Tag : empathy

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211: COVID-19: the Best Thing to Happen to the Auction Industry Since Online Bidding?

This pandemic might be the best thing that has happened to the auction industry since the Internet. The mandatory quarantine has the potential to change the public perception of auctioneers in our culture.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen multiple auctioneers posting on Facebook about how the death tolls from COVID-19 aren’t large enough to close businesses and force some entrepreneurs out of business. As unemployment has soared to Great Depression percentages, auctioneers have pleaded online for mayors and governors and the President to ease the quarantine. While I’m sure every one of these folks cares about others and the economy at large, it’s clear that their posts reveal their fears for their own livelihood.

That is a legitimate worry. While some of our friends’ YouTube videos and borrowed memes might be irrational, the potential devastation is worthy of concern. That loss of any sense of control is valid. That desperation is human.

That underlying fear might be what changes the auction industry for the better.

What happens if our worries prove true? What if we blow through our federal grants, our lines of credit, and our cash reserves? What if none of that is enough? What if our businesses close? What happens to our families, to our employees’ families? What will our friends think of us? Our auctioneer peers think of us? What it we lose everything?

We’ll be where so many of our clients and potential clients are.

Whether we sell lender-owned assets, pre-bankruptcy workouts, trustee sales, or divorce settlements, we work for people who’ve lived for months or even years where all of us have lived for the past few weeks. They’ve already made it to the embarrassment stage, the stress-eating stage, the inhaling-Tums-like-candy stage. That thought that keeps you up at night has kept them awake for weeks. That discomfort that makes you hit Next Episode on your streaming service or pour an extra glass of adult beverage tonight is old news to them.

Right now, you and I would love a firm date of pending relief. We’d love some sense that things will be better soon. Hopefully, way better. We don’t want to be a statistic. Take us off the graph, even the far left or far right side of the curve officials are trying to flatten. We don’t want to be a mathematical factor, an anonymous part of a supercomputer’s model. We want to know our lives matter, our businesses matter, our societal contributions matter.

So do our sellers. And not just our distress sellers. Our consignors don’t want to be notches on a belt. Our retiring farmers don’t want their life’s work to be just another farm sale. Most of our commercial agents don’t want to be accounts; they want to be a partner, a teammate. Estate sellers want to know their mom will get taken care of.

Everyone with whom we do business is a person who wants to be known, who longs to be valued, who aches for their story to be heard.

And all of us just got a huge helping of understanding. We can turn that into empathy, or we can turn the recovery into busy ambition. We can sit down with people and let them talk a bit, or we can put our heads down and make this money back. We can offer sellers tailored solutions, or we can posts signs about how to jump on our assembly-line queue.

If we leave this #safeathome season with compassion, we can overcome some of the stigmas the auction industry has been trying to shake for decades. We can offer dignity and not just an exit. We can provide some hope to offset the worry and embarrassment. We can be ambulance drivers instead of ambulance chasers. For our non-distress sellers, we can offer the kind of human interaction we’re all craving right now—something social media had made us forget feels so good.

You won’t need a government grant to buy empathy. You don’t have to worry if Kroger or Walmart will have compassion in stock. Nobody can price gouge you on eBay or Amazon for your humanity. There isn’t a label to check to see if kindness is manufactured in China or the United States. All you have to do is choose it.

If most of us choose that response enough that it becomes habit-forming, we’ll make the auction process more accessible than any of us could ever have dreamed.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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198: Why Manure Spreaders Are In Increasing Demand

Recently, I was consulting a non-auction business that had an incredible business opportunity, especially for their geographic market. I’m talking about the kind of concept I’ve seen featured in viral Facebook videos and profiled in Fast Company. I was excited for them until I heard their brand message, saw their visual branding, and learned their marketing strategy. They had adequately identified their ideal prospect but somehow totally misunderstood their prospects’ various levels of needs, habits, and expectations. I mean, like 170º in the wrong direction.

As I gently questioned these misalignments, they dismissed my concerns. They wanted to know more about the tools and tricks I use on Facebook to reach more people. They just wanted to get their bad message cheaply in front of more prospects like their ideal customer.

