Travel agents want to get out of the “price game” and they can do that by selling more upscale products, according to Mark McMullen.
The author of the newly-revised book, Strategies for Selling More Successfully, McMullen, CTC, is also a trainer and facilitator for The Travel Institute and the executive vice president of Catapult New Business.
Travel Market Report spoke with McMullen about the importance of the luxury market as well as building a customer base, branding, and the digital arena.
You emphasize the importance of reaching affluent buyers. Is that a key message for agents?
McMullen: Agents want to make more money, and they want to get out of the price game. They can do that by selling more upscale products. We devote a number of chapters on how to move from the mass market to the luxury market. We emphasize how to appeal to the luxury customer.
Success in selling comes from knowing your customer or potential customer. We have a lot of discussion about who the affluent are; their likes, dislikes and how to connect with them.
Do you have specific suggestions for dealing with the affluent?
McMullen: The affluent customer is very different than the mass market client. They have a high level or expertise and they are looking at your personal and professional presence.
As a professional, they will judge you by your level of knowledge, your accreditations and experience. And as for your personal presence, how you carry yourself is important. Always remember that you still have to deliver value, even for the luxury client.
What other advice do you give agents?
McMullen: The whole digital arena is important. Agents need to understand how to drive people to their website and their Facebook page. If you have a great website, you can make your business seem much bigger than it is. Social media is important, because people pay attention to what is posted there.
But the key message I hope to get across is the importance of being proactive. The most successful agents are those that reach out for the business. They don’t wait for it to come to them.
What’s the best way to start reaching out for that business?
McMullen: Think in terms of branding. The more you can differentiate yourself, the more value you add to your business.
Obviously, learning to cultivate a niche is important as well. Specialize in something you are passionate about. It can be golf, wine trips, river cruises or particular destinations.
Merchandise yourself and your brand in everything you do: website, social media and business cards. Build up an affinity group business. You’ll be rewarded with loyal clients and referrals.
What advice do you have for agents looking to build their customer base?
McMullen: First of all, they need to embrace change in order to grow. It’s key for agents to be proactive and try different things. They need to see themselves as consultants; a gateway to people’s dreams.
It’s no different than being a financial advisor for JP Morgan. Agents are professional advisors.
You interact constantly with agents in your work for The Travel Institute. What themes or topics are resonating with them at the moment?
McMullen: There’s definitely a positive overall atmosphere. Most of the agents that I train are highly motivated because they love the travel business. They got into it because it allows them to do something they have a passion for.
Most of them honestly didn’t get into it to get rich. The upside of this business is that you can really leverage a personal passion to drive revenue. That’s highly satisfying.
At the same time, what are the biggest challenges facing agents today?
McMullen: There are plenty of challenges and always will be. The industry has seen so many changes. Agents have struggled with relevance over the years. Suppliers have cut commissions or eliminated them altogether.
And there’s been competition from the online travel agencies. Those agents that survived 2008 came out better because of it. They’re more focused and more aggressive in building their customer base.