Entrepreneurs in the wine industry are acutely aware of unusual opportunities to engage the community beyond the expected channels. Inevitably, those opportunities involve philanthropy and, for wine, philanthropy often involves auctions.
The behind-the-scenes at charity auctions is quite extensive in the wine world, and the auctions themselves are big business as they raise many millions of dollars for worthwhile causes like childhood literacy in agricultural communities or recovery relief after devastating wildfires in wine country.
I see the behind-the-scenes of charity auctions as a metaphor of the startup journey. Organizing auction lots is like packaging your product or service for optimal appeal, for example, while "seeding" bidders is like enlisting early adopters who eventually offer endorsements or testimonials.
But it's the auctioneer who runs the show. I've seen auctioneers overplay the fast-talking showman stereotype, and I've also seen auctioneers relate the narrative of motivation for a charity cause so earnestly that an entire audience was compelled to bid in a paddle raise.
Though their stage personas vary, the most successful auctioneers have done their homework: they have a firm handle on the goals of the organization they're benefitting (including the goal amount of each individual lot), and they know by face or name (or both) the key players or bidders in the room.
In every case of successful auctioneers, they bring their own personality to the very public stage of selling. Here are suggestions from the auctioneer's stage for entrepreneurs and our role as lead salespeople of our business.
Engage customers through narrative.
Certainly, auctioneers and entrepreneurs need to know the facts about what we're selling, but the tipping point of a sale is arranging a relatable narrative around those facts. Relatable, that is, to the audience of bidders and, in our case, customers: we may believe that our product is bound to make someone's life exponentially easier or more successful, but the recipient of the pitch (who may or may not have even known of our product before we mention it) needs to be convinced to come along for the ride.
That means making it personal, which is a different level of engagement than objective facts. The facts, while important to have, ultimately serve as a structural backdrop to the narrative.
Bang the gavel.
On this point, the auctioneer has it easy. A gavel is an imperative part of their job, so it is literally at hand. For Lydia Fenet, charity auctioneer at Christie's Auction House and author of The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You, banging the gavel three times is her practice to bring herself to the moment right now.
And not only to bring herself to the moment, but to command the moment and, ultimately, the room. She calls it her "strike method" and it's a successful practice, as Fenet has raised more than half a billion dollars for nonprofits around the world.
What is your version of banging the gavel? How do you bring yourself to the moment when it's time to "perform" at your best? Preparation helps, certainly, as does taking ownership of your position as a means to build confidence for any opportunity to sell or innovate.
For me, routines help. At my writing desk, for example, closing my eyes and quietly asking, "What does this article want to be?" is a very effective way to corral a whirlwind of thoughts and focus on the main deliverable of the piece. Before I teach a class or give a talk, I begin the planning process with how I want students or the audience to feel at the end of it. Then it's a matter of reverse engineering the sequence of the talk or the slides from there.
A sales opportunity is a similar situation. Yes, the end goal is the sale but you want the customer to be just as bought in emotionally or psychologically as they are financially. That involves engagement through narrative (the first point, above) as well as your version of "banging the gavel" to bring yourself fully to the moment.