How to: Sequence Your Live Auction

Once you have successfully solicited the lots for your live auction, the next big challenge is deciding on a sequence for them. The order in which you sell your auction items is equally as important as the items you are selling.

Every decision you make has the potential to earn or cost you money. Lead or end with the wrong lot, and you will not realize the full potential of those lots. Put too many similar items in a row, and you run the risk of alienating the bidders who aren’t interested in that type of lot. Lump all of your highest-valued items together, and one of those items is going to underperform.

The right sequence creates an auction that flows with a sense of narrative, that builds to high points, and embraces downbeats. Most importantly, the right sequence ensures that you make the most money with the items your team has worked so hard to secure.

We could spend hours discussing this topic, and sometimes spend hours working on the sequence for one of our client’s auctions. There is too much information to try and convey in this single blog post. So we’ll cover some easy to implement points.

An auction is like a locomotive: it takes time to build momentum

An auction is like a locomotive: it takes time to build momentum

Do not lead with your most expensive lot

Do not kick off your auction with your biggest lot, or even your third or fifth most expensive lot. The first lot in any fundraising auction is challenged. The crowd hasn’t settled down and people haven’t warmed up to the process yet. You need to build momentum, like accelerating a steam locomotive. Your first lot should be something that has a low retail value, but hopefully a high perceptual value. Or, at the very least, is one of your lower-end lots that is appealing, but won’t be disappointing no matter what it sells for.

Do not end with your most expensive lot

While it can be exciting to end an auction with a really expensive lot that raises more money than anything else at your auction, I guarantee that if you do so you are costing yourself money.  The person who comes in second on your most expensive lot is trying to give you money. More money than anyone else in the room. If the most expensive lot is last, they have no more opportunities to give you that money.

But if there are more lots after the most expensive lot, that second-place bidder will have opportunities to spend more. More times than not, they will wind up bidding over value on a less expensive lot. I observed one bidder stop bidding at $10,000 on an item, only to come back a few lots later and spend $6,000 on a lot that was valued $4,000. To top it off, she turned to her table and said, “I just saved $4,000!”

Give your donors as many opportunities to give you as much money as possible.

 Separate types of lots

Unless your auction is comprised solely of trips, do not place all the trips in a row. Spreading them out in your auction will ensure that the people who want the trips have ample opportunities to buy them, and that the people who don’t want trips won’t be bored by a parade of trips.

Alternate values

The most successful method of ordering an auction is to build momentum, like accelerating a locomotive. Once you have momentum, you can’t expect every lot to sell at a high value. Every time something sells for a bunch of money, there is a buzz in the room that makes the next lot challenging. Embrace that buzz by alternating values, so you have mid- or low-level lots following expensive lots.

This creates a flow that embraces the natural tendencies of your crowd, and, most importantly, helps realize the full potential of the auction lots in your auction.