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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  |  April 01, 2012

What High-Paying Buyers Expect From Keynote Speakers

Originally published for RainToday.com

As more service professionals look for bigger and better opportunities, many turn to the bright spotlight of keynote speaking to open doors.

Between the bumpy economy and the flood of low-cost experts, getting five-figure speaking engagements isn’t as easy as it once was. Below are two changes going on in this market and how they impact buyers’ expectations.

Tag-Team Buyers

Have you ever had a buyer say, “We want you; send the contract,” and then they drop off the face of the earth? The contract doesn’t get signed, and the buyer won’t return your calls. When you finally reach the person who swore they were the final decision maker, they say, “Well, we’re going in a different direction.”

Here’s what happened: you got vetoed.

The economy has knocked the five-figure speaker selection up the org chart to the C-suite. The problem: they don’t have the bandwidth to search for the right speaker. So they task a lower-level person to do all the legwork — checking on fees and availability, watching the videos, etc. — but they retain the final say. The buyer talking to you has the power to select; the executive has the power to approve.

If the C-suite decision maker doesn’t understand why you should be paid so much or what you are doing, they simply say “no.” That puts the “legwork” buyer in an awkward position, and they don’t want to admit this veto to you.

The good news is many professional services firms have the ear of these buyers. The problem, however, is the buyers see you as an advisor, not necessarily the cutting-edge thought leader they want for the keynote slot.

To pick this low-hanging fruit, you need a “show and sell” approach. If they can’t come, offer to send a “greatest hits” footage reel. This puts you on their radar as a keynote speaker without looking like you are begging to speak. Next, ask about the associations they are involved with. You never know who’s on the board and can put in a good word for you.

Value Is Redefined

The fact that value has been redefined is the number one reason why typical high-fee speakers, such as the popular motivational speakers and the sports figures, are having such a hard time. These people saw their speaking calendars dry up for two reasons: 1) the decision maker is now a member of the C-suite, not the person who handles the meeting (see above), and 2) these more strategic buyers believe motivational speakers and sports figures lack substance.

What really happened is that when the buyers changed, the definition of “value” changed from prominence (the sports figures) and safety (the motivational speakers with a good track record) to a new standard of relevance. And that change tying relevance to value is huge with high-fee buyers. They no longer respond well to the standard “flavor of the month” messages.

Gone are the days when organizations have meetings because, well, they are annual meetings. Every meeting now is a cog in a much bigger wheel. In the corporate arena, meetings are about addressing a larger strategic issue. Examples include a sales meeting that addresses going into new markets because the company has outfished its current ponds, and a leadership meeting about how to get a teaching hospital ranked as “world class” by the industry.

The meeting is either responding to outside market forces or implementing an initiative. What they are really saying is, “Hey, we have a real agenda now, and the speakers have to either personify that message or provide an experience that will implement our agenda.” Meetings have become much more strategic.

Therefore, these buyers want a more direct connection between your program and their agenda. You can’t give them your topic and expect them to say, “Hey, that’s perfect.” The topic and descriptions are simply springboards for making that connection. No speaker is invited until the buyers have a conversation about value.

Your next step is to link your message to outcomes. Then be prepared to describe the interactive element of your approach. No one wants a talking head anymore — even in the keynote slot.

Why They Pay

High-fee buyers know they have a lot of options. They assume that all speakers will negotiate their fee. So, why do jaded decision-makers pay big speaking fees?

They pay speakers big bucks not because the fee is tied to quality but because they believe they have to in order to get the specific speaker they want. They compare the fee to what they get, not who they are getting it from.

Therefore, when you show these buyers how your message connects to their agenda — and that they are not going to get the standard dog-and-pony show, but real outcomes — you are on the inside track for the coveted keynote slot. The buyers are ready when you are.


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.