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Using Volunteers for Back-of-the-Room Sales Assistance

Jim McCraigh

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Last week I posted a request for suggestions as to how I might use "volunteers" to staff our BOR book/tape sales table. Here is a digest of the responses I received to date. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

In response to your posting on today's SpeakerNet for ideas regarding volunteers for BOR sales for your products, every time I do a program I ask the meeting planner if they would like me to bring my products (I have about 20 of them). If they say "yes", and I've never had anyone say "no", I then say, "Would you be able to provide two volunteers to 'man my table' so that I would not have to be responsible for the cash transactions and can concentrate on your attendees?" I have NEVER been turned down.

I get to the event an hour early, set up the table myself, bring change and a "cash box," and go over in detail my products, prices, credit card procedures, etc. with the volunteers.

I then take down the table, and always send a thank-you note to the volunteers, plus give them a free, autographed book. It's great for you, because it frees you up to "mingle with the crowd" after your event.

Volunteers are just that...volunteers. They do not expect any compensation; however, I always give them a book or two, depending on how busy we were. I always arrive early and talk with the audience. When I find someone who is excited about my work, I ask them if they would like to volunteer to take care of the product table for me. Most say yes. I then take them back to the table and go over what needs to be done. Most are honored that you would ask.

I usually don't tell them I will give them anything, I let that be a surprise. I am always at the table signing books, etc., so if they have questions, all they have to do is ask.

I use volunteers with MC/VISA. I have a "tips for volunteers" sheet that outlines everything. I always check with meeting planner before I go, then reconfirm the night before -- they often forget they said yes. Try to go over details well before the program so you can concentrate on the audience. Common mistakes -- taking Discover and Amex when I do not accept it or forgetting to get expiration date. Otherwise it works fairly well.

If I need an assistant, I usually ask the first person who comes to the table and wants to buy a book, or I arrange it with the association/group prior (and use one of their secretaries/admin asst). Typically, I give the "helper" a copy of my book (or both books depending on the time involved) and autograph it for him/her. That usually works well and they are very happy. Most of my attendees pay cash or check, a minority use credit cards (goes to show I probably should have higher ticket items :-)! Hope you find this helpful.

I have tried two techniques, both of which work well. If I am speaking in a city where there is a local NSA chapter, I contact them well ahead of time and ask for a volunteer. This works well if the chapter has a mentor program -- gives newer speakers an opportunity to see you in action. When that is not possible, I ask the client to select a volunteer to help me. In both cases I give the volunteer a free autographed book. I also have the instructions written out and a sheet to record sales. I have just begun to seriously use BOR sales and the above has worked well so far.

I have not used audience members because not everyone is adept at handling the critical info needed to process a credit card charge.

However, to save yourself from having to take a staffer with you, you may wish to consider hiring a local person from a temp agency (Kelly Girl/Boy??, etc.). You can specify to the agency that the person MUST know how to process credit card charges.

I formerly worked as a Dun & Bradstreet seminar leader. D&B would hire a temp. I would meet the temp an hour prior to the event and advise the person how I wanted registration duties handled. Most of these temps told me their assignment from the agency was a 4-hour minimum.

It's worked very well for me to use an attendees to sell items. Give them a gift of your product. Just prompt them on all the details. Good luck!

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