When It Comes to Sales, Knowledge Is Power

by Maria Lenhart
Carol Parsons

Building confidence as a travel seller starts with product knowledge, as well as knowing how to control the conversation with clients.

These are two of the main points emphasized by travel educator and sales coach Carol Parsons, a 30-year industry veteran who offers webinars and presentations for suppliers and travel agent organizations. Parsons will present a two-part live webinar called “Get Sales-Fit” for The Travel Institute on August 13 and 20.

Travel Market Report recently spoke with Parsons to get sales tips for both new and experienced agents.

How essential are sales skills to success as a travel agent?
Parsons: A lot of times agents don’t feel they are essentially in sales. New entrants may even be afraid of that word. But you have to get over it. Everyone is a sales person to some degree. When you step outside your door, you are selling yourself.

How can agents build the confidence to become good salespeople? Where do you begin?
Parsons: In the travel business, it’s about becoming knowledgeable.  There are so many things to learn about products and services. Get that knowledge under your belt. Look into all the great organizations out there who will help you do this. Learning about the products is part of the sales process – that’s what gives you the confidence and credibility.

With so many travel products out there, how do you determine a focus?
Parsons: You don’t have to know about everything – just know certain things well. Select those suppliers and experiences that your passion is about. Get to know the sales reps. That way you can recommend with confidence. You can present the features and benefits.

How important is it to also get sales training?
Parsons: You can be in the business for a long time and fall into the trap of thinking of yourself as an information dumper. These days, the customer can get the information from you and just go home and finish the job. What you have to learn is how to control the conversation. Sales training lets you know how much to share with clients as the process moves along.

There are a lot of opportunities out there for sales training. One is the two-part program that I’m doing for the Travel Institute in August. Participants will get ebooks as part of their registration. It’s targeted training that is designed for newcomers as well as those who’ve been in the business a long time.

What do you mean by controlling the conversation with clients? How do you do that?
Parsons: If you can’t control a conversation and lead a person to a sale, it’s just professional visiting. You must have the vision about building a relationship and keeping that client for life. That’s what it’s about.

It starts with asking the right questions. You need an arsenal of good questions – What was the best vacation you ever had? What didn’t you like about a recent vacation? Then you really need to listen, take notes on what they’re telling you. The more you use the answers people give you, the more successful you’ll be. For instance, if someone wants a cruise but says they hate crowds, then you know to recommend small ships. Use their own words to explain why something is a good choice.  

How about closing the sale?
Parsons: Just ask for it. You won’t get it unless you do. Don’t hesitate to ask for their business. They came to you for a vacation, so why wouldn’t you sell it to them? Money is involved, don’t be afraid of it.

What role does social media play in the process? Has it fundamentally changed the way agents should sell and market to clients?
Parsons: Social media has proved to be great way to inspire people to travel. Showing pictures of people doing something fun like whitewater rafting is a great sales tool. It’s a mistake, however, to think that social media can make a successful travel professional by itself.

All of the social media and mobile apps won’t do anything for you unless you get someone on the phone or in front of you. This is still a personal and intimate business – you have to get to know people in order to get it right. You can’t just do it with email. The really successful agents are the ones who build personal relationships.

Social media can be a trap. Some agencies have found that creating a virtual presence in place of traditional marketing doesn’t always work. It may enhance traditional marketing, but it can’t replace it.

What advice do you have for new travel agents?
Parsons: If are getting into the business, find that sweet spot where you can provide something that the internet can’t. People go into this business for different reasons, but it all goes back to a passion for travel and about filling a need for people on a real level. But while you can look at yourself as a consultant, you also have to know how to sell.

Travel pros have to love working with people and be willing to keep learning every day. You have to be adaptable. We’ve seen how adaptable you have to be during the past 20 or 30 years. As different channels come on line, you adapt. The Internet alone taught us that.

What advice to have for experienced agents who are feeling burned out or discouraged?
Parsons: A lot of times people lose sight of what got them into the travel business. I say remember what got you here and why you love it. Tune out the craziness. If you have the passion, the energy comes. Really successful people love what they do. If you don’t love it, then look at whether you should stay in the business or not.

Are you concerned about the future of the business?
Parsons: Many young people are being engaged by the industry and are looking to make it work as a career. That says to me there will always be this enticement about travel – that people will want to make a living at it.

We keep hearing that travel agents are going away. Wrong. There will always be the need for agents – just as people need doctors or hairdressers. Sure, people shop online, but it’s the agent who can help them narrow all that information down into something they can digest.

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