Written By: Scott Koepf MCC, CTC V.P. of Strategic Development – Cruise Planners
I was thrilled when ASTA embraced the name change from Agents to Advisors (and how nice they both start with A so no need to change the Association name!). I believe most everyone likes the change, but I think we need to enthusiastically and boldly change the way those of us who sell travel are perceived by consumers. How do we do that you ask? If we change our approach to the business of selling to match the true difference between the terms.
I believe the consumer equates the term agent to a transaction processor whereas an advisor is just that. I love the analogy to Financial Advisors as a model to emulate. At first it seems like a nice comparison and does not require much of a change. While that may be true for some Travel Professionals, I think for many it will be a paradigm shift. Let me explain in more detail.
If a consumer asks you for a quote on an upcoming vacation will you provide one? An agent would but an advisor would not. At least not until they have had the opportunity to establish a relationship first. Think of it this way. If you called a Financial Advisor for the first time and asked them to buy 100 shares of ABC Company what would a good advisor say? No. Yep, just that simple. Instead they would ask for an appointment to meet with you and to learn all about your current financial status, your plans for the short and long term and determine how they can help you achieve those goals. Only after an in-depth qualifying session would the Financial Advisor offer to provide quotes and services. In other words, there is no interest in transactions until a long-term relationship is established.
If nothing else use this name change to adjust your process and goals of building a client base. Financial Planners are not constantly trying to build their database and then market to it in the hope that some small percentage may react. Instead they want a small number of lifetime clients. Travel Advisors need to do the same and be empowered to say no. If you look back at all the quotes you have sent to new enquiries, how many did you book? It is probably a very small percentage as the consumer probably got ten quotes and whoever was $5 cheaper and threw in a keychain got the business. There was no value placed on your service as price became king and there was no opportunity to explain why they should book with you.
From now on use this approach when you get a request to provide a quote.
“Thank you so much for thinking of me to help you plan a wonderful vacation. I would love to provide you our great pricing however we offer so much more and we are so focused on wanting to make sure our clients have amazing experiences that we would like to set an appointment with you before we provide quotes. I am available to come to you and meet you at your convenience so I can determine how we can best help you and explain the extraordinary approach we take with our customers that will save them time and money. How is Wednesday at 3pm at the Starbucks on Main Street? Your Latte is on me!”
As you can see you don’t really say no to providing the quote, you just explain the process to get to that quote. Obviously, if the customer is not local then set a phone appointment, but in all cases try to meet in person if possible (close rates are 50% higher if you meet the customer in person!). Will all customers embrace this and get excited to hear what you have to say? Of course not. Not every customer will meet with the Financial Advisor either and will find someone to just do the transaction. That is good news as you do not want customers who do not value what you do and will shop you numb. Even if only one out of ten say yes to this approach, I can promise your long-term profitability will be significantly higher than staying on the unending treadmill of sending out quotes and hoping you occasionally land one.
If you take this approach to be an advisor instead of an agent then it is important that you are totally prepared for the meeting that you set up with your potential lifetime client. Have a sheet or two as a takeaway about you and the agency you are with and explain how important it is to have a lifetime Travel Advisor and how there is none better than you. You can script out your description so that it doesn’t sound arrogant but make sure it leaves no doubt that you are the best choice for booking all future travel (if you don’t believe that, then the customer certainly wont either). Keep in mind that this fist meeting is not to sell, present or talk at all about the next vacation. It is a meeting with three primary objectives.
First and foremost, to qualify the customer and get to know them and every aspect of their vacation history and expectations. Secondly, to show them the reason why they want to do business with you. And finally, to set the next appointment where you can present the best option for their next vacation. So, don’t bring supplier brochures and don’t make suggestions in this first meeting. Just be ready to spend some quality time getting to know your customer and letting them get to know you. This approach has made many Financial Advisors very successful so don’t reinvent the wheel, use their proven process and leave the old agent ways behind. Become a proud Travel Advisor who is so successful that you will have a waiting list to become your client, which is not unusual for good Advisors. Believe in the advisor approach and in yourself and the change will pay off beyond your wildest imagination!