I see this all the time, actually—just not so drastically. I’ve seen it from people I’ve consulted in emails or phone calls, in conference hallways or Facebook threads. Entrepreneurs don’t want to improve their advertising; they just want more targeted places to put it.

Apparently, lots of folks want a more efficient manure spreader.

Dung Spreader

Knowing where to be on a platform or in a specific media outlet is important. Targeting makes advertising more efficient. But content is advertising’s linchpin, especially on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms reward ads with compelling and empathetic content by giving them lower costs per click.

The problem most auction marketers (like other small business marketers) face is our inherent bias. We wrongly assume our ideal buyers and sellers are just like us. We assume the marketplace looks at auctions and the assets in them through the same lens we do. “If we talk about us and our stuff louder and in front of more people, we’ll get more customers.” We don’t say that. We just operate from that mindset.

This can work in spite of itself, but you’ll get more efficient results from your advertising if you delve into the thing behind the thing.

What problem does your auction’s assets solve?

How will their life be easier or better after the purchase?

What aren’t they able to do that they will be able to do after a winning bid?

What dream could come true if they are willing to pay more than anyone else is willing to pay?

For instance, most real estate investors don’t want to own more property. They want more cash flow and/or more financial security. Most sportsmen already have access to a place to hunt or drive their UTVs. What they want is to avoid asking anyone permission or having to call in any favors. That twenty-year-old John Deere 9600 is easier to work on than a newer combine, even if it is less efficient and autonomous than one you have to take to the dealer for service.

A collector wants to complete their collection, find the item nobody else has, or even make their peers jealous. A young mom wants her children in the right school system. Many startups don’t care if the furniture matches or if the equipment is new, if they can operate with lower overhead. Flippers want to make money quickly with a little elbow grease or ingenuity.

When you advertise to targeted audiences, does your advertising speak to their needs and wants?

Even if your advertising doesn’t leverage this progressive, psychological analysis, you can still benefit by sticking to the asset over the event. People don’t buy auctions. They buy assets, and they hope to buy at “auction prices.” (The exception: at benefit auctions, they’re buying ego, belonging, participation, an eased conscience, and/or a sense of altruism.)

When you implement the tools for targeting but then give those prospects a faulty message, you might actually drive business away—whether from imminent or future customers. The American advertising legend John Caples posed this reality in his book, Tested Advertising Methods. “The wrong advertising can actually reduce the sales of a product. . . . George Hay Brown, at one time head of marketing research at Ford, inserted advertisements in every other copy of the Reader’s Digest. At the end of the year, the people who had not been exposed to the advertising had bought more Fords than those who had.”

When we push our agenda, our brand can become seen as a source of unwanted content—white noise surrounding content consumers want.

If we’re trying to sell people something instead of meeting their needs, we become that screaming mattress or carpet or used car salesman on TV. Even if someone wants what we’re selling, current and past impressions might detract from buyer willingness to interact with our brand.

You can stick with “AUCTION!!!!!” as your headline and the date as your subhead. You’ll still have your cadre of wholesale buyers, but you could confuse or annoy your retail buyers out of the process. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer commissions on retail prices rather than wholesale prices.

Avoiding that buyer disconnect is difficult, but it’s not expensive. In most cases, it doesn’t cost more money to have the right words in your headlines than it does the wrong ones. When it does, there’s a good chance the extra cost is outweighed by the extra benefit.

Don’t get me wrong: I know how to upgrade your manure spreader to hurl waste farther or place it more strategically. It’s just that I grew up next to a farm, and I come from a family of dairy farmers. Trust me. Your buyer community already has a perception of how your advertising will smell.

Stock image(s) purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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145: 2 Questions Every Seller Needs Answered

My wife and I recently closed on our old house. It had been on and off the market for about two and a half years. After trying to sell it myself a couple years ago and after months on the market with different, hard-working, accomplished agents, I had some questions for our family friend who listed it. Within a couple weeks of her convincing answers, the house was under contract to a couple moving here from North Carolina.

