Consultative selling is the operational base from which more and more travel advisors are engaging with their clients. But some are still using the traditional order-taking approach to generating travel sales – and they are leaving money on the table. With consultative selling, a travel professional is viewed as a trusted advisor (more akin to a lawyer, financial advisor, or other high-level consultant) – and this model results in greater revenue and profitability.
The practice of consultative selling supersedes merely selling products. Travelers today can research products and pricing online, on their own. What they need is the savvy advice of a travel expert. With the consultative approach, the advisor invests time upfront (as with an annuity). It is all about listening, asking the right questions, and slowing down enough to learn what the client wants in their travels, so the advisor can make the perfect recommendations that are best suited for them.
With just a few questions, an advisor can jumpstart the client talking, and ferret out the details of their needs and wants. But they must be the right questions. The order-taking method asks: Where do you want to go? When do you want to go? How many people are going? What kind of cabin do you want (if it happens to be a cruise vacation)? But with the consultative strategy, the questions reach deeper into the motivations behind their desire to travel.
Example #1 of consultative selling
If a client says they just want to relax on their vacation, ask what that looks like to them. Do they want to relax at a spa, in a suite or on the deck of a cruise ship, at the beach, in a lounge or library? The idea of relaxation may differ widely from one person to another. And what if a couple is traveling together, and while her dream of rest and rejuvenation leads her to a spa, his takes him to a sports bar at the beach?
The travel advisor’s job is to find out what the client most wants, so they can fulfill the one thing that will make their trip truly memorable. From a wide and deep base of knowledge as a travel expert, advisors can then make the recommendation that will thoroughly satisfy their clients – and keep the agency’s pipeline full with repeat and referral business.
Example #2 of consultative selling
Further explaining the difference between the consultative selling and order-taking approaches, Suzy Schreiner, owner/travel specialist, Azure Blue Vacations, LLC, affiliated with Travel Planners International, offers: “I like to think of what I do as a professional travel advisor as similar to the difference between ordering wine at a diner versus working with a sommelier at a fine dining restaurant. You can look at a list of wine selections and choose what you think you like (and often, you may be driven by price), but may not truly enjoy your choice. Or you can have someone who understands the wines and cares about your preferences, to help you select something that will be a perfect fit for you; that you will enjoy and remember. To consult is to ask questions, take time to understand, and have the knowledge and expertise to make well-suited recommendations.”
She goes on to give this practical case of consultative selling in action: “A good example that happens often is when a client asks me to plan a trip to Hawaii. Instead of going, ‘Great!’ and sending my favorite recommendations, I will ask, ‘Why do you want to go to Hawaii?’ The key is not to assume anything, but to be a good listener. They may wish to see an active volcano (in which case, we should be looking at Hawaii Island), or enjoy a quiet beach (Lanai or perhaps Kapalua), or maybe they want to see surfing (Oahu North Shore), or get out and do some great hiking (Kauai is a great recommendation!). When we ask questions, we are listening for the keys that will unlock a well-planned and memorable vacation for our clients.”
Example #3 of consultative selling
For Patty King, ECC, elite cruise counselor, The Cruise & Travel Planner, a Nexion Travel Group Affiliate, “Consultative selling is more personal and allows me the chance to get to know my clients. I learn what they like ... what they don't like ... what's important to them on a vacation. Order-taking is less personal and cold.
“My business is now completely built on past guests and referrals. Most of the referrals contact me with an idea of the trip they think they want. Once I begin asking questions, I can find the best trip. Just this past year, I had new clients who had not gotten to take their previously scheduled honeymoon cruise (before I knew them) due to COVID-19. They were originally booked to go to Alaska on a medium-sized premium line and were thinking they would book the same cruise. However, after getting to know what they wanted out of this trip, I knew that they were better suited for a small ship experience. They still talk about the trip and how it was exactly what they needed.”
“Consultative selling has allowed me to earn the trust of my clients,” explains King. “They know that I am only going to suggest trips for them that will fit their wants, needs, and budgets. Many of them want to know what trips I am taking so they can come along! Clients are now like family. They know I am not going to steer them astray.”
As for Schreiner, “Building loyalty and respect is key to longevity in our business. Clients benefit by not wasting their hard-earned time and money on a trip that is just average (again, think wine). I benefit from the enjoyment of working with my clients, year in and year out, and I am building a successful career at the same time.”
A few more tips
Consultative selling also opens up new markets for advisors. Listening more intently to clients can lead to booking off-season travel (such as winter travel in the Mediterranean), and opportunities for groups, or solo travel.
“Do not wait for your clients to come to you with their ideas, go to them with new ideas!” advises Schreiner. “Utilize your consultative expertise to reach out to them and let them know that you found a wonderful next adventure for them. If you have built trust, through your expertise, they will listen and have the opportunity to enjoy a new experience that they may not have thought of on their own.
“I would also say NOT to rely on social media to ‘sell’ new destinations or resorts but rather connect with your clients directly. To give them personalized service is to contact them and say, ‘I thought of you when I was in XYZ and this is why I think you would love this for your next vacation.’ I do use social media when I travel and to share what is new, but not with the intent to sell, but rather to give ideas. The 'sale' will happen when my client feels like it is the right fit for them to enjoy a special experience.”
To sum up, King says, “Consultative selling is what makes great travel advisors stand out from others by engaging with clients on a more personal level.” As 2023 comes to an end, this is a good time for travel advisors to reflect on and plan their selling strategies for the new year.
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