CRM: What It Is and Why You Need to Master It    

Recently, Richard D’Ambrosio wrote a three-part series on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems for Travel Market Report. In April and May, we will be featuring excerpts from those articles. What follows is taken from the first of his articles, CRM: What It Is and Why You Need to Master It.

With more professional travel advisors operating in smaller, solo entrepreneur agencies, the need is growing to find new clients and close more sales leads.

Learning where sales leads come from, who these customers are, what they are looking for, and why they may or may not work with an agent, requires the right tools. Despite this imperative, most agencies, agency owners, and independent agents don’t master the concepts and features of good CRM tools.

According to Infusionsoft, a Chandler, Arizona-based CRM/marketing automation company, only 23 percent of U.S. small business owners use a CRM. When Infusionsoft surveyed 1,467 U.S. small business owners in October 2018, they found that only 24 percent ask for contact information when speaking to a prospect in person or on the phone, and just 15 percent have an opt-in email subscription program.

What too few entrepreneurs and travel advisors understand, experts say, is that investing in a good CRM can help them capture new client contact information efficiently and empower them to leverage this data to target customers and sales prospects with the right offers at the right time, and make them repeat clients.

What is customer relationship management?

A good CRM principally helps a business manage three core activities: 1) acquiring and qualifying sales leads; 2) marketing to new and existing clients; and 3) business planning and forecasting.

One of the first services a good CRM can provide is a place (like an online form at an agent’s website) for an initial contact to occur. This touchpoint launches the collection of important data, including contact information, where the sales leads came from, and in some instances, the clients’ inspiration for planning a trip.

When advisors make the follow-up personal consult, a good CRM becomes the repository for any new, more detailed information they unearth. Once prospects are entered into a CRM database, a professional advisor can use that information to track the clients through the path to purchase. Given the typical length of the travel purchase cycle, it’s critical that an advisor, already busy with multiple responsibilities, have a system for following up with sales leads.

Even if prospects don’t purchase initially, they can be added to a database where an agent can target them with marketing for different promotions, newsletters, and website content to keep in front of the sales lead as they continue to plan vacations.

Finally, building a history of how customers find you, what kinds of vacations they are looking for, and what type of marketing they respond to can help you create a more effective and efficient marketing strategy for growing your sales and profits.

What’s out there?

Leaping into the world of CRM is even more daunting because of the often-confusing array of tools available. Additionally, CRM tools need to work seamlessly with other critical agency operations, like booking engines, itinerary builders and commission tracking, and not all tools offer the same level of integration.

Sabre Corp.’s ClientBase is considered to have the most robust set of travel tools, while smaller companies, like Tess (from Travel eSolutions), TravelJoy, and VacationCRM, were developed for travel advisors specifically and are less widely used.

Then there are other generic tools, like Constant Contact and MailChimp, which offer both CRM and automated marketing services, as well as software systems, like Microsoft’s ACT, Ontraport, Infusionsoft, Marketo, or HubSpot.

For many small agencies, their CRM and marketing solutions are provided through their host agency/network, like Virtuoso, Signature Travel, Nexion, and Avoya Travel. Virtuoso and Signature, which both leverage Sabre Corp.’s ClientBase, are extremely adept at tying their travel magazines, supplier offers, and web content into opt-in client marketing programs.

No matter what, you should take the time to review your options, talk to other agents who are further down the CRM path and dip your toe in, experts say. Meanwhile, Travel Market Report will try to guide you along that path over the next two stories.

For more learning about CRMs, register for Part One of Richard D’Ambrosio’s three-part training, CRM 101: Understanding the Basics, April 29, 2019, at 1:00 pm (EDT). And watch for the next installment of Richard’s articles in Hot Tip Tuesday coming out April 30.