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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  March 01, 2012

3 Conversations You Must Have to Get Big-Fee Speaking Engagements

Originally published for RainToday.com

Many experts who want more big-fee speeches start off with all the right tools: great topics, fabulous speaking style, and a book with a lot of buzz.

Unfortunately, many don’t get past the free-speech circuit. Their book and publicity get people to take their call, but their conversations cause them to lose the speaking engagement.

Any expert who wants big speaking fees has to be adept at handling three conversations in the sales process. What you say in those situations is the difference between initial interest and getting the gig.

Conversation #1: Talking to the False Positive Buyer

What happens: You get an incoming call from someone who needs a speaker. You give them your spiel, and they are over-the-top enthusiastic about your topic and expertise. You just know that you’re going to speak to this group. You can just see all the spin-off business — and then reality hits. Either the prospect goes silent or after chasing them for several weeks, you learn another speaker was chosen.

What’s going on: All that time, you were talking to a false positive buyer — someone who can say no but they can’t say yes. What’s worse is you asked them if they were the decision make, and they said yes. Did they lie to you? Kinda-sorta, but not really.

The back story: The person you talked to was assigned to find a speaker but wasn’t told the budget. They were assigned by the real buyer, who found someone themselves and told the false positive folks to shut down the process. It happens all the time.

What you must do: Trust, but verify. Answer questions but also probe. My favorite tactic is to give a hypothetical situation. Something like, “Let’s pretend that I’m the one and you know it. What’s our next step? Do I send you the contract?” A false positive buyer will say something like, “Well, no. If I think you’re the one, I have to go sell you to Mr. Big Cheese.” Now you have your answer. Give them enough information to pass along but not too much that they can make a decision by themselves. And whatever you do, give a range of fees, not a specific fee.

Conversation #2: Talking to the Real Buyer

What happens: You get a referral from one of your high-end clients who recommended you to their high-end colleague. After weeks of telephone tag (at least they’re returning your calls) you finally connect and discuss your speaking. The buyer talks in more broad terms, such as what’s going on with the audience and the role the meeting plays in an overall initiative. They begin the conversation with, “We are not looking for a speaker. We are looking for someone who can…” What you say next with either seal the deal or toss you out of the running.

What’s going on: These buyers have an idea of what they want but not a specific title or topic in mind. They probe for: 1) your ideas to see if they agree with you, and 2) to see if you can deliver. They are less concerned about how many times you’ve spoken in the past. They want to know if your content will help them do what they need. They are bold and decisive. If you hit a home run here, the close will be very casual. If not, they will decide you are not a good “fit”. Once they decide, there’s no going back. You have to get this right the first time.

What you must do: Talk about your approach to their situation and showcase your point of view. Then, prove what you know. Use the buyer as an example of what you would do. You have to show these skeptics they are getting a fresh and relevant perspective. And finally, have a killer title — something clear, concise, and compelling. This will focus their thinking and help them clarify what they will get from you. You want the buyer to think, “Hey, this stuff isn’t out there already.”

Conversation #3: Dealing with Last-Minute Negotiations

What happens: One of two scenarios is in play here. First, you’re dealing with the buyer and they hand off your contract to the purchasing department or the department (such as meeting planning) whose budget is being used. They see your fee, and their brain explodes. Second, you send the contract to the executive you’ve talked with several times and don’t get it back. You follow up several times and don’t get an answer. Finally, they say something like, “Hey, this event budget just got cut in half. We need you to sharpen your pencil here.”

What’s going on: In the first scenario, the lower-level folks don’t like your fee because they are not used to paying that amount. They think they can get another speaker for less. So, instead of going to the real buyer and raising Cain, they go to you and just say “no.” This happens a lot for speeches under $15,000. Second, you’re dealing with a buyer who needs to know that they got a “a deal”. They want to know that either so they can brag to colleagues or so they don’t have to hassle with moving around money. They think that if you want to speak so bad, you’ll reduce your fee.

What you must do: In the first scenario, explain that Mr. Big Cheese approved that amount. If they still say no, go back to your buyer. If they waffle, give them something extra, such as another session or more books for the audience. Say something like, “Hey, I didn’t talk to XXX about this, but if you need it, I’m happy to help out.”

In the second scenario, you have a delicate balance. If you play hardball, the buyer will tell others that “you weren’t available after all,” and no one will notice you’re gone. Instead, offer to cut something out that they really want. When they balk, then come back with more stuff (again, an extra session or more books). If you give them a deal to brag about, most of the time they will relent.

The Higher the Fee, the Higher the Competition

Where there is money, there are more than two people trying to get it. And when it comes to speaking for big fees, a lot of folks are going after that invitation. Your compelling branding and marketing tools are great first steps. But your conversations seal the deal. Be ready for these interactions and you’ll get your fair share of big-fee speaking engagements.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.