You only need 250 to 500 qualified clients to reach a million in sales, Geraldine Ree, emcee of last month's Travel Market Place East conference in Toronto and a travel agency consultant, told advisors during a breakout session.
Emphasis on "qualified."
To help advisors find and qualify those 250 to 500 clients, Ree offered several pieces of advice.
Here are four of the most important tips she talked about.
To get better clients and better leads – with better simply meaning "right for you" – you first need to get clear on who you want to serve.
"It's time to stop being all things to all people," Ree said.
Get clear on who lights you up and who are never going to be "your" people, she advised.
"I personally think you need to have either a picture in your mind or you need to have an actual client and describe them… This is Bob and Betty. They are my ideal clients. They are globetrotting professionals. They are empty nesters spending their children's inheritance."
Once you have your ideal client in mind, you are better able to create a marketing plan.
For instance, say you're decided to focus on empty nesters. If you're going through your contacts to see who fits into that category, don't only focus on those whose kids have left.
"There's this magical time when the youngest is 15 and the parents panic," Ree said. "Let's start planning that last cruise as a family."
Sometimes making the move to focus on your ideal client means letting other clients go.
"How do I politely say to someone I can no longer service your business?" Ree asked. "I think you just said it. You polity say, I am no longer the best agent for you. I've decided to take my business in a different direction."
Town to Cul-de-Sac
A fan of analogies, Ree explained to her audience how an advisor's broadest based of potential clients is like a town. As you niche down, your town turns into your subdivision. And from there, you want to get to your cul-de-sac.
"We have to go big before we go small," she said.
To begin with, advisors need to identify their town. Said another way, they need to find a source for a large broad based of possible clients.
"Every person in this room has the ability to access 10,000 people," Ree said.
For instance, you can find a winery or wine store to partner with and be their exclusive wine-themed travel advisor. Or perhaps there's a bike shop nearby. You could offer yourself as their exclusive travel planner for biking in Europe.
"Maybe your host or consortia. They're giving away leads like crazy," she added.
The point of getting access to such a large number of potential clients, Ree said, is to ultimately mine that list for your 250 to 500 clients that make up your subdivision.
"The town is a conceptual big picture of all the people who could potentially be in your market. You are passionate about your subdivision, your 250 to 500 people that you never let get more than 90 days away from hearing from you in a relevant way."
To do that, you need an optimized marketing plan that includes newsletters, social media, and emails – personalized emails.
"We write email books and nobody replies," she said. "People respond when you say, hey thinking of you, is it time for Bermuda?"
It's an easy way to keep in touch that doesn't take long, she emphasized.
Narrowing your client list down even more, "You want to have a cul-de-sac. The 30 clients that never get more than a month away from you."
Ree refers to these clients as your advisory board. They're the ones you reach out to by phone, the ones you host private events for, the ones you ask for input.
"One of the most important pieces of marketing – if you hear nothing else – is a warm phone call. It will do wonders for your business… Reach out to them and say, this is what I'm thinking. Can you give me feedback? They will tell you the intel you need for your marketing."
For instance, you can ask them, if you could do three trips next year, where would they be too? Because like-minded people travel similarly, the feedback they give you is a great social media post or ad.
"They will give you more content for your social media than you could ever think of."
Among the plethora of advice Ree doled out during her session, was one that took quite a few advisors by surprise: dial back your customer service.
"I think we're really out of whack," she said. "If I had to ask you where do you think you spend most of your time, where would it be? Service. Because that's our reputation. That's what we care about. We are nurturing, caregiving travel advisors for heaven's sake."
But the result, she added, is that instead of going with your gut and choosing three hotels in a destination that you know do a good job, you end up researching dozens of options. Or you spend nine, 10 hours making a detailed itinerary look pretty with photos and maps.
"We over service all the time… I'm not judging. I'm just saying, did anybody ask you to do this? Does it make an inch of difference to the person in front of you? But if you shared with them your favorite Caribbean getaway, your little secret cove, that matters."
Ree emphasized she's not asking advisors to make a radical change.
"I'm just asking, where could you trim back? Where could you do something once and use it often? One email that goes to everybody… How do I get organized around my execution so that I'm servicing a lot more efficiently?"
The time you free up is the time you can put into working on your business with marketing and going after your ideal client.
One piece of marketing that Ree took a moment to talk about is testimonials and referrals, and more specifically how they "are very different than they used to be."
Generic testimonials with quotes like "nice to work with" and "very professional" don't work anymore.
"The way social proof works now is people want to know you can do the exact thing that is their problem."
As an example, Ree said, imagine there's an empty nest couple who can't decide on their next milestone vacation. He wants to go to Antarctica. She's not sure if she does. Their advisor guides them through the decision making and books their decided upon trip.
Here's what the testimonial should look like: "We were celebrating our 30th anniversary and couldn't decide whether we should go to Antarctic or go to Europe. Our advisor, Carol, took the time to explain the options and we decided that we're better off doing Antarctica this year."
The testimonial, she emphasized, must solve a problem that members in your subdivision have. If one couple is arguing over where to go, others probably are as well.
Ree had one other piece of advice when it comes to testimonials: don't ask for one too quickly.
"I'm always surprised that people go for the referral before they ask was everything okay that I did? Will you be back as my customer? Is there anything I could have done better?"
Handle your retention first, then ask for the referral, she said.