2-1 Handle the Marketing and Sales Process

The marketing and sales process is one of the most challenging areas in a speaker’s business. If a speaker is unable to make enough in speaking fees to sustain his or her business, the business will not survive. Getting speaking engagements is job one. There are a lot of moving parts that must be executed simultaneously to the marketing and sales process.

Marketing is how a speaker builds awareness for his or her expertise and topics. Sales is how a speaker qualifies leads for a speaking engagement and then how he or she gets the contract for the engagement.

Role of the Speaker in Marketing and Sales

There are four primary roles for the speaker in marketing and sales:

  1. Branding – What makes the speaker different and why someone might hire him or her and for what purposes?
  2. Identifying the target market (the natural audience for the topic) – Who is the idea client? What is the correct pricing for different types of speeches for various types of clients?
  3. Creating a plan and setting goals – What are the best tactics for attracting the target market?
  4. Approaching prospects and closing sales – Initial sales conversations, pitching the speech, negotiating fees and other perks, and closing the sale.


The speaker’s first role is branding. Speakers are in charge of knowing how to differentiate themselves. They are the ones who come up with new speaking topics, article ideas, book ideas, and product ideas. The VSA can certainly provide input about what they might see from other speakers or in reading what is going on in the industry, but that’s not their job. The VSA supports the implementation of anything the speaker decides to do.

Target Market

The speaker is in charge of defining the ideal client. This is probably a client for whom the audience is the same as the audience for the speaker and his or her topics. The speaker will want a client who needs what he or she provides – a keynote, training, workshops – whatever will work best for this audience. And of course, the client’s budget must match what the speaker wants to charge for his or her work.

The speaker also needs to to know what distribution systems are the best for them. Are they more likely to find speaking engagements working with a speaker’s bureau or talking to corporate training directors? Various types of clients respond to different sales styles and the more the speaker can understand the challenges of the client, the better he or she can speak that language and help the client meet the needs of the audience. Determining the target market is not the job of the VSA, but knowing who the speaker wants the target market to be, is.

Marketing Strategy and Activities

One of the first things to think about when planning marketing activities is the speaker’s goals in terms of number of speaking engagements for the year. What is already booked and what activities will have to be undertaken to get to the ultimate goal number (ex: 25-30, 30-50, 50-75, 75-100 or 100+)?

Marketing Activities Checklist for Speakers

This is where the VSA can really shine. Once the speaker has decided what marketing activities would work best to attract the types of clients he or she wants, the VSA can help with the execution, including website updating and maintenance, keeping the media kit up to date, updating the speaker one sheet as new testimonials come in, distributing the newsletter and highlighting the speaker, his or her products and events in social media. We will be covering all of these activities in much more detail in this section and others in this course.

Approaching Prospects

Speakers should be the ones to approach prospects and carry through the sales cycle. Because they are so busy with other things and asking for work is such an intimidating experience, they often want someone to do this part for them and they will ask the VSA to do it. It is not a good idea for the VSA to email or telephone prospects, except to follow up when the speaker has already had initial discussions. This is not a fair position to put the VSA in because the VSA doesn’t know the market well enough to have the kind of discussion that will lead to a sales. If the VSA doesn’t make the sale, or says something wrong out of inexperience, the speaker may blame him or her for the loss of opportunity. So it is critical for the VSA to really have strong boundaries about what he or she is an expert at and know when a client or potential client should be talking to the speaker. If the potential client has strategy or other high level questions the VSA should refer that client to a resource that has the market intelligence to answer those questions effectively.

Approaching Potential Sponsors

It is also possible for a speaker to talk to potential sponsors on working with an event or organization to pay the speaking fees if this is a problem for the host organization (maybe a non-profit). There are many ways to make it worth the investment for the sponsor, including having the sponsor introduce the speaker and sell products or services at the event. Many times the event host will approach the potential sponsor, but if the speaker has a prior productive relationship with the sponsor (including buying a volume of the speaker’s books, CDs or DVDs), then the speaker may be the best person to talk to the sponsor.

Speaker Prospect Intake Info Worksheet

We’ve developed a Speaker Prospect Intake Information Worksheet you can download and use to guide your conversation when the phone rings and you have someone who might like to hire the speaker in the line. They will have questions for you, but you also want to gather information from them.

Speaker Prospect Intake Info Worksheet

An important question to ask is the name of the group. You want to find out what type of meeting it is. Is it a regional training, an annual convention, annual sales meeting? Is there a theme for the meeting? This all has to be handled in a conversational way, even if you are operating from a checklist or questionnaire. You don’t want to pepper them with twenty questions and sound over anxious (or bored), but getting basic information will save a lot of time later. Another thing you want to know about is the type and size of audience, and you want to find out what made them call your speaker specifically. Did they find your speaker on the internet, read his or her book or hear him speak somewhere? That’s very important because as we talked about with speaker’s bureau, if they heard your speaker at a bureau audience, that’s got to be flagged in the database.