Two weeks after that, I heard my two questions again—this time from someone else, someone looking to sell their property at auction. I had the privilege to accompany a client, as they talked with a seller’s family. As I heard the questions, it hit me that they’re probably the same for almost every seller. I know other auctioneers field the same two questions, because my clients regularly ask me how to answer them.

How are you going to get it sold?

I don’t know about other sellers, but I felt that I had more to lose than the commissioned agent did. At the end of a standard 180-day agreement, they might be out the time they invested and whatever they spent in advertising; but I was going to be out $9,000 plus my time doing all the tasks related to selling a 25-year-old house. Like sellers that my clients serve every day, I wanted to know what skin the listing agent was going to put in the game.

Our agent agreed to a 30-day contract. She gave a pre-listing makeover punch list (with some surprising but intuitive suggestions). She supervised a contractor doing an install, while we were on vacation. She staged the house at no additional cost. She scheduled multiple open houses in the span of a week. Those are the kind of moves that show motivation and empathy.

I don’t know how you answer that question. Maybe it’s showing your successful sales rate. Maybe it’s illustrating your average differential between sale price and assessed value. Maybe it’s offering to buy the asset(s) or some sort of promise. Maybe it’s a marketing plan with a year’s worth of detailed analytics that show how many bidders and buyers you bring to an average auction and what media brought them.

Each seller will need something different to convince them. So, it’s a good idea to develop materials that offer as many convincing reasons as possible. Collect a range of anecdotes and testimonials that cover various seller situations. If you’ve sold your own assets in similar fashion, create a case study that details how what you do for sellers is what you did for yourself.

What are you going to do to market this asset?

This is a slightly different question. Here, the seller wants to know your competitive advantage. More specifically, they are looking for what makes your marketing plan superior to those of other vendors. Where will you advertise that they wouldn’t have considered? What tactics do you employ that your competitors don’t? If your sellers are like me, they’ll want to know what you’ll do differently for this promotional campaign because of specific aspects of your asset and current market conditions. Sellers want to know that you’ve done your homework, that you’ve done more homework than anyone else.

How do you prove that?

Again, this is where robust advertising analytics become a tremendous competitive advantage. If you’re leveraging Google URL builder, multiple URLs, and Google Analytics, you’re already ahead of 95% of the auction industry. If you’re also tracking your time by task, the attendance at inspections, and your cost per bidder per medium, you’re in the top percentile of the trade. If you can illustrate this data with charts or graphics, you’re almost untouchable.

If you leverage professional photography, staging, or other service, demonstrate how that adds value (or at least the impression of value). If you have a custom bidding platform or unique live event techniques, explain how those benefit the seller. If your terms make your auctions more approachable for a wider buyer base, unpack that concept for them.

If you can’t prove any of these competitive advantages, be ready to offer your services for a lower commission—or to take the auctions your competition isn’t fighting to get. If you can’t answer these two primary questions, you might want to brush up on your answers to different questions—the kind employers commonly ask during job interviews.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

119: There Is No Routine Auction

Hospital Billboards

Do you see any parallel headlines to our auction industry headlines?

Over the course of three days, I happened to drive through West Virginia twice. Both times, I was captivated by a short headline on two hospital billboards on I-64.

“There is no routine cancer.”

Often, hospitals tell you that they’re rated in the top ten in the country for a particular disease center or that they perform [insert number] of a certain procedure per year. Or they wrap some cliché in a font that appeals to AARP members.

But this hospital gets it. They know that a person with cancer doesn’t want to be another notch on an oncologist’s belt. My friends and family who’ve battled cancer definitely didn’t want to be a statistic. On the other end of a biopsy, the patient needs assurance of getting the best medical care possible. They’re looking for signs of two things: expertise and empathy. “There is no routine cancer” communicates the care part of the equation. That message gives the impression that medical professionals will fight to save their lives.

The same desire is true for a large portion of auction sellers—at least those with assets big enough to warrant a proposal or earn a company brochure. They want to know the auction marketer pitching to them will understand their situation, study their asset, and create a custom plan to make the best outcome possible. They want to hear, “There is no routine auction.”

