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Sell more by listening more

I used to always cringe when people would say, “Oh, so you’re in sales?”   The first image that came to my mind was the used car salesperson stereotype. I’d tell myself, “I’m not in sales. I build relationships and then the sales will evolve.” But one thing I’ve learned? The best way to create amazing experiences for our clients is to become a better listener.

Listen, Keep Listening and Don’t Stop Listening

A savvy business colleague of mine, Jason, has built a very successful career in sales and loves what he does. Jason is quite open when he says, “We are all in sales. Every day we try and sell our ideas, our beliefs, and dreams.” He learned the importance of listening in the very first part-time job he had at a garden center as “a quiet, 14-year-old young lad.” The person who hired him taught him a great deal, and by the time Jason was 16, he was working there on weekends, handling the day-to-day running of the garden center.

Jason mentions, “So many sales people talk their way out of a sale, missing the key hooks and signals because they don’t stop talking and listen, and this happens in every industry.” A few tips he shares?

  • Listen to your customer.
  • Listen, keep listening, and don’t stop listening.
  • Think before you speak.
  • Customers don’t buy products from you just because you have them or want to sell them.
  • They generally buy something because it solves a problem or fulfills a need.
  • It’s up to you, as the sales person, to find out what the need or problem is first.
  • Ask questions and then listen to their answers. Also, let them tell you fully, before you act or speak.
  • You don’t want to be like so many of the sales people who jump in half way, before the customer or client shares the most vital information.

Jason notes that once you have the information, or at least think you understand, “play it back to them,” and confirm what they need or want to solve. The customer will feel that you’re on the same page and wavelength with them.

Jason then explains, “You are now an ally of them, working on their side to help them get what they want. You’re not some shiny shoed rodeo cowboy who rode into town, so to speak, trying to sell them snake oil that they don’t need or never wanted!”

When comes to the travel and cruise industry, Jason adds, “A client might come in and mention they want to go on a mountain trekking holiday to ease their stress, get some fresh air, and see new things. You see their problems but then sell them a cruise instead because that’s really the solution to their ‘problem.’ They will thank you for listening to them, working with them, and finding a solution for them that is better than what they ever could have imagined!”

As Jason notes, “But isn’t that why they came to a travel professional and just didn’t book direct off the Internet?”

Vicki Freed – Be the Guider

Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President, Sales and Trade Support & Service for Royal Caribbean International provides terrific insights when it comes to sales. She mentions, “I have never viewed the role as a travel professional as a ‘sales person’ – rather, I like to think of them as a ‘guider who helps the consumer make a good buying decision.’  What consumer wouldn’t want someone to guide them on making the best purchase decision?”

When it comes to questions, Vicki shares more. “Always ask good qualifying questions that are open ended.  Then close your mouth and allow the prospect to answer.  Using their answer, you will know what to ‘ask’ next.   If the travel professional advisor and consultant has asked the right questions, they will know.  Using a current promotion as an urgency to close the sale often helps.  You can always ask – Is there anything I have missed to help you secure the reservation? And then listen.”

Vicki mentions, “When a travel advisor is listening and asking good questions, it becomes more of a conversation.  Think of it as a MD visit. There really isn’t a formula on percent of time the MD talks or listens.  But more time is spent listening so that you can again, help the prospect plan the perfect vacation.”

I asked Vicki about best ways to keep in touch with clients, from building up excitement for an upcoming trip to follow-ups. Vicki notes, “This is the best question.  Because clients often times buy their next cruise from another travel agent, we must always find ways to call, and stay in touch with clients.  Clients leave travel agents not because of bad service, but rather they felt ‘indifference’ and didn’t feel particularly loyal.  A travel professional has rich content (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and should find a way to reach out to their clients.  Email is a tool and does not build a relationship – connecting through the phone, cards, and other methods builds the trust and long term relationship.”

As travel professionals, by focusing on listening more and discovering what our clients really want and desire, we can be their ‘guider’. And in the end, sell more.

Cindy Bertram has  15+ years of cruise and travel industry expertise in marketing, sales, training, diverse content creation, as well as areas of social media, including blogging. She handles projects through her own company, Cindy’s Inside Cruise and Travel Track, LCC, in addition to working in small business consulting. A diverse writer who’s nationally published, Cindy has presented workshops at travel and cruise conferences, along with being the opening speaker for PR NEWS’ Writing Boot Camp Chicago November 2014. Passionate about having a positive impact, her short story, “A Cruise and a Promise,” was included in Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul (published 2002.)    She can be reached at cindybert@att.net  

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