This is the second in a four-part series featuring practical sales and marketing advice from the creators of a DVD series for travel agents.
If you think you’re an ace – or at least pretty good – at selling travel, there’s a good chance that you’re not.
That’s the challenge thrown down by agency sales executive Scott Koepf. Koepf maintains that to excel at sales most agents first need to adopt a complete new mindset, one that looks beyond the next transaction.
“The goal of a travel agent is to be atypical – if you’re typical, you’re not making money,” said Koepf, CTC, MCC, vice president of sales for America’s Vacation Center. “You have to be different – and do things differently from how you did them in the past.”
Koepf teaches travel sellers how to win lifelong clients by taking an atypical approach to sales in his DVD titled “The Ultimate Sales Process.” Following are a few of his key points.
Change your thinking
Agents’ ultimate goal shouldn’t be selling trips to customers – it should be developing lifetime clients, Koepf advised. “If you buy into that, everything changes. You have to change the mindset of focusing on the next commission.
“What you need is a certain group of clients that you will have lifetime relationships with. This requires a total mindset change.”
The biggest mistake many agents make in their approach to selling is confining their thinking to closing the transaction at hand, rather than looking beyond the sale, according to Koepf.
“Most agents are stuck in the mindset of ‘I gotta sell the next cruise, I gotta sell that one thing.’ The problem with this is that you are on a treadmill that never ends.”
Get fired with enthusiasm
How to achieve this new mindset? Begin by acknowledging that travel agents are salespeople, first and foremost.
Second, project an attitude of enthusiasm for serving customers.
“We all came into this industry because of a love for travel, but your real passion must center on what you can do for your clients,” he said. “You have to express that you are absolutely thrilled to be working with them. If that doesn’t come across, they won’t feel the need to work with you.
“As Vince Lombardi said, ‘If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.’ Your clients can fire you at any time.”
Ask the right questions
Establishing long-term relationships with clients begins with asking them the right questions. And those initial questions may have nothing whatsoever to do with planning a trip.
“We often start with product-driven questions, when we should really be asking clients about themselves,” Koepf said. “It’s not about what kind of stateroom they want, but about why they want to travel. If you can get to that, you’ve got a huge advantage.”
Solve emotional needs
The advantage comes with realizing that you are not just selling a product, but finding a solution to an emotional need.
“People travel to connect with family, a significant other – for a thousand different emotional reasons,” he said. “It’s through questions that you can determine what their emotional needs are.”
Agents versus call centers
Shifting from a transaction-based mindset to a relationship-based mindset, where the focus is not on quoting the best price but on knowledge of the individual client, lets agents differentiate themselves from competitors, particularly competitors that rely on depersonalized call centers.
In a world where people are increasingly accustomed to pushing telephone buttons or going to a website to solve problems, the relationship factor is missing – and that gives it more value, Koepf said.
“Sometimes you want someone to walk you through. You want a third-party endorsement so you can determine which cruise or hotel to choose.
“The sales process is not just the transaction, but the service that is being provided.”
Shine on the phone
Personalization and personality are key to differentiating yourself from your competitors, including call centers, Koepf said. “You’ve got to let your personality shine.”
It all starts with how you answer the phone.
“The first 10 or 20 seconds of a conversation is hugely important in building a relationship. Yet most travel agents don’t spend the time thinking of how to craft this. There’s no excitement, no thrill, in the way they answer the phone.”
Develop sales skill sets
Travel agencies also should devote time each week to training in sales – not just product, because product knowledge and price are not enough to make sales happen, according to Koepf.
“Very little training really digs into the true techniques of sales rather than just talking about a product. Sales is actually an exact science, and there are exact steps to take. It’s about determining the steps that will differentiate you and help you have the most impact.”
Travel agents who don’t pursue sales training are at a serious disadvantage, Koepf said.
“When I travel to a lot of conventions, I see people just wanting to learn about the cruise lines, rather than sales techniques. They blame their lack of sales on the economy. Instead, they should be looking in the mirror.
“Good salespeople know they have to adjust and change to have an impact.”
Get more of the pie
Those agents who are adjusting to change are getting a bigger piece of the pie than ever before, Koepf said.
“There’s the old 20-80 adage that says 20% of people are generating 80% of the business, but in today’s competitive climate, I think it’s actually more like 15-90.”
Koepf believes that travel sellers can find success in any economy if they are doing things right.
“People are still traveling – many cruises are full, many resorts are full. Someone is still selling travel, Why shouldn’t it be you?”
Scott Koepf’s DVD, “Ultimate Sales Process,” is part of the five-DVD Travel Agent Success training series. The series features marketing and sales advice from travel industry thought leaders.
For more sales and marketing advice, see Part One, “Want Loyal Customers? Treat Them Like Your Dog,” Oct. 27, 2011.
Next time: Strategies for social media success.