Before you embark on the acquisition of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, or review your existing platform to see if it fits your long-term goals, it’s best to first think about the activities that you will need to master and commit to, in order to maximize your time and financial investment.
While there are many activities a good CRM tool performs for a business, the core functions are: 1) acquiring and qualifying sales leads; 2) marketing to new and existing clients; and 3) business planning and forecasting. Learning how a CRM helps perform these functions, and how they integrate with other tools that supplement your CRM, is crucial.
Asking clients and prospects to provide details about themselves (e.g. wedding dates, children’s ages, past vacation purchases), and learning additional information through other customer interactions, advisors are essentially building a marketing automation engine that can be leveraged to increase sales, noted Dan Chappelle, a travel agency consultant based in Seattle, Washington.
“This way, instead of communicating a generic message to thousands of people, the overwhelming majority of which won’t open your email or respond to your social media post, you can target messages to clients and prospects interested in what you’re sending them,” Chappelle said.
In this second part of Travel Market Report’s series on CRM, we’ll help you start diving into the details of how a CRM interacts with your prospects and clients, and what you should consider for your CRM and marketing strategies.
1. Acquiring and qualifying sales leads
Most advanced CRM tools, like Sabre Corp.’s ClientBase, offer the ability to build forms at an agency’s website, to encourage the client to share more information directly into your CRM, and tie that data into marketing codes.
“It’s an easy way for agents to get as much data in there, to get the best targeting and information for their customers,” said Lindsay Chomyn, product manager for ClientBase marketing services.
Lisa Wood Rossmeissl, owner of Boomerang Escapes in Old Bridge, New Jersey, subscribes to ClientBase’s Windows version, recording a wide variety of information including home address, birthdates, referral source, trips they have taken, important dates in their family’s lives, special requests and more.
“The more I can get on a client, the better,” Wood Rossmeissl says. She gleans client data from every interaction, which can be a cumbersome task, though an extremely necessary one.
Most CRM tools allow agents to customize fields and codes to their agency’s preference. For example, ClientBase allows agents to customize marketing codes “like large versus small cruise ships, or luxury only versus river cruises,” said Principal Product Manager Jill Kuhns.
Agents can also add specific activity categories a client prefers, such as Adventure, Culinary/Wine, Boating/Sailing, or Safari Destinations.
Having this level of detail handy when a customer is on the phone can enhance the client’s experience, and improve an agent’s ability to consult with the customer.
Built on top of Sabre Corp.’s ClientBase, TouchBase Marketing Services is a turn-key marketing program facilitating targeted email promotions with an agency’s own branding. Wood Rossmeissl uses it for everything from targeted campaigns for clients interested in her niche, to automated touchpoints like “Happy Birthday” emails.
2. Marketing to new and existing clients
The real power of CRM comes when a customer database can be leveraged to regularly market targeted offers to large numbers of existing prospects and clients.
“If I just want to advertise to my Australia clients about a fare sale, I can pull that list quickly with a simple search,” Wood Rossmeissl said.
“Once you have collected enough data through an extended period of time – at least a year – then you can run reports and see the history of when you started targeting clients, when they actually put down a deposit, how many people actually bought a product, and what offers did and did not work,” explained Maria Hoover, owner of We Speak Travel, in Clearwater, Florida.
For agents who are part of a host agency or consortia, a lot of their marketing can be automated. Networks like Virtuoso and Signature fully integrate their marketing campaigns based on the CRM information that an advisor provides, and whatever communications for which their clients opt in.
Most CRMs offer a minimum level of email marketing campaign measurement, like open rates and click-through rates, helping agents understand what types of emails perform the best, and what calls to action get the best responses. Paired with an agent’s website tracking data (e.g. pageviews, bounce rate, etc.), advisors should have a sufficient amount of information to fine-tune their marketing.
3. Business planning and forecasting
Another key benefit of having a CRM is the ability to forecast sales, and develop a marketing plan and budget to assist you in reaching your goals.
“Without data, you can't truly know the current state of your business or what is required to grow to your desired level,” said Rachel Mooney, owner at Changing Your Latitude Travel, LLC, in Birmingham, Alabama, an Avoya Travel independent contractor. “You have to know where you are to know how to get where you want to go.”
Wood Rossmeissl added: “You want to know what is coming down the pike. How many bookings are on the books for next year? To make informed business decisions and create strategies to source more revenue, the CRM is a vital tool.”
In a recent TMR story, Travel Agency Tribes’ Ryan McElroy said: “In order to be really, really successful in digital marketing, a plan is key along with desired outcomes. A plan will keep you, your team and the organization on point and moving in the right direction.”
Avoya Travel’s CRM “makes it easy to run reports of total production, break my business down month by month, and to see the top suppliers I sell,” said Mooney. Also helpful are visual charts and graphs that depict close rates, opportunities to increase repeat clients, and estimated monthly commission for the next year.
“The first year I started tracking my numbers, my repeat client percentage was about 5 percent. Part of that was because my business was so new, but part of it was due to my lack of awareness of my data. A couple years later, I've tripled that, due to tracking data,” Mooney said.
As McElroy and others have learned, paid advertising works. “However, you have to get good at it and you can’t be doing ‘one and done’ campaigns,” McElroy told Travel Market Report recently. “You must commit to a monthly budget and get great at placing the ads, adjusting and testing them on the fly.”
To do that, an advisor needs to know where bookings come from, what types of ads are working, and most importantly, what the revenue and profits from those campaigns look like. A CRM tool linking bookings, contacts and sales lead sources can help an agent create and refine those marketing campaigns.
Other uses can add up the dollars
Many agents also find that CRM tools drive time savings. In a business where time is money, travel advisors can justify subscribing to a CRM if they can reallocate the time saved to other endeavors that either increase client satisfaction/retention or allow them to perform other revenue-building activities.
Mooney uses her CRM to automate sending pre-departure tips and reminder communications, like final payment, following up on travel insurance quotes and calling to welcome a customer home. “I know that Royal Caribbean's online check-in opens 90 days before departure,” Mooney said. “Instead of taking time to manually email each customer this reminder, I schedule an email with the steps and why they should complete check in.”
“I know many agents use a paper system to organize activities, but that leaves a lot of room for error,” Mooney said, and it takes her away from selling.
But while software can automate touchpoints for agents and help them be more efficient, agents are cautioned to not forget the importance of a personal touch, consultant Chappelle said.
“A good CRM will tell you if a client is celebrating a birthday or anniversary, but it is up to you what you do with that information. Do you pick up the phone and call? Do you just send an email?” Chappelle said. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that this is still a people business and it relies on personal, direct connections.”