industry, here’s a line that’s worked well for us:

“You’ll have 400 audience members at that event, each of whom is an industry expert, and they’ll be sharing with each other the whole conference. Don’t you think they’d like to learn what’s working across dozens of other industries that they can apply? That’s what we deliver.”

Objection 3: We only use celebrities

Meeting planners use celebrities for a reason, and it isn’t because they love rubbing elbows with politicians or sports figures. It’s imperative to learn WHY they want a celebrity to overcome this objection. Is it to get butts in seats? To increase their registration fee so their audience can rub elbows with the celebrity and the organization can capture more revenue? In either case, once we know why they want a celebrity, we can explain how we can achieve that same result for often a fraction of what the celebrity charges. How? Speakers can create pre-event videos, articles and courses that will help drive registration and provide follow-up materials to ensure implementation that a celebrity never will take the time to create.

Objection 4: We only have $X amount of dollars for our speaker
While every meeting planner on the planet is cost-conscious even in the best economy, they are also trying to preserve budget as much as they can. If their fee is below what you’re willing to leave the office to deliver, there are plenty of ways to make up the difference through sponsorships from vendor companies that want to get in front of that audience, or through purchases of books/online courses a speaker can create that would come from a different budget, or through in-kind services that may generate more revenue for your speaking business.

Objection 5: We only hire speakers through bureaus
While I can’t think of a better blog or website to follow religiously than if someone works for a speaking bureau (bureau sales reps essentially do the same thing we advocate speakers do: reach out and drive speaking sales), anyone reading this who works for a bureau is probably going to dislike me a lot after they read the next few paragraphs.

Sometimes, organizations will tell speakers, “We only work with XYZ speaker’s bureau.” Admittedly, in my early days in this business, that line stopped me cold. I wasn’t being represented by any bureaus and they weren’t calling me with business. However, once we used the same template we described earlier in this article to capture, map and solve objections, we discovered that just because someone preferred to work with a bureau didn’t mean they weren’t willing to hire me. They just had a reason for using bureaus that I didn’t yet know.

Why would a meeting planner prefer working with speakers bureaus?
First, decision makers hire speakers through bureaus for financial security. Funds from the meeting planner’s budget are never transferred directly to the speaker. Once paid by the meeting planner to the bureau, funds are held in escrow by the bureau until after the speaker has delivered the talk. Only then is the speaker paid their fee (bureaus capture a percentage of that meeting planner’s fee to create revenue for themselves). If the speaker doesn’t show up, the money is refunded to the meeting planner.
Second, bureaus are used for security of decision. Speakers’ bureaus usually only work with speakers who are already in high demand. That means meeting planners aren’t taking the chance of hiring a boring speaker as the speaker wouldn’t have been recommended to them by the bureau in the first place.

Third, bureaus are used for the security of the topic’s speaker. Bureaus always provide multiple options of speakers to a meeting planner, usually covering the same topic. If the first speaker can’t make the event due to travel delays or an emergency, one of the other vetted bureau speakers can step in and deliver on that topic.

Each of those three reasons have stopped us in the past when a meeting planner told us they only worked with bureaus. Having done the research, I can say that each can be overcome. Here’s how we do it.

If their love of bureaus is about financial security, we can mention we build in clauses in our contract that covers both of us in the event of cancellation or if the event converts from a live event to a virtual one. We can also split up payment to ensure they don’t have to outlay all of our fee at once.

If their choice of using bureaus is about security of decision, we can provide video testimonials from others who have hired us in the past. It’s why we make grabbing the person who hired us our first stop when leaving a stage to get that video – these videos convert future business better than any random audience member saying what a great time they had.

Finally, if it’s about security of a topic-specific speaker, we can also build in no-show contingencies where we’ll pay for another speaker on our topic to be on site to deliver if we can’t make it and give them a no-cost talk at their next conference to make up for the trouble.

Of course, the meeting planner may still prefer to work with a bureau because of a pre-existing relationship. In that case, we can still gather all the things they’ll be doing to vet the speakers the bureau does send, find out what kind of video reels they prefer reviewing, etc., and offer to contact the bureau for them to ensure our name is thrown in with the other speakers they’re considering. From there, it’s a simple call to the bureau mentioning we were speaking with one of their clients and everyone wanted to ensure you ran the business through the bureau. “What info do you need from me to have my information sent over to XYZ event planner along with your other speaker options?”

If we never let an objection stop us twice, we’ll have the kind of revenues we deserve and be making an impact that both our audiences and the people who hired us will be thankful for!

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