I have many times indicated the probability your clients do not understand the role of a travel professional. It is likely the un-schooled consumer thinks of you as a retailer of travel and imagines they are buying a cruise or a trip from you. If we don’t monitor our language and the context we thereby create, we may well reinforce these mistaken assumptions. Let’s see how we can shift from selling travel to assisting our clients in making an intelligent and informed buying decision and move away from transactions to relationships. Important to the process is also the transition away from the concept of being a travel agent to being a travel consultant.
Traditional sales places the Close at the end of the process. The sales person asks questions, evaluates the answers and makes a presentation, after which the buyer makes a decision. Because the sales person typically has a limited range of product, the buyer’s decision is based on how well the product meets the buyer’s needs. If the sales person has what the buyer wants or needs, if the price is right, and if the buyer likes the sales person, then the buyer decides to buy from the sales person. The further into the sales process, the more time each party spends “at the table” the more pressure builds toward the close. Everything culminates in a single moment totally under the control of the buyer. Is there any wonder that the Close is the subject of great study and anxiety for both the “sales” person and the customer?
Sales people twenty and thirty years ago were schooled in sales “techniques” and “marketing” meant a collection of gimmicks to lure people closer, mechanisms something like a venus-fly trap might employ. Smart consumers were skeptical, but nevertheless largely reliant and therefore vulnerable to the machinations of unscrupulous and manipulative sales approaches. Is it any wonder that people so mistrusted the transactional, retail model of sales?
The travel consultant is in a very different position from the traditional sales person. There are certainly decisions to be made: destination, dates, accommodations, activities, but most often the decision to travel has been made. The travel professional, however, can sell the client none of these things. What the travel consultant can do is assist the client in the decision making process, matching the client’s needs and desires to the appropriate destination, dates, accommodations and activities.
However, to focus on the travel components prior to laying the appropriate foundations in the relationship is to slip into an old school sales process rather than the more appropriate and desirable consultant paradigm. The process of establishing a relationship should come before anything else and should be well enough established to bear the weight of every decision to be made thereafter. It is important the client understands you are not selling them anything. Rather, you are consulting with them, assisting to make an intelligent buying decision. The shift is subtle but crucial to establishing a relationship.
Each new client encounter should begin with the travel counselor carefully explaining the respective duties of each party. The travel counselor is going to assist the client to make good purchasing decisions from a vast array of possibilities and not just for this one transaction, but over a long term relationship directed at achieving the client’s travel ambitions. The client likewise has the responsibility of being open, honest and communicative, a full partner in the planning process. The qualifications of the travel agent should have been apparent in prior client’s testimonials, in a referral, in the marketing collateral of the agent that establishes the agent’s competence and ability to benefit the client. The travel counselor must be poised, confident and look the part, having properly prepared the setting for the meeting and mentally rehearsed each aspect of the meeting.
Ask the client to confirm they understand the roles each party is to play and whether the client agrees to work in a consulting relationship. Obtaining the client’s agreement to the roles each party is to play is an important step to spreading the concept of the “Close” over the entire course of the relationship. The more completely the parties can agree on working together at the outset of the relationship, the more likely the buying process will move full circle to completion.
With the respective roles of each party firmly established and agreed to, the travel consultant can now move on to meeting the needs of the client.