How to increase speaker bureau business

5 Reasons Speaker Bureaus (and agents) Lose Business

by Mike Humphrey, CEO of Nextup Speaker Management

I have been around the speaking world since the mid-80s and have seen a radical transformation in the industry; Catalogs gave way to websites…VHS cassettes gave way to YouTube videos…faxes and mail gave way to email and Dropbox.  The digital era continues to change the rules, yet many bureaus and agents are missing how important some of these rules have become. These “blindspots” are costing them lost sales and marketshare. And all of these can be fixed.

I have listed the blindspots that are losing bookings, and quick remedies to fix them:

BLINDSPOT #1: Outdated Speaker Materials – Can you imagine a major car dealership only providing information on last year’s models? Not only do many bureaus provide antiquated information on some of the speakers they list, but this error is compounded by the 50 other websites that have more accurate speaker information that is easily and surely accessed by customers. Part of building a relationship with clients is your knowledge of your speakers. How is customer trust affected by out-of-date information on the speaker materials? What if you don’t know about the stuff not found in the marketing materials, such as the speaker’s ability to customize speeches, their style on stage, their ability to emcee, etc.? Not having correct information at the time of the sales pitch is one of the most common ways that agents lose the faith of a buyer, especially if they are a new prospect.

  • FIX (part 1):  Set a “6/12” policy…Send an automatic email asking for any changes from speakers: every six months for speakers you recommend frequently, and 12 months for the rest of your website speakers. And don’t just update your website…make sure you also distribute updates to all of your agents.
  • FIX (part 2):  Test your agents every six months on their speaker knowledge, based on the updated materials you received thru your 6/12 policy.
  • FIX (part 3): If you are listing too many speakers on your website to keep current on all of them, REDUCE YOUR LIST!

BLINDSPOT #2: Treating Speakers with Indifference – This is closely related to the first blindspot.  Speakers are our partners. They are the very tools we use to create our income. With that said, how much time do you spend getting to know the speakers you book? From my experience, the answer is very little. You may be surprised to learn that regardless of exclusivity/non-exclusivity, speakers (or their management teams) are willing and able to help you, such as partnering on marketing efforts, getting on the phone with your clients to help you close a sale, collecting names of potential clients onsite as leads for you, and much more. In my discussions with speakers, they are shocked by how infrequently agents call upon them to help and to partner on sales and marketing efforts.

  • FIX: Have your team pick a short list of speakers to partner with, and set up a conference call or and in-person meeting. Focus not only on getting to know the speaker better, but to share sales and marketing ideas which you can do together (such as sending out an email and social media communication utilizing both the bureau’s contacts and the speaker’s).

BLINDSPOT #3: Unprofessional Sales Proposals – I know how hard that agents hustle to pull in every opportunity they can. But one glaringly bad habit that is all too common is the half-hazard sales proposals and follow up correspondence to sales calls. You want to rush on to your next call…that is understandable. Yet if you consider that most customers have to present their speaker options to others (usually either their boss or to a committee of peers), why would you intentionally make your proposal look worse than those submitted by your competition. Don’t just submit a hurriedly assembled list of names/fees/website links. Take the time to also highlight things that make this speaker a perfect choice…things that might make the difference between winning or losing a booking.

  • FIX: Either buy proposal-making software, or utilize the “Auto-Text/Quick Parts” function in MS Word. These tools allow you to build templates and use them to build quick, in-depth proposals that can then be customized based on the needs of each customer.

BLINDSPOT #4:  Not Knowing Your Clients – I am struck by the number of agents who have little clue about the organizations they work with. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen agents lose business because they did not know important customer details, such as the fact that a company’s main competitor already booked the speaker the agent is now recommending, or the failure to highlight to an industry association client an important relationship your recommended speaker has to that industry.

  • FIX: Use websites like Hoovers or LinkedIn to do some simple background on your client, and ask questions to fill in the rest…clients love talking about themselves once you get them started. Keep lists of who their competitors are and who they booked as speakers. Keep up on industry jargon and specific issues affecting that industry. And learn the name of the CEO or Executive Director of the organization.

BLINDSPOT #5:  Failure to be a Social-Cheerleader – If clients realize that you don’t care about them, they will not care about you. In the age of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., is so easy to gleefully share links about your client’s events. Yet so many agents see this as a waste of time. However, your customers might appreciate it, and that builds more trust. What agencies got wrong about social media is that they tried to use it to find new business (which it is not built for). Instead, use it to build better relationships with clients. In fact, you should consider social-cheerleading for anyone that you want to work with…it costs you nothing and the more you do it, the more chances it will make a difference regarding their next event.

  • FIX:  Ask your clients for the Twitter address or hashtag, Facebook page, etc. for the event. Make sure to include your company in the message. Subscribe to Hootsuite or other similar programs, where you can post to multiple social media sites with a single message.  Hootsuite event allows you to set a future date for your message to be posted. Work hard to build connections with your customers on LinkedIn, and both follow and asked to be followed on Twitter.

Michael Humphrey has 30 years’ experience in the speaking industry as an agent, manager, trainer, speech coach, and event organizer. He is currently the CEO of Nextup Speaker Management

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