The following is an excerpt from The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Selling Travel by Dan Chappelle, MCC to be published in January 2017:
Have you ever had a close friend or family member ask you to help plan a vacation for them? You help them find the perfect package for their needs—and then you never hear from them, only to find out they booked it with someone they hardly know (or direct). You spent a lot of time and effort with nothing to show for it. Did you wonder why they did this?
Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter conducted a groundbreaking study in the 1970s about how people get jobs. In his study, Granovetter found that people rarely found jobs in the newspaper or other resources available at the time—and it wasn’t because a close friend or relative helped them get a job, either. He found most people got jobs through acquaintances, or what he called “weak ties.”
Granovetter describes the bulk of job creation taking place through acquaintances. That is, people mostly find jobs from friends of friends, or relatives of friends, or via relationships even more removed! The study, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” is considered one of the most influential of the twentieth century and its findings have been successfully applied to a number of other social situations. Malcolm Gladwell referred to it in his book The Tipping Point, as did Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habits.
How does the theory of weak ties apply to the business of selling? Great question. When you’re searching for new customers, isn’t that the same thing as looking for a new job? You’re looking for someone to hire you to book their vacation. I have applied this principle for the past fifteen years in various roles and found it to be extremely successful in finding new customers. Why? Because it’s focused on developing relationships with people that you don’t know well—your weak ties.
The strong tie is someone who is in your immediate circle of influence. The weak tie is an acquaintance or someone you have never met but has a strong tie to someone who is close to you. Let’s look at how you can use this theory to build your network of prospective customers.
Imagine you are invited to a dinner party at the home of your best customer. We’ll call her Renee. There are seven other people invited whom you don’t know and one you met one time at a previous party. These people are all good friends of Renee, but new to you. Renee is your strong tie and the rest of the guests are your weak ties. Now, during the dinner conversation one of the guests, Nate, tells you about a friend of his, Ernie, who is a dentist and is just starting to plan a vacation. Still with me? Great!
Nate gives you Ernie’s telephone number and offers to make an introduction. A couple of days later, you call Ernie. You chat and he books his vacation with you. Whew! What just happened? Well, I’ll tell you—and it’s really simple when you think about it. Renee introduced you to Nate, who introduced you to Ernie. Renee is your level-one, your closest circle. Nate is your second-level tie, and Ernie is your third-level. Levels two and three are weak ties—you do not know them well, but Renee does.
Now it should all make sense. The first level of contacts—the Renees—are only responsible for about 10 percent of your sales.
Remember the family member who milked you for information and booked elsewhere? Here’s why: people close to you (strong ties) do not want to risk their relationship with you and are more comfortable doing business with someone they hardly know (weak tie).
Your second-level and third-level ties will account for about 60–65 percent of your sales. The remaining balance of business (from fourth-level ties and beyond) diminishes rapidly from there, but that’s OK because we know where the sweet spot is, and we are going to focus all of our efforts to get to those second- and third-level contacts.
How do you do this? It’s easy. Who knows those second- and third-level people? That’s right, Renee does! Reach out to your existing customers, friends, and co-workers, and ask this open-ended question: “I am considering taking on a few new qualified clients. Who do you know that would be interested in learning about exciting vacation opportunities? Do you mind providing me with their contact information and reaching out to let them know I will be calling to visit with them?”
A referral from your level-one gives you credibility, and your contacts are usually happy to help. Why? Because you are not asking them to buy anything! It’s the ultimate in-network marketing.
Reaching out to your weak ties is how you can grow your business, with the customers you choose, and it costs virtually nothing. You can send an e-mail as an introduction and follow up with a phone call, but it’s essential that you create a conversation so that you can grow the relationship with those prospects. As they become your loyal customers, a second-level tie grows into a first-level tie, and the process starts all over again. This is the real beauty of the strength of weak ties.
Remember, affluent people tend to be loyal. You take care of them, you do a good job for them, you become friends with them, and they’ll be your customer for life. That’s where you get that long-term value.
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.