June 30, 2020 Shawn

Unsticking A Stuck Speaking Proposal

For professional speakers, the toughest part of a sales process is often not getting a conversation, or even talking about fees. Instead, the toughest part for many speakers is what happens AFTER we send our speaking proposal. This is one of the rare instances when, try as we might to control the sales process, we’re left in limbo waiting on someone else’s decision.

To run good businesses, speakers need to understand that we always need to maintain the next step of any conversation or process – even when it seems like we’re waiting on a proposal to be signed. Too many speakers will send a proposal and consider it money in the bank, and then wonder why months pass and they don’t hear back from their clients on whether the deal even closed!

Waiting for prospects to pick up the phone isn’t the way good businesses are run, and waiting for potential clients to ‘get around to locking us in by signing the proposal’ is a poor model as well.

Let’s preface everything that follows by saying that if we are left waiting for the client to get back to us with a signed proposal, it means we didn’t do a few things right along the way. Before we talk about how to get these ‘stalled’ deals moving, we need to ensure we’re doing everything in our power to prevent them from becoming stalled in the first place.

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Dealing with the actual DM
Many speakers will have what they think is a great conversation and send a proposal, then wonder why they never get it back. If they eventually get it together enough to call and inquire where the deal is at, they’ll discover that the person they sent their proposal to didn’t have the authority to sign it! This means we weren’t dealing with the decision-maker, or ‘DM.’

Overcome this by ensuring you ask ‘Are you responsible for selecting speakers for X event at Y location?’ And follow up with, ‘Who else will need to review the terms and fee schedule, or will that just be you?’ That will ensure you don’t end up in a waiting game for your signed proposal and payment.

Understanding the decision-making process
Even when we do confirm we’re speaking with the right person, many speakers will drop the ball here and never get an understanding of how speakers will be selected for an event. When they follow up on a late proposal, they’ll discover that the committee hasn’t met yet, they haven’t found time to run it by their boss, or their finance office hasn’t approved the deal!

To ensure this doesn’t create a roadblock, ensure you ask, “To help me understand what to send over in my proposal, please educate me on how you decide on your speakers? Yourself, yourself and some other folks, or a committee …?”

Understand budget ranges

Even after a great conversation with a confirmed decision maker and a locked-on decision-making process, speakers can still fail out of the gate when they send a proposal that’s way out of range of what their client can pay!

Alternatively, when a speaker sends a proposal for much less than they normally pay for a keynote, many clients will stall on the deal because they may doubt you’re of the ‘keynote quality’ they want for their members.

Overcome this one by taking the time to ask “What’s your historical budget for keynote speakers? And is about that this year as well?”

Understand selection timelines

With everything else in place, a proposal can still stall if the client isn’t even planning on making a decision until some point in the future. Of course, we can’t plan revenue of allocate time to prepare unless we know we’re locked in, so knowing when a client will be making a decision is critical to ensuring proposals close quickly.

To discover this ensure you ask, “When will you be locking in your speakers?”

With those items in place, some deals will still stall. Here’s what we do before, during and after sales convos to ensure our proposals experience as little delay as possible in being executed (and getting revenue in the door).

Before the sales conversation:
If you’re trying to convince an organization to drop thousands of dollars for a talk, you need to ensure they’re used to hiring professional speakers for their events and not just internal speaker/vendors. Ensure your clients have a history of hiring external speakers and get likely budgets of those speakers if possible by Googling ‘(past speaker’s name)’ and “bureau” or “espeakers.”

While that’s not going to deliver a 100% accurate fee the organization may have paid a past speaker, it’ll be better than walking into a sales conversation not knowing.

During the sales conversation:
We always ensure we discover the challenges a client needs addressed as part of our sales conversation. Of course, we position ourselves as solution providers instead of just speakers and ensure our proposal and speech title align with that solution. During the conversation, we of course confirm the DM, their decision-making process, budget ranges and when they’ll be selecting speakers. We always ensure we confirm a follow-up date close to their decision-making timeline and get that task into our CRM.

After the sales conversation:
Before we even send a proposal via email, we send a thank-you note to our DM in the mail. Next, we ensure we’re connected with them on LinkedIn and send a connection request if necessary. In our proposals, we leverage a brilliant sales technique (that we didn’t event, or we’d claim it!) called a ‘soft hold.’

What’s a ‘soft hold’ and how does it work? A soft hold is a way to create scarcity and provide a reason to follow up, should we not hear from the client first. If a client tells us they’ll be looking to make a decision for their speaker lineup on X date, we’ll say, “Happy to put a soft hold on your event dates and hold those dates with a soft hold. We’ll maintain the hold until Y date (the date they say they’ll be selecting speakers by).

If we haven’t heard from the decision maker close to their selection date, we reach out and ask “Can we lift that ‘soft hold’ on your event date and make it available to other clients?” We also mention in our proposals that the terms of our agreement can be held until (date of their speaker selection).

And a variance on the ‘puppy close’:

In old-school sales, pet shops used to give hesitant parents a puppy to take home and ‘try out’ over the weekend. If they didn’t like the puppy, they were free to bring it back. Of course, not very many puppies were returned. We use a variance on this close when we hear ‘we should have already selected our speakers/we’re selecting them now.’

If a decision maker is making a decision soon/have the ability to make it whenever they’d like, we set up the pre-event brief in the next week or two following the sales call – and get it on the calendar before we hang up if possible.  If the proposal hasn’t been executed by the pre-event brief, we use the scheduled call to confirm when the proposal WILL be executed and sent back.

Instead of becoming a pest, we establish ourselves as solution providers, peers and above all – good businesspeople. Those are the kinds of people organizations want for their members and in their employee ranks – ensuring we’re the people they’ll want on their stages.

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