The virtual speaker’s assistant will get calls from people who think they might be interested in having the speaker come to a single event. It will be important for the VSA to have a way of getting the information about the possible speaking engagement and then to determine whether it is worth the speaker’s time to talk to the prospect.
Talking to Prospects
The first thing you want to do is you want to thank the prospect for calling and check the speaker’s availability. If the speaker’s not available, nothing else is going to matter. Make sure you note the dates as well as the location just in case this engagement is in the same area as one the speaker already had. It is possible the two could be combined in one trip. If after going through the questions, the VSA determines that this is a legitimate prospect that might be of real interest to the speaker, then the VSA will want to send out a follow up email with links to the places on the speaker website where the prospect can find out more.
Using the Prospect Intake Information 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, an 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 a speakers 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 on 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 your speaker says he or she is a keynote speaker it means that their fee will generally be higher and that they will be the first speaker.
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 speaker the only one they’re considering or are they considering five others? Another great pro-active question to ask them is 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.
Corporate Training Departments
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 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 speaker you will get to know more and more about what 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 speakers want the VSA to tell all prospects that his or her fees 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.
Sending Marketing Materials
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 with the writing and tracking of 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 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.
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 lead. Sometimes the VSA, if they’ve worked with the speaker for awhile, 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.”