Part Two in a series
Although mentoring in general is typically comprised of similar elements, the most successful mentoring relationships are based on the unique needs of the individuals involved.
“It definitely goes by the needs of the individual,” said Connie Risse, owner of Ships and Trips, adding that any given time a mentee might want to know about different suppliers, how to sell groups, or how to create marketing flyers.
“Being a small agency with big ideas gives us lots of flexibility to tailor our mentoring sessions to the needs of the individual independent contractor,” said Michelle Duncan, MCC, DS, president and CEO of host agency Odyssey Travel Inc.’s president and CEO. “The most essential elements of mentoring are also the most important elements of customer service — patience and understanding,” she said. Mentors “understand what the mentee needs and know how to provide it. They take their time to make sure that they’ve covered the subject thoroughly and have answered all the questions the mentee has.”
Some of what Odyssey Travel’s mentoring covers sales techniques, group sales, consortium benefits, policies, setting up a home office, organizing files and answering clients’ questions.
At Montrose Travel, the mentoring program gives agents the ideas they need on how to excel in their profession, said Kate Bernier, manager of the Honeymoon and Leisure Division at Montrose. A Montrose mentor might offer advice on sales techniques, tips on how to work with various sales processes faster, or share information on online bookings.
Sharing Real Experiences
The common thread in agent-to-agent mentoring is the need to share actual experiences. Information relayed by mentors to mentees is generally not about product knowledge; it’s advice on how to sell, how to close sales, how to establish relationships with clients. It’s what to do when something goes wrong, how to deal with difficult clients.
“I try to go through my whole life as a travel agent,” said Risse. “How I started out, the things I did, the places I went, what helped me.”
Duncan called it sharing war stories. “We’ve all had clients who have been absolute angels to work with, had a wonderful time on their trip and gave us glowing reviews. Those are fun, but they’re also easy.” It’s those other clients, however, that offer travel sellers new insights and “the most valuable learning situations. What went wrong? What information could I have given them earlier on?”
Mentoring is For Everyone
While mentoring is something typically associated with younger and newer entrants to the travel agency industry, second-career entrants can also benefit, although their needs are generally different.
For the younger entrant mentoring involves building confidence and learning that revolves around processes and general how-to knowledge.
“The younger ICs who are new to the travel industry are literally sponges who soak up everything,” Duncan said. “That’s as it should be, since they don’t have depth and breadth of experience from which to draw, so they rely on me and the rest of the more experienced agents for information.”
“If young people coming in to this industry do what they do, then everything will be on the Internet or everything will be by e-mail blast,” said Susan Tanzman, president of Martin’s Travel and Tours. “They have no skills or understanding of how and why you need to talk to clients. Even though this younger generation likes to do certain things a certain way, they’ve got to learn that you’ve got to be able to really know what the client really wants. You’ll never figure that out in an e-mail.”
Experienced travel sellers especially need to teach young agents how to deal with clients of all different ages and economic groups. “This mentoring is probably the most important thing you can do besides giving product knowledge.”
Conversely, second-career travel agents are often more interested in help with product knowledge, as they already understand basic sales concepts and processes. “For them, the mentoring is more specific and focused on things like new ships or destinations, vendor specific information, Webinars for new online tools — those types of things,” Duncan said.
Risse noted that for some second-career entrants, technology can be a big stumbling block. In her mentoring role, she most often finds herself imparting confidence to these agents, who might have trouble believing they’ll ever be able to master use the computer for selling travel.
Part One in this series focused on the importance of agent-to-agent mentoring and its benefits. (See article).