The Internet is starting to make its presence felt on the live auction industry as more live auctioneers add online auctions to their business mix. Like other industries before it, digital is bringing change to the auction Industry. What we are seeing as a result of online auctions is a reshaping of the auction business.

Over the last 20 odd years, I have developed, help develop or marketed digital tools that reshaped the printing, graphics, and photographic as well as other industries. What I learned from being a change agent and marketing new digital tools into industries that relied on non-digital processes was how a business can take advantage of these new digital tools to grow their business. There are four concepts that I feel are pertinent for auctioneers trying to determine what to do about online auctions. They are:

1. Be proactive, embrace the new technology.

This technology is not going away. The genie is out of the bottle and is not going back in. It will be part of your industry for the rest of your business career. Therefore, make the most of it. Make it your own. Learn it as well as you did the process or processes that it is replacing or augmenting. Then figure out how you can use it to win business.

As a basketball fan, I was always impressed by the changes Bobby Knight, the great Indiana basketball coach, made to his team when his industry changed. The change came about because of the introduction of the three point line.

Knight, being Knight, probably yelled and screamed about this change initially. However, he did not disregard it. What he did in response to the new rule was change how he developed his team and how they played. He embraced the change. He went out and recruited a team of players that were capable of shooting three point shots. He figured out how he could win based on the three-point shot. Then, the first year the three-point shot was allowed in the NCAA tournament, he won the NCAA championship.

2. The technology will allow new players to enter the business.
Because either new skill sets are needed or functionality becomes easier, or the new technology encroaches on another market, new players will enter your market. These players will bring in new ideas and new processes. They will bring their unique value to play on your industry and give it a new look. They will compete with you for business. They will not look like the old competitors. Use ideas that they bring with them to help expand your business.

The most prominent example of this is Amazon and its entry into the book retailing and then publishing business. Essentially, one person and some new technology reshaped those industries. Hence, the goal with new technology is to leverage it and use it to stay ahead of the competition – old and new.

3. Early creative adopters of the technology will always have a leg up on late adopters

Those that adopt a technology early or aggressively will make it their own and use it to win business. They will also use it to expand their business. Digital processes tend to bring with them special benefits that non-adopters do not see or understand because they are not involved with the technology. Hence, with early adopters, you will see them leveraging special features to gain competitive advantages and new business. They will use it to reshape their business and grow and evolve with it.

In today’s world, it is hard to imagine a time when digital photography was considered a negative and ridiculed by most professional photographers. (In 2011, it is hard to find or buy any camera that relies on film to take pictures.) But it was. In 1993 when I and a couple of other guys launched a digital camera company, 90% of the photographers that I would approach with our technology would say that it was never ever going to replace film. They would go on and tell me about the virtues of film and how the quality would never ever be equaled by digital.

However, not everyone took this approach. One of my earliest clients ran a photo studio in southern Florida. The firm, Woodbury and Associates, was run by Mark Woodbury. When we first met, he had been a fashion photographer and was looking to expand his product photography business. Furthermore, He knew changes was coming and was looking at digital photography as a tool that he could use to grow his business and secure a new account. (The account was IBM.)

Fast forward, Mark won the business, in a very big way, and still has it today. He used digital to win big back when everyone said it would never last. He embraced it and made it an integral part of his business. Furthermore, because he moved into digital photography early, he is still a player in this space today.

4. Expansion – New technology leads to new business opportunities
Embrace it and seek it out. New technology provides many many opportunities to secure new business and expand your business in new ways.

As I indicated above, Mark Woodbury’s photography business still exists today, even with the proliferation of digital cameras. What differentiated Mark early on is that he looked at digital as an opportunity to expand and grow his business. He didn’t look at is as just a tool. He used it to offer his clients new services and gain new business.

In fact, in 1998, Woodbury & Associates was nominated by John Warnock, then CEO of Adobe Systems Inc., to become part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Permanent Research Collection on Information Technology Innovation. This award was bestowed on Mark Woodbury and his photography and graphic arts team for the transition from film and to an end to end digital photography solution called “Do it once, Do it Digital”. This processes allowed new product announcement photography, for corporations like the IBM PC Company, to be available simultaneously worldwide, reducing time to market for major international product launches.

Mark’s innovation continues to date and has broadened to include not only still product photography but also highly requested award winning product animations. One such recently completed animation got it’s international debut at the EuroShop 2011, The Global Retail Trade Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany.

For the auctioneer, my advice is be like Mark, embrace technology today. If you do, tomorrow you will be doing things and going places with your business you never dreamed of.

By Tim Bates Co-Founder Wavebid