Despite this, auctioneers tend to spend the majority of their pitch on what they tell every seller: “Look at my resumé; I’ve won some accolades and earned some designations. We sell lots of stuff like yours. Auctions are the best.” Most of the company brochures I’ve read express little empathy. Property analysis is usually one of the shortest sections of proposals—if it’s even in there. I’ve seen more market analysis from one meeting with my old REALTOR® than I’ve seen in probably 99% of the seller presentations that I’ve been asked to design.

The good news is that you can be the exception to that rule, and exceptional can give you a competitive advantage.

You can still leverage your experience and accomplishments. They just have to be framed within the context of the seller’s benefit. How does your bid calling competition win benefit them? What did you learn at CAI or CES that you can use for this auction? How do those marketing awards translate into better advertising for the campaign at hand? Your time as a leader in an association gave you what insight that you can implement for the challenge of this sale? How do all those years in the business make you worth that commission number they’re skipping through the proposal to find?

I got this wrong for most of my career. I stacked my plaques and auction folders to impress potential clients. I still do. It’s a hard default to reset.

I’m working toward bringing those into context with a different message: “working with assets and winning for auctioneers all over the country has given me insight that might help you.” Hopefully, I’ve given enough information away in emails & on phone calls, in blog posts & on seminar screens to let people know that I’m trying to bring them on that same learning, growing journey—even when I resort to my stats.

How ‘bout you? How could you bring empathy and customization into your presentations? What content do you need to add or emphasize, cut or edit?

A woman named Janet walked up to me after a Bible study and told me that years ago her first impression of our church was me greeting her and her husband at their car and walking them into the building. She hadn’t expected that at a church of over 3,000 people. Now, she and Randy are in environments that challenge their faith; and it started with a small gesture to make them feel comfortable and welcomed in a nervous moment.

That story and longer ones have been told multiple times about multiple people on our parking team. Some of the stories give me goose bumps. I like to tell and retell them—especially to my team mates. “What we do here matters! Our impact will never be fully known. Keep your eyes open.”

The gradual compilation of those moments makes you aware of other potential moments. The more you put yourself in another’s glasses, the easier it becomes to see out of yours.

Someday, I hope to bring the empathy to my office that I bring to my church’s asphalt.

[footer] Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com. Billboard images obtained from Google Images.[/footer]

106: 4 Things Every Business Proposal Should Say

Even if you haven’t watched reality television or romantic comedy movies, you know some of the standard visual and verbal ingredients of a marriage proposal. There’s a guy (or sometimes a gal) on one knee. At some point, he goes through an awkward narrative around the following four basic points:

1.    “I love you.”
2.    “I want to spend my life with you.”
3.    “I got you this ring.” [usually non-verbally communicated]
4.    “Will you marry me?”

Image Used With Permission Through Purchase From iStockPhoto.comThese steps prove so common, they smell of cliche; but there aren’t too many ways around that outline. That’s just how marriage proposals work.

Believe it or not, those same four steps work well for business proposals, especially auction proposals to sellers.

“I love you.
Translation: “I value what you bring to this relationship.”

Sellers know we want a commission and that we wouldn’t be offering our services without a price tag. What they’re hoping is that we care about their assets—and not just another pay check—and that we’ll handle their sale with the care we would give our own sale.

One way to communicate this is to discuss the attributes of their assets that will interest buyers—what makes them unique or valuable. Follow this with explaining what part of your plan is connected to these attributes. Here are some examples:

“Due to the location of your property, signs will be more critical to the advertising campaign than our typical campaign. We recommend spending a higher percentage of the budget on banners that cover your building to attract attention.”

“Because of how new your restaurant equipment is, we will reach out to our list of restaurant chain developers in addition to our recent bidder lists of three similar Outback restaurant auctions that we held last year.”

“Not all auctions are newsworthy; but with your recent interstate PowerBall win and now famous tweet about your move to a private island, the human interest part of this auction’s story can be leveraged for maximum exposure. We’re going to bring in a public relations consultant to help us craft a press release that will attract members of the media.”

“I want to spend my life with you.” 

Translation: “This could be an ongoing, mutually-beneficial reality.”

Clients, like spouses, crave long-term security. Sellers want to know that we’ll stay attentive to their project amidst our others during the marketing campaign—especially for absolute/no-reserve auctions.

