Tag : value-proposition

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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.

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120: Ask 4 Questions to Get More Sellers

Every once in a while, an auctioneer will ask me how to grow their business. What they’re really asking is, “How do I find more sellers?”

I usually answer this question quickly. “Where do you get your current sellers?” That’s the first of multiple questions I’ll ask, as I try to wrap my head around their situation.

My clients tend to be residual accounts; and it’s fairly easy to discover who hires me and why. Most auctioneers, though, have to be finding new sellers constantly, as few of their sellers are repeat clients.

Asking enough questions and asking the right questions will take a lot of the guesswork out of the prospecting process. Some of these questions you can answer on your own after some personal reflection or staff conversations. Some of these questions, though, will require you to interview your past and current sellers. All of these questions will give you insight into how to most efficiently maintain and even grow your client base.

QUESTION 1: What are the common denominators of my current sellers—especially the ones that drive the most efficient and/or largest-transaction revenue?

The answer could be professional occupations, demographic similarities, or organizational affiliations. Maybe it’s situational realities—financial, relational, or transactional positions your sellers are typically facing.

QUESTION 2: Where would I find more people with the same common denominator?

Sometimes this is a geographic area which you can saturate. Other times, it might be a trade group, a publication audience, or specific website traffic. It might be social events, volunteer organizations, or collector clubs. It could even be referral agents—the people who are consistently recommending your solutions to their connections.

QUESTION 3: Why were those sellers selling?

Typically, not everyone in that prospect group is selling their assets. Something motivates your sellers to move from the kinetic value of ownership to cash in their hands. What is that? There are typically one or two reasons that each seller puts an asset or group of assets on the market; and they vary from seller to seller. If you query enough sellers, though, you can start to see common themes in the triggers, motives, or situations that lead to selling. These trends will tell you what solutions the marketplace is craving. If you’re smart, they will also guide your brand’s value proposition(s).

QUESTION 4: Why did those sellers hire me?

Don’t guess at this. Don’t assume you or your employees know. Ask your previous sellers. Again, listen to reoccurring similarities. These answers, combined with your learned value proposition(s) from the previous question, will give you your brand message. The nature of seller responses will also let you know what kind of supporting content will best convey that message. Examples of these include the following: promise or guarantee, stats and info graphics, testimonials, relational empathy, financial incentive, and creativity.

Armed with this collected data, you will be able to specialize—to concentrate your efforts where you get the most bang for the buck. Specialists typically generate more efficient and predictable income, too. Knowing the answers to these questions will let you spend less money in unproductive media or social initiatives—even if your perceived competition has a big presence in them. You’ll waste less time and energy convincing people to hire you, because you’ll be more likely to speak to the heart of a seller’s concerns or goals. And, more than likely, you’ll notice a higher conversion rate in your seller presentations.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from the people answering these questions.

Taking It Personally

I have never taken a psychology or counseling class. I don’t like confrontation and awkward relational conversations—let alone with people who aren’t related to me. Since moving into leadership positions at my church, though, I’ve been dropped into uncomfortable situations on a regular basis—times when I don’t know what to say and when I don’t know if silence is the best response.

One of the things I’ve learned to do is ask questions.

  • “Help me understand: so, what does that look like?”
  • “What do your conversations with God look like right now?”
  • “What would it look like for you to feel this situation is resolved?”
  • “What is a small first step you can make in that direction?”
  • “What does your [love interest, family member, or mentor] say about this?”
  • “How can we as a [ministry environment] make this easier for you?”

The answers to these questions help me know if I need to refer them to someone with special training or similar experience. If I can remember Scripture that speaks to the situation, the answers help me narrow my personal database of memorized Bible passages to share. In the least, it gives me a better idea what to pray—which is often the only thing I know to do.

I don’t know all the questions to ask, let alone all the answers. Thankfully, I know the One who does.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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.

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]