It is also good if you can get an idea of what the audience is like in terms of sophistication in this subject and the topic that they would be most interested in. The trickiest part of this conversation in qualifying incoming calls is the fee. A lot of prospects will say they don’t pay speakers, even if they actually do have a budget for speaking. The VSA is not the negotiator and the speaker may decide to negotiate the speaking fee. The VSA needs only to collect the information to help the speaker figure out the fee strategy.

If you can, you’d like to be able to assess the readiness to buy. When are they making the decision? Who else are they considering? Is this an event that pays speakers? Is this speaker the only one they’re considering or are they considering five others? Another great pro-active question to ask them if they have a relationship with a speaker’s bureau because you don’t want to have a problem with a bureau later if you didn’t ask.

The next step is to send out speaker material or let the prospect know that you will send a follow up email with a link to find the speaking marketing materials on the speaker’s web site. The marketing materials usually include some articles and testimonials so the prospect can get to know the speaker and his or her topic better.

Requests for Proposals

Sometimes there is an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a speaking engagement and the VSA can also help the writing and tracking if proposals. Many associations particularly the national ones, have online RFP forms and so it is the VSA’s job to complete it as much as possible since they tend to be pretty standard. They ask for the name of the speaker, all the contact information, a bio or background and objectives for the speech. If you have created the one sheet, you’ve probably got most of what you need to describe the speaker’s topics in the 100 words or less. Because these proposals are set in stone once you send an RFP to an association and they choose the topic and speaker, they expect the speaker to follow the RFP, so it behooves the VSA to have the speaker look over the proposal and make sure it is 100% correct before submitting it.

Corporate Training Departments as Prospects

There are a number of speakers who have regular engagements at large companies and are paid well to inspire and teach. Some of these are off-site retreats or for specific constituencies like women leaders or managers on a fast track. These corporations are looking for speakers with specific expertise – leadership, sales, business communication, team building and others.

The primary group that supports corporate training is the American Society for Training and Development (www.ASTD.org)

Handling Pro Bono Requests

If your speaker generally charges a speaking fee, it is good to have a way of handling requests to speak for free. Some speakers will want to qualify the prospects and in some cases may be willing to speak for free. You, as the VSA, might want to say something like this: “We do some pro bono engagements, but those are filled for this year, I’m so sorry. But if anything changes, we will let you know, so let me take down the rest of your information just in case.” As you continue to work with the opportunities are good for pro bono and what opportunities are not. A lot of prospects will call in just to find out the speaker’s fee. This is a very strategic question, so the speaker and VSA need to have a strategy on how best to handle this. Some start at $2,500 or $5,000 and say nothing else about it. In other cases, the VSA will say that the fees are dependent on length of speech, travel and other things so that the VSA can’t quote a fee on the telephone.

Follow Up

The final step in dealing with prospects is to determine with the speaker the appropriate follow-up. Let’s say the prospect was qualified and they want to talk to the speaker. It is probably going to be up to you as the VSA to monitor and track and nurture that leader. Sometimes the VSA, if they’ve worked with the speaker for a while, can write emails on the speaker’s behalf, so while the speaker is traveling the VSA could say “Hey Sue, we had such a great conversation the other day. I wanted to send along this testimonial to you from another client for a speech I gave with rave reviews. If I can answer any other questions or provide more information, please let me know.

The VSAs Role in Marketing and Sales

The VSAs primary roles are in three areas:

1. Logistical support. Making sure that the speaker knows what he or she is supposed to do and when to do it. Also making sure the speaker has everything needed in order to implement the plan, such as keeping the database up to date with the correct information so that when the speaker calls a prospect the appointment time has been confirmed and the information on the prospect is correct.

2. Enforcement of boundaries. Weeding out the prospects that are not a good fit, maintaining key relationships with speakers bureaus and prospects and providing a buffer between all the potential distractions and the speaker.

3. Coordination of marketing tools. This includes coordinating the website updates and maintenance, coordinating newsletters and social networking and making sure marketing tools are available. Marketing tools include online elements as well as the physical elements:

  • Business cards
  • One sheets (ready to print)
  • Postcards
  • Stickers to add to folders and envelopes to customize them
  • Demo Videos

Finally it includes sending out information to prospects and making sure that any tasks that support the marketing and sales efforts get done.

The VSA has a management coordination role. If the VSA has good sales skills, and if he or she decides with the speaker to take an active role in selling the speaker, he or she should make that a separate project and charge for it separately, because this is a very, very slippery slope. Many speakers need sales help, and so they are looking for that perfect sales person who can do what maybe the speaker can’t. VSAs must decide if they can really jump on the phone and cold call for speakers. Because once they take on that responsibility if it doesn’t go well that is a good way to lose your primary work as a VSA.

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