Put them at ease by describing all the expectations to which your willing to be held. Show them a detailed timeline of what you’ll do and when. Note when or how often you’ll communicate with them about market response and the progress of the campaign. Explain specific actions you’ll take to make their situation less stressful, less complicated, or less prolonged.

Empathy is huge for trust. That means letting people know that we realize that this is their treasured collection, their lifetime achievement, or their financial security that’s at stake. Each situation will determine what is professionally appropriate to say; and this doesn’t have to be a verbose section of a proposal, but intentionally moving into this perspective for even one sentence can be enough to separate ourselves from the competition.

“I got you this ring.” 

Translation: “Here’s my indicative deposit on good things to come.”

I remember a dude in college going room to room in our dorm building, asking for donations to help him buy a $500 engagement ring. He must have gotten enough donations. She said, “Yes,” and he’s still married to her more than a decade later; but it wasn’t the ring that sold her on life with him. Sometimes, we get the auction in spite of the proposal instead of because of it.

If our proposals look like cheap and easy templates—especially Word documents with a few variable data mentions bolded like a mail merge letter—we communicate to sellers that they are just a number, a transaction, another notch on our belts. The amount of time and effort and even financial investment our proposal connotes (whether real or assumed) reflects on the level of individuality, creativity, and professionalism we’ll bring to marketing their assets.

One sentence that regularly makes its way into my clients’ proposals reads something along the lines of, “We hope this proposal illustrates our level of commitment not only to book your auction but also to get you the most bidders and highest sale proceeds possible for your asset.” Would you be confident enough to make that statement in your cover letter?

“Will you marry me?”

Translation: “Does this look like a good deal to you?”

A difficult reality of business proposals is that we’re asking a seller to marry us on a first, second, or even blind date. Because a history with us can’t inform the future with us, we need to build the case that it will be a good deal. By using graphs of past results, samples of advertising from similar auctions, and pull quotes from people in their shoes you’ve served in the past, you can establish a track record that casts for them a vision for the future.

Unlike a résumé, though, this all needs to be framed by their benefit. Only a fool would drop to his knee and tell his girlfriend, “I was voted ‘Least Likely to Divorce’ in high school. I graduated from college with both academic and humanitarian honors and got the lone internship offered by Mark Zuckerburg this year. I have written over 450 love letters in my dating career and have attended the Certified Lover Institute. I’m a member of the National Association of Romantic Beaus. You can trust your married life in my hands.”

How many times do auction proposals read like that?

If we talk about what we bring to the table, we need to do so in a way that gives them more confidence than it gives us. For instance: “Our membership in [national franchise/alliance/affiliate network] connects us with more industrial real estate investors and the collaboration of multiple auctioneers who have sold paper production plants like yours.” Or: “Our hundreds of state and national marketing awards mean that our sellers get the best advertising available. We want our clients not only to get the biggest-possible settlement checks but also to be proud of how their assets are shown to their peers and the general public.”

Yes, all of this means more work; but that extra work on this end might just be the difference between you getting the work on the other end of the proposal.
Throughout the Bible’s newer testament, Christians are told that we will some day marry Jesus and be his bride.  As a dude, that’s still weird to me. At the same time, it’s utterly humbling.

The bride is supposed to be the beautiful half of the wedding and the ensuing marriage. Jesus, our promised groom, lived a perfect life, a selfless existence. He did more good than any human will ever replicate.  Everything about him is beautiful. Nobody can even aspire to the beauty of his soul, the transformative gaze of his eyes, the gentle healing of his touch.

Contrastingly, we smell of unfaithfulness. We have been muddied by sin and disfigured by guilt. Our teeth are decayed by gorging ourselves on the delicacies of selfishness. We walk our life journey with a limp.

Still he loves us. He wants us. He cherishes us. He’s preparing a wedding even David Tutera can’t imagine and then an eternal honeymoon in a magical city on the other side of the universe. And he invites all of us through an eternal proposal into his mercy, grace, and redemptive power.

I don’t deserve it, and I definitely don’t understand it. But, man, am I grateful for it!

[footer]Image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]