Tag : truthworks

102: Competing For (And Against?) Potential Clients

Image purchase from iStockPhoto.comWhen someone added me to a private Facebook group for auctioneers, I didn’t expect the conversations there to look much different than the rest of my relatively-peaceful Facebook stream. So, it came as quite a surprise when it turned into the most acrimonious auctioneer environment I’ve ever encountered.

Proxibid, a longstanding vendor for third-party online bidding, had announced a change in their structure. From what I gather, Proxibid was now going to allow non-auctioneers to sell their wares through the Proxibid system—a system that had been assumed as an auctioneer-only environment. Some viewed this expansion as a deceptive change of plans; others defended Proxibid for attempting to grow the potential buyer base.

I don’t have a dog in the fight. Some of my clients use Proxibid; some use one of several Proxibid competitors; others use proprietary systems for their online bidding. My job is the same no matter where the bidders bid—whether onsite or online: find as many prospective buyers as possible and entice them to bid.

When I joined the National Auctioneers Association in 2003, there were thousands more members in the association than we have now. While the auction industry’s collective revenues are holding—if not growing—the number of full-time auction practitioners in the country seems to be shrinking. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence to confirm this rapid constriction in the profession at large. That leads me to believe that there’s a lot of competition for work. In this Proxibid shift, it’s apparent that some auctioneers are worried about the pool of professional auctioneers shrinking further due to sellers being able to help themselves to online bidding and the buyers that gather at Proxibid.com.

As a sole proprietor who depends on family-sized businesses to hire me instead of helping themselves to online vendors, I understand that worry.  It’s real and deserved concern that fewer and fewer auctioneers will deem Biplane Productions worth its fees, that they’ll keep the work in-house instead of outsourcing—or that they’ll outsource to a hungrier freelancer.

I’ve had stout competition since my first day in business in 2002.  There are far more graphic designers in the country than auctioneers, and that ratio grows every graduation season. As of 2008, there were almost 300,000 designers in the country. As just one of the trade groups in my industry, the American Institute of Graphic Artists alone has multiple times the membership of the National Auctioneers Association.

I’ve been outnumbered by my competition for a long time. So has every auctioneer for whom I’ve worked and every auctioneer I’ve ever met. Auction marketers have competed with sellers and non-auctioneers since before we had a national association. That won’t change, and Proxibid won’t be the last Internet market place to help sellers help themselves.

The challenge, then, for all of us marketers is to create and prove value to potential clients—value they can’t achieve by doing the work themselves or by posting their wares on a website, even one built on the backs of innovative and successful auctioneers.

For me, that value proving included a transition into selling and delivering on my auction advertising knowledge base as much or more than my reputation for graphic design speed. My revenue efficiency has fluctuated, as I’ve contributed to more complicated campaigns. I’m serving auction companies that regularly now combine 10, 20, even 40-some properties in single auction campaigns. I’m accepting job orders in late afternoons that require overnight designs.

It’s not martyrdom. It’s most definitely not exclusive to Biplane Productions. It’s adapting. The Darwinian nature of capitalism requires it, and technology is accelerating the need for it.

I’ll let other people debate whether Proxibid’s move was harmful or advantageous to the auction industry and whether or not their expansion happened in good faith. That’s not my fight.

What is my fight is making auction advertising so attractive and effective that people keep hiring auctioneers to sell their assets.
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At church, I’ve been on a team exploring the book of Ecclesiastes in which the wise Hebrew king, Solomon, pronounces no value to accomplishment in terms of wealth, power, or pleasure. Over and over, the sage proclaims the meaninglessness of chasing success—probably because it’s a moving target that doesn’t move with us into our next lives.

On my recent vacation, one of my pastors and I were chatting about my record workload over the past eight months. He asked a simple pair of questions that keeps reverberating inside my head: “Can you just get rid of some clients? Is it as easy as that?”

I told him that after I finish eradicating the rest of our non-mortgage debt, I’ll be considering strategies for sifting my client list. I told him that, right now, I just brace for the seasonal and unpredictable nature of my work, taking my career’s lumps with its advantages.

At some point, though, there will be an intersection with my faith and my insecurities. At some point, I’ll stop worrying about losing business or losing a career to my next stage of life. At some point, I won’t care if you consider me an expert instead of a freelancer in a basement.

Each time I read Ecclesiastes or close InDesign at 2:00 A.M., I’m getting closer to that point.

 

[footer]Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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An Auction Bidder’s Wish List

I’m the oldest of six children, and my wife was the first of five offspring for my in-laws.  So, I’m thankful that both of our families exchange names for “secret sibling” Christmas gifts.

