“We think we’d like to take a cruise. Can you tell us about Princess?”
“We’re interested in going to Jamaica. How much would that cost?”
Q. How should a travel seller answer these types of questions?
A. You don’t.
The best answer is no answer at all. The best answer is a question, followed by more questions – qualifying questions. The best answer also lets you, the travel seller, take control of the conversation and guide clients through a structured exchange that will lead to a sale.
Don’t let clients rush the process, CLIA trainer Roseann Dorsch told agents attending a CLIA sales seminar during Ensemble Travel Group’s International Conference in Orlando last week. It’s critical to qualify buyers and determine their needs and lifestyle – before you recommend a particular cruise or respond to inquiries about price.
Travel Market Report Senior Editor Marilee Crocker attended the Ensemble conference and captured a few key points Dorsch made in her presentation.
Value Before Price
“All products are too expensive until you can show the value behind the price,” said Dorsch, a veteran cruise salesperson. It’s only when you understand what’s important to the client that you can demonstrate the value of a particular cruise, she said.
Bernie Blomquist, CLIA’s manager of training development, pointed out in a conversation with Travel Market Report that “price is what we pay and value is what we receive.”
“The client needs to understand that you’re looking out for what they really want,” he said. “You don’t want them to pay more than they’re willing to, but you want to make sure they get the value.”
In her presentation, Dorsch suggested that when a shopper asks “how much?” agents redirect the conversation by responding with questions about past travel experiences, priorities and lifestyle.
If the shopper presses for a price quote, turn the conversation back with questions such as: Have you budgeted for your vacation? Do you have a certain price range?
To the client who says, “I don’t know when we’re going, just give me the rates,” she offered this reply: “I know you’re not sure when you’re traveling. Can you give me an idea of the season?”
Later in the exchange, after qualifying the client further, the seller might randomly select a date during that season and say, “Okay, I’ll give you rates for a May 2 sailing.” Most likely the client will correct you: “No. We’re going on April 15.”
Selling is like fishing, Dorsch said. You bait the hook, throw it out there, and wait to see what you get. If the hook comes back empty, you try different bait.
Asking open-ended questions is what sets a travel seller apart from the Internet, which is unable to process open-ended questions, and from other travel agents, Dorsch said.
What is the best travel experience you’ve ever had? Why? Was there anything you didn’t like about your vacation last year?
Questions like these give travel sellers insights into the buyer’s lifestyle, taste preferences and budget, making it easier to recommend the right product as well as anticipate buyer objections, she explained.
Blomquist said that while it’s helpful to find out what someone does for a living, it’s important not to jump to conclusions based on the answer. Not every millionaire likes to travel like other millionaires. Not every doctor has a big budget.
Agents can learn just as much, if not more, by finding out what kinds of hotels the client likes to stay at and what they like to do.
“It’s listening to how they live their lives,” Blomquist said. “The biggest thing you need to do is let your clients tell you. Then listen. If you listen properly, and you match the lifestyle of your client with the lifestyle of ship, 85% of your job is done.”
About Those Shoppers
Don’t be bothered by consumers who are shopping around, Dorsch said. “We’re all shoppers; we all look for good value. Don’t let that worry you.” If you develop a good relationship with the shopper, he or she will come back to you, she said.
If a shopper tells you they’ve already checked with several other travel sellers, use it as an opportunity to elicit information by asking an open-ended question: “Mr. Jones, why haven’t you made a purchase decision?”
Dorsch emphasized that “the way you ask a question will always dictate the reply.” This is true from the moment a consumer walks in the door or the moment you answer the phone. Instead of the time-honored “May I help you?” ask “How may I help you?”
She also urged agents to “love those clients who have no idea where they want to go or only a general idea. They need you.”