For more than a year, we’ve been focused on sales systems for speakers, because we’ve learned that unless we’re running a good business, we won’t have many chances to share our expertise from the stage or be able to do it for very long. While most speakers are experts in a specific area, few are good business- or sales- people. The difference between an expert and a speaker running a great business is the ability to connect one’s expertise to a buyer’s needs. On that account, most speakers aren’t very good.
If you’re a professional speaker (or want to be) and you’ve been putting more focus on the speech, your stories, setting up your virtual presentation studio or anything that doesn’t put you in front of people who can hire you, you’re not alone. And at least at the outset of your business, it’s not your fault. Due to bad advice and simply not knowing any better, many speakers struggle for years before realizing the most valuable skill they can develop is eliciting buyer interest (my own hand went up on that one too – it took me half a decade to figure this out).
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There’s a piece of advice many speakers receive: you have to niche to get rich. Come to find out, it’s only half true. We do need to be experts in producing certain outcomes for our clients, but if we only service one industry we hamstring our business. The reason this belief persists is that it’s easy to learn how to elicit interest if you only serve one type of industry and one type of buyer – like manufacturing chief executive officers, for instance. If we solve ‘X’ problem and most manufacturing CEOs suffer from it, then we’ll likely get pretty good at being able to describe the problem to that type of buyer, in that industry, and how our expertise helps.
The problem comes when the manufacturing industry takes a nosedive and we don’t know how to elicit anyone else’s interest in distribution, HR, leadership, etc. Being able to elicit interest is a fundamental skill of good salespeople and for speakers who want to be able to weather any economic storm or pandemic. It requires speakers do something that most of us are awful at – and that’s being more interested in our clients than in ourselves or our stories.
In order to be able to elicit interest, which will get a prospect at least open to consider how our topic can solve the specific problem their audience is suffering from (which we may not know before we have our first conversation with them), we need to be able to empathize with the challenges that our prospects have. Once we learn their challenges, we can build a bridge from our expertise to the desired future state of our prospects. Only when that happens have we justified them investing in us and inviting us to send over a proposal. So how do we know someone’s specific challenges when they don’t post them online?
First, understand that each decision maker will have specific challenges they need to find experts to help their audience solve. Those challenges are rarely publicized or put on a website. Even if an entire industry is suffering from a general challenge, like managing remote workers, the way that looks for widget manufacturers in the southeastern US is going to be unique. Most speakers pitch a generic value proposition and then are surprised when they’re not selected. It’s easy to get to the front of the line of potential speakers if you’re offering to address the specific challenge of managing remote millennial workers in the southeastern widget manufacturing industry who are slated to be managers next year. See the difference? No amount of website research, reading industry publications or guessing will reveal challenges that specific, but there is a way to find those challenges before you send over a proposal or fill out at RFP.
Have a conversation.
But how do we call someone and get them to reveal the challenges they need solved at their live or virtual event when they may have never met us before?
Step 1: Set context
Because we’ll be asking people to pull back the curtain on their company, member challenges and perhaps their entire industry, we need to set context with our buyers. We wouldn’t reveal personal medical history to a stranger on their street, but if that person mentioned they were a specialist in a medical field we needed help in, we’d be much more open to having a chat.
After we identify we’re speaking to someone qualified to tell us about the challenges an event needs solved (these folks tend to have titles like meeting planner, executive director, CEO, etc.) we then ask what challenges their audience is facing now or what solutions they’ll need their live/virtual event to produce in order to consider their speaker choice a success?
Ninety percent of the time, that gets us exactly what we need to elicit their interest by linking our value proposition with that specific challenge. If we’re met with occasional pushback, we immediately move to step 2.
Step 2: Disqualify yourself
It may seem odd to disqualify ourselves out of the opportunity of getting paid thousands of dollars for our expertise, but it’s imperative that we’re willing to. Why? It shows our decision makers a few things about us, our expertise and the type of businesses we run. First, it shows that we’re not just out to make a buck – we honestly want to help people if they’re suffering from a problem we can solve. Second, it shows that we’re busy too – if we’re not a good fit for them then there are plenty of folks who will happily pay our fee and we don’t have time to muck around if it’s not a good fit. Third, it shows that we’re more interested in serving than in taking. Our disqualification script, if we are met with pushback when we ask about challenges, is simple:
“I’m not even sure if I’m going to be a good fit for this event and don’t want to waste your time or mine. If you’ll share with me what you’re looking to have your audience do more, better or differently to consider your event a success, we’ll know very quickly if this is a conversation worth continuing.”
Practice that line until it rolls off your tongue with the same skill as the speech you share from stages.
Step 3: Build the bridge from you to them
Be familiar enough with all the ways your expertise benefits your audiences that when you hear an outcome that you can help achieve, it’s easy for you to map that path for your prospect. While your expertise may be in millennial retention, when you hear your prospect mention that their audience is looking for ways to maximize profitability during the business crisis COVID-19 has caused, you’ll be ready to show them how their audience’s millennials are not only the future of their companies, but also the most innovative generation at finding cheaper ways to get any job done. That meets the prospect’s desired end-state for their event (profitability) and when you submit your proposal and speech title, you’ll be able to customize it to ‘Maximizing Profitability With Your Millennials.’
Think that will get you considered before other speakers with generic talks? Absolutely. We’ve closed multiple 6 figures of business off of that simple, 3 step process to elicit interest.
Eliciting interest, like everything with running a speaker business, can be laid out in a system that can maximize revenue for you and increase the impact you can have for your next audience.
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