Connecting with your suppliers
My DSM Rocks!
Just how many agents can say that about their District Sales Managers? How many agents actually know who the DSM for their preferred suppliers are? Sure if you sell half a million dollars worth of their product they are banging down your door offering support, co-op funds and a brainstorming mind. However, what if you have come across a product that you just know you would be successful selling but don’t have the booking history to garner all that attention? How do you convince your area Reps that you are serious about their product and worth the effort of support?
The answer is really quite simple. You have to be the one to reach out to them. Court them if you will. Just like when you saw your first crush and thought of a zillion ways to get his or her attention and hopefully affection, you have to get creative to capture the eye of your area Reps. They have many agencies that they track and often have a very heavy work load. They have to keep an eye out for new comers but most importantly keep their long term, loyal agencies with the large numbers just that–loyal and long term.
Haven’t had a crush since high school? Perhaps forgotten that whole game? Not a problem, here are a few simple steps to help you sweep your DSM off their feet.
Pick up the phone!
- Be bold and be the one to call first. Do the research to find out who the DSM’s of your preferred vendors are in your area. If you haven’t met them or it was brief– make a phone call. Introduce yourself and ask if they have a moment to talk. Remember, they are busy so if you keep it to the point they will love you the more for it. It is called “brownie points.”
- Outline your agency focus and why you are excited to support and promote their product to your clients. Explain how you see it filling the needs of your clients. Elaborate on some of the ideas that you have to present and recommend it to your clients. Then, turn the floor over to them.
- Just like a good date only talks 1/3 the time so should you. Draw on their experience with the company; ask them what is selling right now and why. Ask them for ideas that have been successful for other agents in the past.
- Now comes the teaser. Apologize for talking their ear off for the last 15 minutes and find out if you can schedule a lunch or a time for a longer phone conference to discuss your budding ideas more in depth.
Follow up the day after
- After your phone call follow up the next day with an email. Tell them how much you enjoyed talking to them and look forward to your upcoming lunch, meeting or phone conference. Perhaps include a link to your website which now features their product on the front page. (More “brownie points”)
First Impressions are the only impressions…
- The first impression is important so if you are meeting in person dress and act the part of the professional. Want to really suck up? Pay for lunch.
- Come to the meeting prepared. Sure they may be industry buddies, but treat them like a client and you will earn their respect a lot faster.
- Ask for their recommendation for getting started or revamping your program with them and work together on a first promotion.
Now that you have established yourself to the point where when you call they recognize your name, don’t neglect them.
- Every time you write an article that includes their product in your newsletter be sure you send them a copy.
- Promoting a sale week? Make sure they know about it by courtesy copying them in on the email to your clients.
- Experience their product? Call them up and tell them what you liked about it and how you are going to use the experience to help sell it better to your clients.
- See them at a tradeshow? (And every agent should make an effort to go to their local shows for at least this reason) Make sure you stop by to say hello. Use it as a chance to chat casually if they are not busy. By this time and with their help you should have seen an increase in sales. And just as important, they should have seen your growth potential.
Popping the Question…
So you have established a relationship with your DSM and you both have noticed the increase in sales. A long and happy relationship is in your future. Now you need a favor, a client is waiving a special in your face that you can’t seem to book or you want to request an increase in commission. For these types of things a phone call or an in-person meeting is best. Let’s tackle the easy ones first.
- “My client wants the moon” It never hurts to ask if your Rep can help you solve a conflict of promotions. Especially, if the client is worth a lot to you. Explain just what it is your client is asking and what you would like to do for them and why. Ask if there are any alternatives.
- “I need a favor” Don’t be afraid to ask for favors if you really need them and see it as something that could really help you with your sales. And when your DSM needs one in return, you return it.
On a recent cruise I wanted to conduct interviews of the ship’s staff and my DSM was the first person I turned to for help. It only took one phone call explaining what I wanted to do and why and she took over the rest. This simple request to interview “A couple people for my blog” turned into a whirlwind schedule that included the Captain, Executive Chef, Cruise Director, Food & Beverage Manager and just about anyone else I wanted to talk to was at my disposal. I was treated to VIP service and had a blast. I came home and emailed a link to the blog along with a note to my DSM thanking her profusely for the help in arranging it. I then thanked her over the phone and again in person at the local trade show.
Perhaps the hardest question of all…
With many suppliers, your commission rate is largely controlled by your DSM. If they see your dedication and commitment to their product is long lasting, they may be willing to bump up your percentage sooner then what is the norm.
- If you have booked a lot of revenue with another competitor of theirs be sure to bring those numbers with you when making your proposal for a higher commission rate.
- Along with this should come the assurance that a higher commission rate would enable you to be more financially able to promote their product more often over the competition and thus drive your numbers to where they should be to earn it outright.
While all of this has been directed to DSM’s the same principles apply to anyone on the supplier side of the industry from the reservation agent to the president of the company. When you find a good res agent at the call center ask for their extension and normal work hours. When I was a new agent I had one group res agent that gave me her home phone number so I could reach her after hours if needed. This was because, as a newbie learning the ropes, having found someone truly helpful I just kept calling her to place my bookings. She saved me one day when I almost missed a payment deadline by calling me on her day off to remind me.
Whenever I have the privilege of meeting someone in the VP realm of the industry I always try to get an email address and then on occasion send out an update if something happens that is newsworthy to them. The link to the newsletter specifically mentioning them, a short update of my latest trip with their product, if they write an educational or encouraging article and it appears in the trade press or even within their product press releases I send an email commending them for it and let them know I enjoyed reading it.
Sure it takes time for all this but along the way I have made not only great allies but some really wonderful friends that I truly enjoy seeing when I get the chance. It has been worth the time invested and I have people supporting my business that think I rock too!
Nina Van Harn has been in the travel industry for the past 5 years and services primarily an upscale market. Her favorite cruise line is Cunard because of their traditional approach to cruising and friendly atmosphere. She lives in rural West Michigan with her husband and 2 daughters. She owns Ambiance Travel and her website can be viewed at: www.ambiancetc.com