This is the second part in a series on home-based agents and supplier relationships.
How can travel agents, especially those who are home-based, cement the kind of relationships with suppliers that will take them to new heights of profitability?
Develop a specific plan for what you want to achieve. Then let your targeted suppliers know all about it.
That was the key message during a panel discussion called Pick Your Team at OSSN’s recent Home-Based Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas. Panelists addressed the often challenging process for home-based agents to develop strong supper relationships.
“Relationships with suppliers are just as important as those with your clients,” said panel moderator Richard Earls, publisher of Travel Research Online. “You’ve got to seek out relationships with suppliers you can trust, those who will take care of your clients.”
Have a plan
Most suppliers are eager to form partnerships with home-based agents, but they also want to know why it is worth their while, said Scott Radesi, a BDM (business development manager) for Funjet Vacations.
“To do this, you’ve got to have a marketing plan,” he said. “Show us what your plan is for the year, including how you will reach your customer base. Where do you want to be in a year, in three years? How can we help you get there?
“A lot of agents don’t have an answer to these questions. Having the answers shows us that you want to grow.”
Agents who can show suppliers solid goals and give them a sense of what their ROI (return on investment) will be are the most likely to get support, including marketing funds, Radesi said.
“We have marketing funds available, but we want them going to the right channels,” he said. “We will support you with marketing funds, but we want to know what the ROI will be. Marketing dollars are harder to come by now, so this is more important than ever.”
Show your loyalty
Acknowledging that home-based agents face challenges in forming ties with suppliers, David Appleby, owner of Texas Cruise & Travel and Midwest regional manager for OSSN, agreed that having a solid plan and sharing it with suppliers is crucial.
“If you can show a BDM how you will sell their product, you will get their attention,” he said. “It really doesn’t take a huge gross if you’re loyal to them.”
Appleby, an independent, home-based agent, said he maximizes his clout with suppliers by channeling as much business as possible to a few suppliers in various destinations.
“I categorize suppliers for different regions. When you use them enough, you will be surprised at what opens up for you.”
Cultivating the relationship
Just as agents are often advised to get to know their clients, establishing personal rapport with suppliers is also beneficial, according to Appleby.
“I know the birthdays of my supplier contacts,” he said. “If they know you and if you build a personal relationship, it goes a long way.”
Whatever it takes to discover who the person is behind the email address or website, do it, he added. “This industry is run by people. No one sits in front of a computer more than I do, but it’s still people who make it happen.”
Making the connection
How can a home-based agent initiate relationships with suppliers? Radesi recommended starting by finding out who the supplier BDMs are in your area and contacting them.
He also recommended doing some research to find out which suppliers are supportive of the travel agent distribution channel. “Those will be the ones you want to pursue.”
Attending trade shows and events, particularly those designed for home-based agents, are also essential for making supplier connections, he added.
Another good tactic to strengthen relationships is for the agent to hold an event that brings clients and suppliers together. Radesi said. “If you plan a local event, reach out to the BDMs. Get their attention. We want to align with you.”.
See Part One: "Home-Based Agents Still Face Roadblocks in Supplier Relations," June 4, 2012.