It Starts with a Handshake

Originally published in the 2012 Winter issue of the MN Auctioneer magazine.

As many a marketing industry professional can tell you, it is often the little things that can make a sale. This technique is the same for the auction industry as well. Great marketing can be splashy billboards, fancy websites and great brochure design, but it can also be as important as a simple handshake or word of mouth. EVERYTHING you do to promote yourself including introducing yourself to someone else when you meet them is part of how you market yourself and your company.

At the end of September I had the opportunity to attend the Benefit Auction Summit in Denver Colorado. As in past years, this seminar brought together some of the top benefit auctioneers in the country to discuss and share great ideas and learn new techniques. The two day seminar dug deep into a variety of topics and the networking was second to none.

During one of the seminars the speaker, a professional event planner/coordinator, spoke on why her clients and other nonprofits hire professional benefit auctioneers. Sometimes the answers surprised us and other times they did not, but one piece of knowledge became abundantly clear. People outside the NAA have never heard of the “Benefit Auctioneer Specialist” designation. Nonprofit clients don’t realize there is a difference between two benefit auctioneers if one has “BAS” behind their name.

This revelation got me thinking. The NAA has many wonderful designations that include, CAI, AARE, GPPA, BAS, ATS, CES, but clients outside the NAA don’t know or even care what they mean. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us as MSAA members don’t even know what all those designations mean or why we should get them, do we? The same could be said for the initials MSAA.

As a past president, the MSAA initials mean a great deal to me, but I can’t expect a prospective client to care what they mean. That client is coming to me in need of my skills and service, not because they like to hire members of professional organizations. By this point you are probably wondering what all this has to do with marketing. If you take a minute to put yourself in the shoes of your possible client you may be able to see it.

Using an event planner for a possible benefit auction as an example, I may see the initials CSEP behind their name. Does that mean anything to you? Probably not, but to them is means a great deal. CSEP stands for Certified Special Events Planner. To be certified you have study and take a $600 exam that is only available 4 times a year. Plus there are a great number of fees and study/exam instruction as well. I think it is safe to say that someone with the initials CSEP behind their name, is a professional and knows how to plan events.

Instead of trying to sell a client on how great your certifications, are talk to them about how well you are able to work with THEM, a certified professional. That type of homework can go a long way to opening doors with prospective clients.

Imagine if someone came up to you and said, “I see you are a member of the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association. That’s wonderful, I am looking for an auctioneer who is connected with their industry through education and professional networking.” Not only would I meet that person for lunch to talk about their possible auction, but I would probably pick up the tab as well.

All of this is part of marketing yourself. It can take a little time and preparation, but it will pay off in the end. Incidentally, it only took me 3 minutes on Google to do all the research I needed regarding the CSEP certification. The time you spend preparing to meet a possible client is time you will be thankful for on the day of your auction!

Carrying the Conversation Forward

Originally published in the 2012 Summer issue of the MN Auctioneer magazine.

CI am going to let you in on a little secret. Over the past eight years I have worked for a variety companies that have put on major conference events. I started with a multi-level marketing company hosting a 300-person Alaskan cruise, then a 1,200-person education, award, and recognition conference. I now work for a company that hosts a 12,000-person educational medical conference for neurologists from around the world. Over the past four years I have also coordinated four professional auctioneer conferences right here in Minnesota for 150+ people. The secret is...I love it.

I don’t quite know what it is about conferences and events, but I love them. There are so many events, attractions, and people to keep track of, but it is a natural high to see it all come together. Personally, it probably stems from the fact that during a conference you work very hard and you get to see your hard work pay off; it is such a gratifying feeling. While I could do an article on all the steps you should take to make sure an event goes off without a hitch, I have a feeling as auctioneers you probably already have a pretty good handle on those techniques. After all, I am certain my ability to coordinate all the pieces of the conference puzzle comes from my years in a family business.

So now that your event/auction/conference is over, how do you carry the conversation forward? We need to ask ourselves if any of our event attendees even care about what we did two weeks after the event has ended.

In this article, I am going to use a fundraising auction as an example of the type of event that these techniques can help with. The reason for this choice is that most auctioneers do at least one fundraiser a year and many of the lessons might even work for your other auctions as well.

Step 1: Clear goals (pre-event)
During the planning stages of an event, make sure that you are clear about your desired outcomes. If you want to increase attendance and grow your event, make sure to track every attendee name so that they can be invited back in future years. Perhaps your goal was to raise more money; once again, get the contact information of attendees so that after the event you can send out information on how much money was raised as well as provide additional opportunities.

Step 2: Photographer/Videographer (event)
Make sure you have a plan for your photographer and/or videographer. It is very easy to shoot photos and then do nothing with them. I have worked events where the photographer would download photos to a slideshow throughout the night. Attendees loved seeing photos of themselves so quickly. Tell your photographer to give you the best five or six photos from the evening the very next day so that you can distribute them while your event is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Have your videographer work quickly (usually a week or two) and get you a video that you can put on YouTube or even a DVD that you can send to your VIP attendees and donors.

Step 3: Thank You (post-event)
Once you have gathered contact information, like email addresses, put them to use. Make it a priority to thank everyone for attending within 24-48 hours. It may not seem like a priority the day after an event, but it is time well spent. You could even have the email pre-written before the event so that all you have to do is plug in the important information and a couple of photos.

The next step is to send a personal thank you card to anyone who gave money at the event. Do this within the first week and attendees will remember you next year when it is time to attend your event again. This step is extremely important when you consider that each of these notes represents someone who gave money to your organization.  They are EXACTLY the type of person you want to return next year.

Step 4: Identify VIPs
It is easy to target the VIPs before the event, but afterwards, when you have the actual numbers, you may be surprised who actually donated and who did not. Since the organization has everyone's contact information, go the extra mile for your VIPs. You could actually meet with these people and thank them in person. You could also set times throughout the year to touch base. Send a holiday card and be sure to personally invite them to next year’s event.

None of these items are extremely difficult or require advanced technology, but these concepts could help an event grow and become more successful year after year. How can we do the same at our auctions? Is there a way to track who spends the most or buys the most items from you on auction day? Can you use that information to build a VIP bidder list? Do you send thank you notes to your clients after an auction? Take time to consider these questions and see if anyone remembers your company two weeks after an event. If they don’t, then it’s time to change that.