I’ve recently been hearing a string of complaints from auction planners dishing on their benefit auctioneers.
- How s/he read every word (or totally ignored) of item descriptions. “And he doesn’t read well,” she added.
- How s/he was unfamiliar with the details of the packages, even though the auctioneer had the information in advance. “We even went through each item,” the Development Director sputtered.
- How s/he sells too quickly. “We worked with him for three years, and he still doesn’t get it,” a planner said. (Hint: You shouldn’t have to train your auctioneer.)
- How the group had several items without winning bidders. “The bidders kept saying that they hadn’t bid that amount,” a Chairperson said. “Six items didn’t sell.”
- How s/he never really gained the crowd’s attention. “I’m kinda wondering if it’s because the auctioneer is petite,” a co-chair hypothesized.
- How the auction isn’t fun. “We need ENERGY,” one begged.
- How s/he isn’t sophisticated. “Fine for a farm auction,” she said, “but we need someone classier.
I could go on. Maybe you can relate to one of these or you have your own to add.
The good news is that each of these planners recognized that auctioneers are wildly different, and they wanted a good fit for their crowd.
Those new to hiring an auctioneer may inaccurately assume auctioneers are the same. If the auctioneer “talks fast,” he fits the bill.
Today you’re getting tips on vetting benefit auctioneers.
Let me preface this with a story.
At a family reunion last year, my cousin from Kansas City told me a story that had happened to him a few months prior. He’d been experiencing some throat problems.
“Schedule an appointment with Dr X,” his wife said. “He’s excellent! I go to him, your brother went to him, and the neighbor went to him.”
My cousin called, but Dr. X wasn’t available at a time that worked for my cousin. He wanted to get an appointment booked, so my cousin opted to see a different ENT in the same practice.
“How much different can they be,” he thought, “They’re in the same practice.”
The doctor prescribed some medicine. It didn’t help. My cousin continued to suffer.
At his wife’s insistence, my cousin took another day off work. This time, he went to Dr. X.
“In 20 minutes,” my cousin said, “Dr. X had the problem nailed! He knew what to ask me. He fixed the problem, and it didn’t involve medicine.”
(As I recall, my cousin was asked to stop eating certain foods near bedtime.)
Both were doctors.
Both were smart.
Both had diplomas hanging on the wall from prestigious universities.
Both were in the same practice.
But Dr. X was more in tune with his patient and had a masterful understanding of his specialty.
It took him 20 minutes and no further outlay of my cousin’s money or time to resolve the problem.
Just as there is a quality variance between doctors, there is a quality variance among benefit auctioneers.
After working with a client in Michigan, the planner sent me a nice email. “We have been impressed by your customer service and attention to detail at every turn,” she wrote, “I’ve learned a lot from you about customer service and communications – not just auctions.”
Maybe customer service isn’t your hot button. Or communications.
But something will matter to you, and just as it did with my cousin, it’s worth your time to get the right person upfront.
As you’re comparing and interviewing benefit auctioneers, here are 11 points to keep in mind.
- Professionalism Is the auctioneer trained to be an auctioneer? Or are they a professional speaker / newscaster / comedian who will serve as your auctioneer? What auction schools or courses have they attended?
- Credentials In the benefit auction world, the only credential available is the Benefit Auctioneer Specialist (BAS), issued by the National Auctioneers Association. But perhaps the auctioneer has sought out other credentialing to support their profession. For instance, I have a CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) by the Convention Industry Council. Another relevant credential is the Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP).
- Commitment Are they working as a benefit auctioneer full time or part time? Is this how they primarily make their income? (Most auctioneers in this country work part-time.)
- Testimonials Do their website testimonials end with suspect initials, like “D.P.” or “S.T.?” Or do you see full names and organizations attached to the quotes?
- Clients Who is on the client roster? Call those clients. Keep your questions open ended: “What did you like about working with him?” “What do you wish she’d done differently?”
- Website Use common sense when comparing websites. Is it a skeleton of a site with generic information? Is it well-written and helpful? Is it professional? A weak website is indicative of how someone runs business.
- Consulting If a benefit auctioneer is good, he should know innumerably more than you do about how to plan a successful benefit auction. Find out his philosophy and teaching methods. If you get the sense that you’re smarter, move on.
- Pay structure Auctioneers can be paid in any number of ways. At a high level, payment might be made via a flat fee, a percentage, or some variation of the two. Learn what works for you and ensure there are no surprises.
- Videos If you can’t watch an auctioneer in real life, watch his videos. Ask to see raw footage. You want to watch him introducing and selling a few items. Why the raw footage? If you make a decision based on any videos produced by a production company, you’re getting the ‘Hollywood version’ of the auctioneer. It might be pretty to look at, but it’s not realistic.
- Style / Personality Does the auctioneer limit his repertoire to selling your items? Or does his personality lend itself to crowd banter? Either can work; it depends on what you want.
- Engagement Does the auctioneer interact with the crowd during your reception? Or does he just work during the live auction? During the auction, does he move into the crowd or stay on the stage?
Auctioneers are people, which means you should expect a big variance among them.
It’s up to you to decide the best fit for your group.
Let the buyer beware.
'sheila Ryan says
As a former client, I found these tips very succinct and helpful. I will use them as we move forward in hiring someone for 2014. I’m sorry our dates don’t work this year! I’d have you back in a minute!
Sherry Truhlar says
Sheila, I am so very disappointed that we can’t work together this year. Thanks for checking in and let’s stay in touch. 🙂