Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion LLC
I spend a lot of time talking with travel agents, and one thing that I consistently hear from them is the struggle many of them have with marketing – specifically, “how do I get new clients?”
The answer is much closer than you think. One of the most reliable forms of marketing is by building a strong referral program. In this month’s column, I’d like to share seven tips on how you can easily incorporate referrals into your marketing plan:
- Don’t be afraid to ask your clients to share the word about you and your services. If you have clients who are satisfied with your service, knowledge and expertise – or you in general – ask them to help you build your customer base. Don’t wait until after travel is completed, either. Chat with them while they’re still home to ask for a referral. Why not even ask when making the booking. For example, “Do you have any friends or family who want to take this trip with you? I’m happy to help with that booking as well!”
- Add your request for referrals to your email signature line and invoices. This is probably the easiest, most cost effective and immediate thing you can do, as signature lines are prime real estate! Sample signature lines are: “Please forward my contact information;” “Your referrals are greatly appreciated;” and “Know someone who needs a vacation? I can help!”
- Include a few business cards, including virtual business cards, with everything you send. If you’re sending your clients documents, a note of gratitude, etc., include a few of your business cards with request for them to pass along to others. Include your electronic business card in email and other digital correspondence with the same request. Or, better yet, create referral marketing materials, such as a referral business card, that include your logo and contact info, along with a line “Referred by _______________.” They simply have to add their name and then hand out.
- Find opportunities throughout the year to reach customers. Be creative in your approach with holidays or time of year. For example, if you send holiday greeting cards, whether electronic or physically in the mail, play off the gift-giving season with a note such as, “The best gift you can give me is the gift of a referral.” A birthday or graduation note could include a simple note such as, “Congratulations on your milestone. I’m always available to help put together the perfect travel celebration for you and your friends.”
- Don’t forget the value of a thank-you note. I remember when I was a child, my mom instilled in me the importance of writing hand-written thank-you cards when someone did something nice for me, whether it was receiving a gift, helping me to get a job, etc. I encourage you to send notes of gratitude to your clients after travel and thank them for their business. You can add a subtle request for referrals in this thank you simply by stating something like, “I appreciate you and thank you for entrusting your travel arrangements with me. The best way to return this gratitude is through a referral.”
- Use the FRANK strategy for referrals. FRANK stands for Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors and Kids/Clubs. You know that these audiences can open huge doors for you. Referrals are a bit broader. Use your friends, relatives, etc. to help introduce you to prospective business partners that in turn can help spread the word about individual bookings and groups. It’s about who you know, but more importantly, who do they know?
- Tap into all aspects of social media. Ask your clients to like your Facebook page; you then have their friends as potential clients. Always ask your clients to leave reviews on your social media sites. If you don’t get a response with the first request, be sure to follow up a week to 10 days later to ask again. In addition, ask your clients to express their satisfaction by sharing photos from their travels and tagging you and your agency name when they post them. This takes referrals to a whole other level, because it involves how your clients can tell your story to attract potential clients you don’t know.
Be sure to show that you appreciate your clients and want the opportunity to keep their business. When they send a new client your way, thank them with a small token of gratitude or handwritten letter.
In closing, the most important factor of any referral strategy is to make yourself referable. How you would describe why others should book with you is half the battle. Ensure your clients know what you sell and what you don’t. They may not think to refer you for a Mediterranean cruise, for example, if you book African safaris. Be clear in your marketing efforts about your expertise and type of business you book – and what you’re passionate about. This will help ensure referrals that come in bring in the right types of customers and bookings for you and your travel agency.