Are you still relevant?

Posted on by in Editorial Musings

Are you still relevant? Are you really?

Over the years I have had the chance to talk to literally thousands of Business Development Managers, District Sales Managers, Executives, Owners, Partners, Founders, Directors and every other title you might come up with for a supplier representative. One constant among 90% of them is that they truly believe in the agency distribution system. But, they are also very concerned about that same system’s failure. Think about it.  If they were that confident, would so many suppliers be accepting direct bookings from clients? Would so many suppliers be “closet supporters” for MLM and Card Mill “agencies”?

Nothing is guaranteed in life. Especially a commission.  Have you noticed that suppliers are not calling as often? Not stopping by like they used to? When was the last time a supplier bought lunch for you or your office? Do you wonder why? Could it be that you are failing your suppliers? That they are not seeing the value in what you offer? That you are no longer relevant to their success? This is a warning sign; and it is blinking red and needs to be addressed–NOW!

Yesterday afternoon, I was speaking with a Vice President for a moderate sized European tour operator. I was told point blank that if the consumer confidence, agency support, and the economy do not improve by the end of the first quarter of 2009, they will be in serious trouble and may close the doors. This is a supplier known to many and a closure would be a shock to all. Two of those problems are out of our hands, but we should be able to handle the third. But I am afraid when it matters the most, we won’t step up to the plate.

History has a way of repeating itself. Way back in the days of airline commissions, all airlines followed Delta’s lead and eliminated them. Except one. Frontier Airlines believed in the agency distribution system and they vowed to maintain a commission (albeit a capped commission) for travel agencies. Their reasoning was that with agency support, they could grab market share from Southwest and  America West. They had nicer planes, better on time performance, friendlier employees and some really cool paint schemes on the planes. It really seemed like a doable plan that would take a modest size regional carrier and kick them up a notch in the airline pecking order. The travel agencies all got the memo. Unanimously they praised Frontier for their stance. They all vowed to support Frontier because they knew the relevance of agents.

And they sold away from them and actually eroded their market share. And Frontier quietly eliminated all commissions several months later.

Don’t let history repeat itself. Suppliers have seen this situation play out before and this time they are prepared for a possible lack of support from the agencies. They want to believe. They really do. But just in case they can’t, they are prepared to do whatever it takes to secure their position in the travel marketplace.

Just as you cannot be all things to all clients, you cannot be all things to all suppliers. I supported Frontier with my agency where I could, but not being in the West, my support had little impact. As 2008 comes to a close and we head into a very challenging first quarter, maybe it is time to take a look at the suppliers you support and figure out which ones you really support and which one you simply sell. Maybe it’s time to fire a few of the ones you have been giving lip service to for the past year. Maybe it’s time to look at your smaller, more focused, preferred supplier list and send them a very clear message…

I’m relevant…and I will show you!

(Are you relevant? How do you show your suppliers? Please comment below!)

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