When a year is coming to a close, it’s always good to evaluate the skills we have and the ones we must enhance for the upcoming year. One of those skills is selling. Every travel professional knows that the very existence of the travel industry relies on the sale of travel products to clients. But the products don’t sell themselves. That’s your job and the job of every travel professional.
If your sales techniques need a refresh, our Certified Travel Associate (CTA®) program’s in-depth practical-skills modules may be exactly what you are looking for. And you’re in luck! The Travel Institute has launched its annual Season of Giving opportunity, featuring 20% tuition assistance toward the CTA certification program.
The CTA’s Customer-Focused Selling module thoroughly explains the steps of the sales cycle. The following segment—Identifying Customers—is taken from that module.
While selling may seem like a natural part of the job, not all travel professionals understand the important role they play in the sales process. Too often, in the hubbub of all the daily demands placed upon travel professionals and in the repetition of conditioned habits, the fundamental skills of selling can be lost in the shuffle.
The first step in the sales cycle, identifying customers, involves basically two separate activities: finding new customers and assessing the buying characteristics of those new customers.
The process of finding new customers is often called prospecting because your intent is to discover prospective purchasers. Customers are considered prospects until they make a purchase, and the initial point of contact that directs you to new prospects is called a lead. So, when you are following up on a lead, you are attempting to identify prospective customers.
There is no limit to the ways you can help your agency attract new customers. Here are a few examples of common prospecting techniques:
- Review your existing customer database for travel preferences that indicate these customers might be ready to try something new. A frequent cruise customer, for example, may become a prospect for the escorted tour segment of your business that you’ve been trying to increase.
- Ask for referrals. Often, satisfied customers are some of your best sources to provide new leads. In fact, some travel consultants make a point of asking for referrals even from leads, whether or not they become customers later.
- Contact local groups with specific travel needs. For example, if your agency specializes in accommodating travelers with disabilities, members of a rehabilitation center in your community might appreciate your offer to cater to their special travel needs (you, in turn, will have identified a whole new group of prospects).
- Call your defectors. Every agency has customers who have made a purchase in the past but have since ceased doing business with the agency. In most cases, your defectors have become your competition’s customers, and it may be worth a follow-up call to win back their business and turn them into customers again.
- Use advertising, direct marketing, social media, and trade show exhibits to identify new leads. It takes time to follow up on the scores of leads such activities often generate, but your efforts could well be worthwhile if these leads eventually become customers.
If your prospecting efforts are successful, your leads will become prospects who express interest in purchasing travel from your agency. At this point, you must assess the buying characteristics of the prospect. In other words, you should determine if the client is in a position to make a purchase decision, and, if so, how close he or she is to deciding. To do so, you initially can ask a few simple questions, such as:
- Who would be traveling (the prospect, the prospect and his entire family, etc.)?
- What type of travel do they have in mind?
- Where would they want to go?
- When are they thinking of going?
- Why are they planning this trip?
Answers to such basic questions will give you clues about how involved the sales process must be, how close the prospect is to making a purchase decision, and if this customer is indeed the decision-maker.
Your purpose here is not only to discern whether you’re dealing with a shopper or a buyer but also to do both of you a favor by making the most efficient use of your time. You may realize this customer is so close to a purchase decision that you need to provide only the specific information he or she is looking for to make the sale. If, however, you determine that the customer can indeed make a purchase decision but requires further counseling, you can feel confident about moving forward in the sales process.