Although qualifying clients may be the most important step in the process of selling travel, it’s a skill that can take quite a bit of time and effort to master.
“When you’re new in the industry it’s simple to assume that you know exactly what people want,” said Mary Jane Hiebert, manager of Canada One Travel in Steinback, Manitoba and the newly elected chairman of the board of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA).
“And you learn very quickly that what you think they want is not what they’re thinking. Sit back and learn and listen,” she said.
Even agents with years of experience can find qualifying clients a challenge.
“It’s hard to qualify people. It’s the hardest thing that we do,” said Nancy Yale, president of Cruise & World Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Fairfield, Conn.
“You can ask a billion questions, but the best thing is, ‘Where have you traveled before and what kinds of hotels have you stayed in?’ That’s where you can see if they stayed at the Four Seasons or the Sheratons, because they don’t tell you the truth.”
When qualifying clients, it’s important to dig deep into the reasons they’re taking a particular trip.
“When I work with clients I get through the qualification process by discussing the experience that they want, and what their expectations are. That gives me a good idea of the dream they had in their head of what their trip’s going to look like,” said Jade Chiarini with CTC Travel in Cerritos, Calif.
“They’re very forthcoming with the information after that because who doesn’t want to talk about themselves.”
In order to effectively qualify a client, you need to get to know them and gather information about their situation and preferences. That can only come from a serious conversation.
“Ask about their experiences. What they like, what they don’t like, what are their objectives for this trip,” said Guida Botelho, director of training for The Travel Institute.
“What do you want to do when you get there? Why are you thinking about going at this time? How many people are going with you?”
And if clients are traveling with their families there are even more questions, according to Botelho: “How old are your children? What do you want to do with them? Are they active kids, not active kids? Do you want them to spend time with someone who can watch them?”
Different situations—different questions
Although many agents have a standard list of questions they might ask, sometimes certain clients need to be qualified in different ways
“Qualifying people who want to do a seven-day vacation and don’t care where they’re going would be very different than someone who wants to go to Machu Picchu,” said Hiebert.
“One client wanted to do Sweden and Italy. We asked them why they want to go to those places. They wanted to taste coffee in Sweden and wanted to go off the beaten track in Italy. So qualifying them was a bit different than normal,” she said.
One of the things Hiebert asked: “If there was a possibility of a stop in Paris would they be interested?”
The budget is key
Even if you have long-term clients, it’s important to qualify them again for each trip they take.
“Some people may be Holiday Inn-type people but for their 25th anniversary they might want to do the Ritz Carlton,” said Andi McClure-Mysza, co-president of Montrose Travel.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to qualify is a client’s budget.
“When you ask the client about a budget, they don’t know how to answer it. They don’t know how much it costs. Honeymooners have more of a budget. They know what they’ve budgeted it for,” said Yale.
While gathering information through questions and conversation may remain the most common way to qualify clients, some agents are pre-qualifying clients in ways they might not even be aware of, according to Botelho.
“The traditional way of qualifying clients is still very much in play, but the new model is by using social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest,” said Botelho. “Through social media, people know your knowledge on a specific area of the industry.
“In that way you’re already qualifying that client before they even come to you. By the time they come to you, they know who you are and how you do business,” she said.
“I see that as more and more of a trend, and it’s really understanding how to use those outlets that will make a difference for agents.”