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Friday, October 24, 2014

The secrets of how an auctioneer gets your hand in the air


Imagine changing someone's mind in a matter of seconds — not with English, or a Jedi mind trick, but with pure gibberish.
That's the work of a great auctioneer. The best in this business typically do this type of unique work anywhere from five to eight times a week.

 Automobiles, antiques, livestock — everything under the sun from real estate to real chickens gets auctioned off by a group of experienced professionals who have learned through thousands of auctions (and tons of practice) how to create the urgency to buy. 
There are a lot of ingredients in this unique recipe that is an auctioneer's powers of persuasion. 
These include...

Rhythm: Auctioneers are able to keep people in rapt attention for long periods of time, thanks to a rhythmic chant that makes time go by like a river. This rhythm is used to please and excite the audience, and to also build a sense of climax whenever the final bids for an item are about to take place.

Clarity: A lot of folks complain about not being able to understand an auctioneer when they're new to this particular "bidness." More times than not, this has to do with simply "getting a good ear" and understanding what "filler words" the auctioneer uses between the numbers. 

As a former full-time auctioneer, I often used "How-about-a give" which I always abbreviated to "habadagive" (try saying that fast ten times and you'll see what I mean.)
Others in my business use pretty much anything that flies off the tongue as a filler word, from the Fred Flintstone-esque, "Yabba-dabba-yabba-dabba" to the more brutally blunt, "Money!-Money!-Money!" The best auctioneers are always able to be understood by their audience while simultaneously getting people off their heels and into the action of the live sale.
Eye Contact and Hand Motions:
For a public event, auction buyers often want a surprising amount of privacy. At many professional auctions where millions of dollars in property are at stake, such as auto auctions and livestock auctions, highlighting a bidder can expose them to competitors who may have a bone to pick with that particular buyer.

Auctioneers want all their buyers to stay comfortably involved with the sale. That's why an experienced auctioneer will often stare in the general vicinity of a specific bidder for a few seconds with an open hand to show they're acknowledging them, and then go on to other areas where potential buyers may be present. At the same time, an open and outstretched hand is universally preferred over the accusatory pointed finger and intense stare.

Humor: (AKA, "Sir, I Can Only Ask You Ten More Times!")
The best auctioneers are often walking cartoons with signature sayings that define their approach to selling. Many of my favorites:
"I'll make a deal with you. If you bid, and he doesn't, I'll sell it to you! How does that sound?" — This is always said when only two bidders are left and the auctioneer is trying to get one more bid. Once the bid is made the auctioneer will turn to the competing bidder and say, "Guess what? I'll make the same deal with you. Is that fair?"

"Are you kidding folks? You can't get a good used riding lawnmower for a thousand bucks!" — Typically said at public auto auctions for crappy older vehicles.

"The bid is $2,000. Not two-hundred!" or, "What happened to your other fingers?" or "Just wait until I sell YOUR car?" — This is often said to lowballers who will typically flash the peace sign to the auctioneer or other low amount with their hands to try to get the opening bid low. 

"This was the $%^^%%!!! car ever made until the Daewoo came out!" - I heard this blunt description of a 1994 Hyundai Excel by one of my fellow auctioneers shortly before the auction fired him. This was followed by, "Oh yeah?! Well I've been fired by better men than you!"

Product Knowledge: 
In some auctions this isn't nearly as important. Telling an audience that a Ford Ranger was made in Edison, New Jersey will not necessarily increase the price. However, telling folks at an antique auction about the unique history of a Vladimir Kagan end table, or explaining how an unusual piece of mid-20th century machinery was used to make it, often helps raise the price because that information can be imparted to other interested buyers in the times ahead.

People Skills:
The trick is to not only be well liked, but to also be easily approachable. Most successful auctioneers have a helpful bent to them, and this not only brings deals together before, during and after the sale, but it also helps eliminate the uncertainties of buyers and sellers who are fairly new to the game. 

Auctioneers want to build a market, and to do it successfully they have to build the relationships and the confidence levels of those who are interested in getting that special something. At the same time they need to break some of the more unhealthy elements, such as buyers colluding to get a lower price, folks who try to "sniper" bids at the last minute to keep bidding low, and the absolute worst of the worst people at an auction as far as an auctioneer's concerned, the lowballer.

Auctions represent a social construction of value and, like it or not, that auctioneer is primarily working for the seller. A great auctioneer is able to build a free market that makes buyers and sellers feel like they are getting a good deal. If you have any experiences to share about us auctioneers, please feel free to leave them below. And if you also happen to be the buyer of the first thing I ever sold as an auctioneer — 15+ years of Playboy magazines in surprisingly nice condition — please leave me your email address as well.