Business meetings make up some of the most personal contact a travel agent might have with a client. Even in the most informal of settings, there are protocols and a standard etiquette to follow that can make the difference between the success and failure of the meeting and the relationship.
Choosing the place for the meeting usually involves either an office setting, a public venue or a home setting. Any of these may be your own or the client’s. When the venue is of your choosing, make sure that all aspects of the setting are optimal for your meeting. Pay attention to each of your five senses. Ensure that the lighting is adequate, the noise levels are conducive to discussion, the setting is private enough for confidential matters, the temperature is neither too hot or too cold, no strong odors predominate and the setting appears orderly and calm. Take each of these factors into consideration well prior to your meeting as a matter of planning. Ask that you not be disturbed if meeting in your office. Arrive slightly earlier than your client to check on your setting if meeting outside the office.
Turn off your cell phone so you can give your full attention to the client. If you have presentation materials, handle them in a planned and orderly manner. You client will want to perceive you as highly capable and well organized. After all, you are in charge of planning their travels!
Dress appropriately for the meeting. Avoid heavy cologne and perfumes as many people object to strong smells. If you are in the client’s venue and you don’t know where to sit, simply ask. When you control the venue, direct your clients to a seat. Most business relationships are initially formal. As the parties get to know each other, the degree of formality may relax, but maintain a professional demeanor.
Listen attentively to your clients and give them visual cues that you are listening and they are being understood. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarity if you do not understand any point. If you don’t agree with anything the client might say, don’t interrupt but make a mental note to circle back around to the point. With the exception of polite small talk, stick to the purpose of the meeting and respect your client’s time. Be courteous. Remember that you are the expert and not to confound your clients with industry jargon. Demystify travel for the clients and make it understandable and accessible.
Professional conversations go in both directions. Intelligent conversation is more than “active listening”. Good conversation is also the art of smart questioning. To do a good job of travel planning you need a lot of information from the client. You need to understand not only what they want to achieve from a trip but how their last trip went. What went well? What went not so well? What would they do differently? How did they choose the destination about which they are now asking? All of this information is acquired by asking the question and then letting the client speak. From a strong client interview can come the information you will need to make intelligent recommendations based on your knowledge of product and suppliers. The client will feel far more comfortable that you have their interests at heart, that you will be acting as their advocate.
Wind up the meeting by covering any “action items” that each party needs to accomplish. Establish the timing for any follow up. Close with a handshake and by thanking the client for their time. Provide the clients with business cards and any important collateral.
Follow up with the client as promised and you will have successfully accomplished your business meeting. With a bit of planning and the proper degree of professional formality, you can assure yourself of better results from each meeting effort.
Tomorrow – Your Visual System