The Reason Travel Agents Fail | TravelResearchOnline

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The Reason Travel Agents Fail

As a sales coach and business consultant in the travel and tourism industry, the question I am asked most often is, “What do I have to do to become successful?” It is a simple question and one that really has a simple answer.

Contrary to popular belief, the reason many travel agents fail is not due a lack of product knowledge, lack of planning, or lack of marketing. In fact, we tend to be pretty good at all three. The cost of entry in travel sales is typically very low, so it’s usually not for lack of funding either.

No, the reason many agents fail is so obvious, it is often overlooked. According to legendary management consultant, Peter Drucker, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers”. That’s it – period. Nothing else happens in this or any business until someone buys something. This first sale generates the revenue to help keep the lights and internet on. It helps to create momentum and funds marketing initiatives. This sale, and the others that will follow, helps you to create the lifestyle you want for you and your family. But it all starts with a single sale, or does it?

Actually, it starts much sooner.  In the travel business, it is common vernacular to refer to everyone as a “client”. However, in the sales profession, the proper use of the words “client” and “customer” refer to those who have actually purchased a product or service. All others are called “prospects”.  This is not a chicken or the egg debate. The path is quite clear, before one becomes a client, they must first be a prospect. So the real reason many travel agents fail is not due to a lack of clients, but from a lack of prospects.

Prospecting can be s a scary thing. To many salespeople, it is synonymous with cold-calling. However, this is just one of many prospecting techniques, so let’s think of prospecting in terms we can all relate – fishing. I haven’t met too many folks that don’t enjoy fishing.

Let’s say you decide to go fishing one day and are pretty sure there are hundreds of fish in the pond you choose. You have set a goal of catching three fish, all keepers. You spend the day casting your line with just the right bait, putting it right under the nose of the fish as they swim across the pond. You get some nibbles and a few you thought were “on hook”, but got they away. You reeled a couple in but threw them back as they were too small. And then there are the keepers, the ones you can take home. You are feeling pretty good about them because you will be able to eat for a few days. In a nutshell, this is what prospecting is all about.

There are hundreds of fish (prospects) are out there just waiting to be caught. You have to cast your line numerous times putting your lure right in front of them until one bites; some will be will become keepers (customers) and others will get off the hook. That’s ok, because there are more fish in the pond and they will bite when the time is right. Without prospects, you don’t have customers, and without customers you don’t have revenue. Without revenue, you don’t eat. So the key is to always keep restocking your pond.

“But Dan, what about my marketing plan? Isn’t this supposed to attract prospects?”  In this context, marketing is part of what’s called an attraction strategy. Assuming you are executing the activities in your plan, most marketing programs are reactive, meaning the prospect initiates the sales conversation. Its a lot like fishing with a bobber instead of a lure.  You pick a spot, throw it out your line, hoping to attract a fish with your offer of a worm at the end of the line. It sits there until a fish comes along and decided whether or not to bite. Depending on how long it has been sitting in the water, the worm might be old and unattractive so the fish may not bite.

If your prospecting strategy is your marketing plan, you probably don’t get many calls.  Don’t get me wrong, marketing is a very important part of your overall business strategy, However, marketing and prospecting are very different disciplines. Prospecting, like cast fishing, is a proactive process conducted with systematic precision. The most successful travel agents are salespeople and the most successful salespeople in any profession are good… no, great prospectors.

When I talk to agents in the field, at conferences, and tradeshows, most of them tell me how they are struggling to make it. Back to the question, “What do I need to do to be successful?” They tend to blame the economy, the weather, the client (remember until they buy, they should be referred to as prospects), suppliers, host, consortia, the dog, etc., for their lack of sales.  The only thing they don’t blame, is themselves. So I ask this simple question, “How many calls have you made to your prospects?”

When people complain that “sales is not easy”, they don’t usually mean the process of selling. This in itself is actually quite fun when you think about it. No, when they complain about “sales”, they really mean “prospecting is not easy.”

Ask any sales person their least favorite part of the job and they will be the first to tell you it’s prospecting. Professional sales people, even those who are the most successful at what they do, know if they do not prospect on a daily basis, they will not be eating in next 60-90 days.

In sales, we often hear the phrase “keep the funnel full.” But what does that really mean? Remember, a funnel is shaped like an upside-down cone with a hole in the bottom. You pour in a large amount of stuff and some of it comes out below. Sales people refer to it as a funnel because you fill it with a large number of prospects and through a series of touches and processes, a small steady stream of customers comes out the other end.

As small business people we wear a number of hats, from CEO to Janitor. The most important hat you wear is that of “Chief Sales Officer”, because your sales efforts provides the means for the other roles to exist.

I teach my clients to focus on the fundamentals. There are a lot of programs and apps that claim social media and automation will drive the sales process for you so you can sit back and watch the customers line up to buy your stuff. There are many that will help you become more efficient, but the folks selling these programs have their own agendas and if they can do what they claim, why do they ask for your phone number?

As much as these companies claim to be able to solve your prospecting problem by automating the sales process, they understand people buy from people. This means picking up the phone and having a conversation with their prospects. They don’t call it “dialing for dollars” for nothing. It works.

They more people you can talk to about your product, the more quotes, presentations, and sales you will make. The numbers don’t lie. This is how you keep your sales funnel full and a steady stream of commission checks in your bank account.

“But Dan, I don’t have time for this, I have so much other stuff to do.” I know and it is easy to get distracted, so let me be crystal clear: this is the most important thing you can do for your business. It boils down to time management, you must prioritize prospecting.

Initially, block an hour or two in the morning for prospecting calls, emails, and social media posts. Do not allow interruptions. You must protect this time as though it were a meeting with your most important customer- because this is exactly what it is.

You will get rejected. You will be cursed, yelled at, and have the phone slammed in your ear. No way to sugar coat it — rejection is hard and no matter what, even the best of us take some of it personally. But you will also be profusely thanked, invited into homes, and have the wonderful opportunity to provide a valuable service for your prospect by helping them with one of their most valuable assets, one they highly covet — their vacation experience.

Here is the simple secret to your success. EVERYTHING you do must be designed to get a customer. Your website, marketing activities, social media, email, phone conversations — all are tools which should support your proactive, outbound prospecting efforts. They are tools to help attract and drive prospects into the funnel. You are responsible for your own success, and proactive prospecting is the key.

There is an old saying in the sales profession: “ABC – Always Be Closing”. Closing the sale is the easy part. “Always Be Prospecting” is more like it. This is the real difference why some people become superstars!


Dan Chappelle is President of WealthyTravelAgent.com where he develops sales leaders for the travel & tourism industry. He assists sales professionals achieve their full potential by expanding their vision, shifting their mindset, and transforming their businesses to produce tangible results. An internationally known travel industry expert, sales executive, and speaker, Dan has earned an enthusiastic following among travel agents and industry leaders worldwide. He has been featured in numerous trade and consumer publications and is an instructor for the Travel Institutes’ Professional Educators Program, providing insight for travel professionals. You can contact Dan by email at Dan@WealthyTravelAgent.com.

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