Lydia Fenet spends 70 to 80 nights a year on stage selling big-ticket items to raise money for nonprofits around the world. Items like a week in a never-been-seen vacation home or a priceless “money can’t buy” experience. These are not easy sells, but she succeeds. Lydia is the SVP/Global Director of Strategic Partnerships and Head of Benefit Auctioneering at Christie’s, and, as noted by the NY Times, “during her 18-year career with Christie’s, [Fenet] has raised millions of dollars for some of the top nonprofits in the United States including amfAR, Tipping Point, Naples Winter Wine Festival and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.” Through the years, Fenet has perfected the art of closing a sale (she’s also currently writing her first book, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2019). As sales is essential to any successful entrepreneur, I recently sat down with Lydia about her top tips to sell your vision.
1. Engage Your Audience. When Fenet first started, she acted like the auctioneers you see in the movies: calling out numbers (fast) as people raised their paddles. She quickly learned that she needed to stop talking at the crowd and start incorporating them into the auction. “People need to feel invested in the sale,” Fenet says. She started asking questions, using personal details like a dress color when relating with a bidder, or attempting humor to re-engage a crowd. “When I do this, there is a shift in energy,” she says. This is true for any sales pitch: Spend a few minutes getting to understand the objectives and motivation across the table and then weave relevant points into your pitch. If you see someone lose interest or, worst case scenario, yawn in the middle of your presentation, ask a question or throw in a little humor to bring them back around.
2. Get Comfortable With Rejection. By virtue of her role as an auctioneer, Fenet knows a lot about rejection. “I go on stage every night knowing that at some point that, with a quick shake of their head, one of my bidders is going to drop out of the auction,” she says. “When I first started taking auctions, it is always felt like it was personal like they were rejecting me.” But, as Fenet notes, you also need to remember when you’re selling anything, be a priceless experience, an idea, or your business, is that it is just that: Business. It isn’t personal. She’s become comfortable with the fact that the rejection isn’t personal, it’s a rejection of what she’s presenting. At the end of most auctions, there is a moment called a paddle raise where Fenet stands onstage and asks people to give money to fund a need or support a particular cause. “I can’t tell you how many times I have stood on stage, called out an amount and been faced with silence. I used to want the stage to swallow me up whole,” she says. But after all these years of taking auctions, she waits 10 seconds, gives the audience a big smile, and says, “Hey, a girl’s gotta ask.”
3. Network to Finesse Your Story (and Improve Your Odds). Networking is a great opportunity to perfect your pitch. When you meet someone new and they ask you, “What’s your story?” you will have the chance to tell them what you’re working on or a goal you’re trying to accomplish. “Networking is the single most important part of selling anything—yourself, your vision, your business,” Fenet says. It’s great practice and you never know where a new connection may lead. “A lot of times we don’t think of people in our daily lives as our ‘network,’” she adds. Shift that thinking. For Fenet, networking is key to getting new people in the auction room. “The more people I meet, the easier my job becomes because I have an audience of supporters,” she says.
At every Christie’s auction she leads, Fenet is selling items—but she’s also selling a story. She’s creating an experience around an idea and an emotional connection that helps her close the deal. It’s this same methodology that can help entrepreneurs better generate excitement and enthusiasm for their own ideas.