Written By: Jason Coleman, CTC, ECC, CLS, LCS, DS, Business Development Manager/MentorU Coach, UNIGLOBE Travel Center
Are you using the sales and marketing silver bullet in your arsenal? You don’t have one, you say? Of course you do! Everyone does. Sales and marketing is not rocket science. But a problem I have noticed while coaching travel agents is that many continue to search for a magic formula, a silver bullet. They never realize they have the tools at their disposal all along.
The great football coach Vince Lombardi is known for having his team spend 80% of their practice time blocking and tackling. He said that football comes down to only two things: blocking on offense and tackling on defense. Success for travel agents is no different. Focusing on the basics is a winning strategy, whether you are playing football or selling travel.
Here are a few basics that every travel agent should keep top of mind and practice religiously.
Make outbound calls every day.
Selling travel is a relationship business. It is your point of differentiation and the reason prospects and clients contact you in the first place. If they wanted a relationship with a computer, there are plenty of places they could book. So understand that the human touch is one of your strongest assets. One of the best ways I have found to nurture that relationship is to use old school technology—the telephone.
The most successful travel agents start their day with outbound calls. They not only contact clients they are currently working with. They regularly call prospects, past clients, and referral leads to develop and nurture personal relationships. This is one of the easiest actions you can take to steadily grow your business.
One easy way to start outbound calling is to create a call sheet from your database. Organize it any way you want. Perhaps start with your most frequent clients, or do the opposite and start with those that have not traveled with you in the last year. Find a reason to call them. Perhaps it is their birthday month. Or develop a simple survey question or two and solicit their feedback.
The hardest part of this activity is getting started. The first few days of calls may feel a little awkward. Kudos to you for venturing outside your comfort zone. I promise if you make this part of your routine (I recommend first thing in the day so you don’t skip it when things get busy), you will start to see results.
Ask questions and listen.
The purpose of qualifying is to learn about your clients, their likes and preferences, and their travel history. Yet I know so many travel agents who immediately jump to recommending the first thing that pops into their head. If you can keep your mouth shut and listen more, you’ll learn so much about your clients—information you can use in your research and recommendation.
I encourage agents to develop a questions script they can use as a basis for their qualifying sessions. One of my favorites is Nolan Burris’ zones of experience consulting form. I have coached many agents to use this form as the foundation for their own client qualifying questions. It is important that you make the questions your own and adapt them to every unique client situation.
But perhaps more important than the questions you ask is the listening that must follow. Silence is golden—your silence that is. Avoid rushing to fill the silence with your own experiences or features of the travel products you think might be a fit. There is a place for that conversation. Your qualifying consultation is rarely the right time. This is your prospective clients’ time.
Again, I encourage you to capitalize on your personal asset, your human touch that distinguishes you from the online booking sites. Sit back, listen, take notes, and allow your client to open up to you.
Proactively ask for referrals.
Asking your satisfied clients, especially repeaters, for their referrals is one of the easiest ways to grow your business of prospective clients. However very few clients will do this on their own without your prompting or regular reminders. Some may feel uneasy about bothering you. Others just won’t think about it.
The easiest way I found to drop the hint is actually a great group builder as well. When your client decides to move forward with your recommendation and make their deposit, simply ask if they have any friends, other couples, or families who might like to travel with them. It’s the easiest way to add incremental business, and grow from one booking to two or more. Again, many clients may have never even thought to invite anyone else along.
In between trips is another great time to ask for referrals. It requires no more than a simple question. “Do you know of anyone who may be considering a vacation that I could help?” You’ll find the right time and wording that you are comfortable with. Perhaps it is the subject of one of your outbound calls. Or you can mail a handwritten note with a couple of business cards.
Some agents formalize a referral program, and incentivize or reward clients for referrals. A travel theme gift, dinner gift certificate, onboard credit, or added amenity are among the most popular incentives. By no means do you have to get elaborate. A gesture of gratitude is important and reinforces your clients’ value while nurturing your relationship.
Don’t overlook this simple way to grow your client list. Letting others do your marketing is an efficient way to grow, especially when you are a solopreneur and responsible for everything in your business.
Stay top of mind.
C.J. Hayden, author of Get Clients Now! says that marketing is “telling people what you do, over and over.” Sounds pretty basic to me. We all have short attention spans. We are easily distracted and loyalty is getting harder to keep. For these reasons (and others), it is essential for travel agents to stay top of their clients’ minds.
I found that the sweet spot for my client list was a communication or reminder every three weeks. This way I was never more than 10 or 11 days from a client contact. The key is to be one of their first thoughts whenever they think travel. I experimented with direct mail, email, outbound phone calls, surveys, newsletters, and personalized video messages. I enjoyed mixing it up so my client contacts included some variety.
There are countless mediums and methods you can use to communicate with clients. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. Pick one or a few of these ideas and put yourself out there. Consistency is critical here to make your marketing work.
These few reminders are activities you can implement right away with very little effort. They require no special tools or skills. They are basic, yet they can produce big results when practiced on a daily basis. If your sales and marketing needs a shot in the arm, don’t look for a touch of magic. Return to the basics and implement them consistently. I’m sure you’ll be happy with the results.