CRM Part 3: Taking the Plunge

by Richard D’Ambrosio
CRM Part 3: Taking the Plunge

Photo: Shutterstock.com.


So you think you’re ready to invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, but you’re not certain what to look for. The same way that you might seek to use CRM to tailor your client marketing and communications, you also need to personalize your criteria for choosing your platform, experts advise.

“What works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for another,” said Larissa Parks, an independent travel advisor based in Waldorf, Maryland.

A more established business with sufficient referrals from existing clients may be less interested in sales lead generation and email marketing campaigns, and more interested in tools that enhance customer service.

Meanwhile an agent looking to add independent contractors might want a program sophisticated enough to serve the needs and issues arising from collaborating with multiple, individual agents.

Whatever your business size or marketing strategy, you very likely can find a tool that meets most of your specific needs. The following tips can be used to help you decide.

How’s your inner geek?
Before you even start looking at features, be honest with yourself – do you squirm at the thought of learning new software? If the answer is yes, you likely don’t want a feature-heavy solution like Sabre Corp.’s ClientBase.

An alternative, like TravelJoy, which has been in development for about two years, has 600 subscribers today. The system was based on the knowledge and experience Co-Founder Dayo Esho gained observing his mother’s travel agency.

“You want to be wary of feature bloat,” Esho said, estimating that his typical advisor client uses about half of TravelJoy’s features. “You need to decide, ‘Is this going to make the lives of my customers and my agents better, or make it worse for the majority of users because it has too many features we don’t use?’”

On the other hand, ClientBase and non-travel tools like Microsoft’s ACT offer tremendous flexibility to customize important features like database fields, reporting and marketing. Trading off simplicity for more advanced features may better suit a business needing, say, to capture more data to target niche vacation categories.

To make them easier to use, all of the CRM tools Travel Market Report reviewed have dashboards that highlight an agency’s key activities and metrics, making it simpler for an owner or sole proprietor to get a daily snapshot.

For example, the TravelJoy main dashboard can be sequenced as a sales pipeline, showing how a lead moves from inquiry, to follow-up, to proposal, to trip booking. Filters can be applied to only display different types of clients and trip-planning stage, and workflows can be modified for tasks and activities specific to the agency, like whether or not the client has been charged a planning fee.

Lisa Wood Rossmeissl, owner of Boomerang Escapes in Old Bridge, New Jersey, maintains that if you aren’t tech savvy, you need to make the commitment to enhancing your CRM skills through training. “There is a bit of a learning curve and it takes time,” said Wood Rossmeissl, who first started using ClientBase in 2009. “I can say I’m not even using my current system to its fullest abilities.”

Don’t skimp because of cost
Wood Rossmeissl has a subscription to Sabre’s ClientBase for Windows, one of her largest monthly expense line items, as well as Touchbase Marketing Services, ClientBase Online for her ICs and Sabre’s Trams Back Office. Because Rossmeissl has independent contractors working for her, she pays $299 a month for licenses for ten users.

“Obtaining clients and retaining clients is crucial if I am to have a thriving business. No clients, no business,” she said. “In the travel industry, a big key to our success is knowing our clients inside and out. A CRM is our tool to keep all this great knowledge at our fingertips and use it when we sit down to make the next year’s business plan.”

ClientBase tends to be at the top end of the price spectrum, costing around $60 a month for a single user’s license for the basic database version. TravelJoy costs $30 a month if billed monthly, and $25 a month if you pay for a full year upfront. VacationCRM costs $50 per month (and $10 for each additional user), and $100 a month for a team of up to 10 users.

The basic package for a service like Ontraport costs $79 a month per user, with a limit of 1,000 contacts and unlimited emails. The basic version of Constant Contact costs $45 a month, allowing you to load up to 2,500 contacts; an enhanced version that includes dynamic forms, the ability to test email subject lines and conduct client surveys, costs $70 a month for up to 2,500 contacts.

“You cannot ask clients to invest in you, if you aren’t willing to invest in the tools that will make you productive,” Parks said. “Automate as many of your processes as you can, and if you have to pay more for something to make you more efficient and more effective, pay for it.”

Who will use it, and for what?
“When you have ICs, you really need to be able to track everything that is going on outside your office,” said Wood Rossmeissl. “My CRM is probably the hardest thing my ICs need to learn from a technology standpoint.” The more complexity means the longer it will take for your team to get fully up to speed, so choosing simpler tools may be better.

If you have multiple agents backing each other up, including your best clients, more advanced tools like ClientBase can ensure that key contact information pops up when a client’s profile is accessed by any one of your agents.

If you want to engage your agents in performing some of their own marketing under your brand, you also might want to go with a more sophisticated service that offers different marketing permissions, so that you can approve email campaigns before they go out.

Finally, travel advisors and industry experts urge agents to consider their long-range goals. Locking yourself into a platform that is hard to transition out of when it doesn’t grow with you could be a long-term cost you pay for short-term savings.

“You must think in the long term when selecting the product. Don’t just get something because it’s easy, and then you find out two to three, or more years down the road you didn’t think big enough, or you just settled because you wanted something quick to set up,” Wood Rossmeissl said.

“You’re an eagle,” said Parks. “You need the support that allows you to soar.”

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Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

Terri Weeks

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