My side of the family makes it even easier by creating a message thread on Facebook where we post our respective wish lists for our secret sibling to use for reference in their holiday shopping.

To keep you reading, I’ll show you what I posted.

(in this order):
anything from here: http://www.gfa.org/gift/home
gift cards from iTunes, REI, or Dick’s Sporting Goods
solid-color winter beanies
Smart Wool® socks
black Crocks (size 10)
solid color fleece sweatshirts or hoodies
athletic ankle socks
100g Jetpower micro-canister

What you’ll notice is that I didn’t write, “Something nice,” (though everything on this list is nice to me) or “Great deal for the money” (though I hope my sibling finds the deal of a lifetime).  Why?  Because those are ambiguous requests—unhelpful direction.  See, when they go to a store, there won’t be an aisle for “something nice” or “a sweet deal!”  If they Google search for “something nice,” they will get these random acts of results.

This makes sense on a personal level; but, for some reason, auction marketers disregard this common wisdom when advertising the assets in their auctions.  Their headlines, line ads, and websites lead with information that buyers will not type into their search engines, apps, or wish lists.

Raise your hand, if you’ve seen an auction advertisement that said “Investment Opportunity!” Now keep that hand raised if you think anyone is searching for an office building, flatbed truck, bass boat, or 1950’s Texaco sign with those two words.  In our search culture, advertising needs to focus on the facts, not the pitch—even for offline media.  You might be able to schmooze bidders at open houses or at the auction, even though our culture is growing less tolerant of the commissioned sales schtick.  But you’ll be hard pressed to find advertising that works that way.

Recently, I was asked to rewrite some sales copy on a luxury home, since [I assume] it wasn’t getting many bites.  I couldn’t change the facts, just the adjectives and syntax.  Even if I were J.K. Rowling, I couldn’t rewrite that paragraph in a way that would change someone’s mind about that house.  Either they wanted what it had or they didn’t.  If they wanted four bathrooms and an in-law suite, only a house with those specifications would work.  If they wanted an in-ground pool, stables, and a riding ring, they were looking for those words in whatever media they’re using to shop.

Fluff text is inefficient use of space and attention.  There’s no search criteria field in Trulia for “cute,” no check box on Realtor.com for “cozy,” no ebay category for “like new.”  I just checked: LoopNet doesn’t have a menu selection for “potential.”  Pictures, dimensions, location, age—immutable, objective data—will tell someone if an asset matches their wish list; their own emotional and financial situation will translate that information into subjective evaluations.

I’m regularly amused by auctioneers telling their audience that an address is conveniently located in reference to places a half hour or more away from the subject property.  Convenience is a relative value.  Oh, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Unlimited potential!” as a real estate headline or bullet point.  I don’t have a real estate license, but I’d imagine legal boundaries and zoning commissions significantly restrict infinity.  But even if the future development of a property were somehow unlimited, who’s searching for that ambiguity?

Whether searching for Christmas gifts, farm equipment, or a strip mall, consumers will echo what Detective Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “All we want are the facts.”  It’s insulting to tell a buyer what the facts mean.  Buyers will most likely know if what you’re selling is a collectors item, if a home is designed for entertaining, if an address is a good business location—based on the facts at hand.

Does this mean advertising should be reduced exclusively to a list of bulleted descriptions?  No—even if in many media, that’d be the most efficient strategy.  Write your sales copy as long as space and budget will allow.  Emphasis, though, belongs to the facts.  Headlines should tell people if what they want might be described in the next section.  Top billing should go to the unarguable.

Make it easy for potential buyers to compare your sale item(s) to their wish list.  That ease of comparison reflects on your brand, whether they bid or purchase from you or not.

Taking It Personally

Outside of sports programming or sitting in a waiting room, I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched TV news.  Beside how partisan each of the networks have proven to be, I’m disenchanted by the 24-hour news network ecosystem’s need to fill so much of their time with commentary.  I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should feel about a congressional bill, a televised debate, an oval office speech.  I think that’s why I’m drawn to Twitter so much as a news source.  News sources there have to dump the main point and a link in 140 characters or less.

News never has been objective; I don’t know how it ever could be.  So, I don’t ask it to be.

Maybe that’s why after sitting through literally over 5,000 sermons and Bible lessons, I’m so drawn to my TruthWorks Bible study, where I’m pointed to a passage of Scripture with three questions: “What does the writer actually say?” and “What does that mean—in a big picture context?” and then “What do I do right now with this truth?”  It’s good to have wise, educated people bring light to Scripture; and I believe teachers can be agents of the Holy Spirit.  But we need to be careful not to rely on other people to tell us what to believe; we need to be like the heralded Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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