Written By: Cris De Souza, Vice President, Sales & Marketing – Nexion Travel Group
Networking is all about building relationships. Networking is also all about creating leads, or prospects, that can turn into clients or strategic partners. As a luxury travel advisor, your prospecting strategy should include networking as a lead generation activity.
We also know that networking can be hard work and requires a strategy. In this month’s column, I’ll share five proven networking best practices that will help you hone your luxury travel sales skills.
1. Take full advantage of networking events. Networking events require time and effort, but they can be fully rewarding if approached with a plan. Treat them like you’re working with clients; remember that everyone is a prospect, and everyone is a potential strategic partner. Be a resource and help where you can, if possible, as this will mutually benefit you and others you’re networking with. Note that educational events and FAMs, such as Nexion’s LuxTravel and Luxury specialty events, are excellent for networking. Here you can develop key relationships with other luxury travel advisors as well as key luxury preferred suppliers.
When attending an event, your pre-arrival plan should include:
- How many people will I contact and what is my goal for number of people who will want to speak with me?
- How many business cards will I collect?
- Who am I looking to speak with at the event?
- Am I prospecting prospects or strategic partners?
- An exit plan to move on to other attendees so that you don’t get trapped with one person for long periods of time.
2. Know your elevator speech and be ready to share it. Networking requires preparation, and every travel partner should be prepared with his or her elevator speech, especially when networking. My friend Dan Chappelle says that affluent consumers increasingly want to understand and align with the values of those they do business with. Include your values in your 30-second pitch about yourself and about the services you provide. At Nexion Travel Group, our Business Development and Education team partners with our members to craft a winning elevator pitch and develop a networking pre-plan and post-plan to maximize time and effectiveness.
3. Follow up is key. After a networking or educational event, immediate follow up is essential to your prospecting plan. Remember that everyone is a prospect or a potential strategic partner who can refer you, be a resource and help in other ways. This follow up should include:
- Within 48 hours, write a card, email or call people you met with a note of appreciation for time spent together at the event and affirmation for the future.
- Enter business card information into your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program and for correlating, upcoming marketing campaigns. Many hosts such as Nexion Travel Group provide CRMs and marketing campaign programs to their travel advisors as part of their membership.
- Schedule both prospect and strategic partner meetings for a few weeks after the event.
4. Continually review your prospecting plan, including networking initiatives and events, and tweak as necessary. It’s important for travel advisors to actively network on a continuous basis through a variety of channels. A few more ideas to gain prospects and strategic partners through networking:
- Print and review your F.R.A.N.K. list (Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors and Kids’ contacts) for hidden gems of people you can tap into and add to your contact list.
- Ask top luxury networkers where they network.
- In addition to your local Chamber of Commerce, join business organizations and associations within the affluent or luxury travel niche, such as culinary societies and cooking schools, wine tasting clubs, local ladies’ investment clubs, upscale professional associations such as The Commonwealth Institute, as well as local affluent sporting/activity clubs (tennis, golf, polo, yacht clubs). University, fraternity/sorority alumni associations are also a great place to “reconnect” and strengthen life-long relationships.
- Utilize relationships through your neighborhood or homeowner’s association.
- Search within your existing database and social networks to find ideal prospects.
5. Always share your value as a travel advisor and your brand when networking. Today’s affluent travelers want exclusive, curated experiences that are truly customized, immersive and authentic. They also seek an intelligent advisor to cut through the clutter and make recommendations throughout the travel cycle. Don’t lead with the product but instead with the experiences you can provide. (Selling the product, no matter how luxurious, also makes it easy for someone to book directly with the supplier or online.)
With a bit of preparation, persistent networking and thorough follow-up, you’ll be on your way to adding more luxury prospects in no time, which then equates to personal connections who turn into loyal clients. Loyal clients, in turn, trust in your services and bring a big book of business.