There was a pastor who once gave a sermon about how we should love and treat each other. Afterward, everyone in the congregation told the pastor how remarkable it was. However, the very next week, the pastor gave the same sermon. Folks in the congregation had a puzzled look on their faces as it had a ring of familiarity about it. The following week, the pastor gave the exact same sermon – word for word. Afterward the church deacons decided they had enough of this nonsense and confronted the pastor, “Reverend, you have preached the same sermon for the past three weeks, why?” to which the pastor replied, “And yes I will continue to do so until we stop talking and actually do it.”
That’s how I feel whenever the subject of professionalism comes up.
We hear about it every day on discussion boards and conference panels. The vast majority of travel agents exhibit a high degree of professionalism. They are the first to point out that there is no place in this business for those who behave otherwise. However some agents, especially newer ones, will sometimes let their passion get in the way of good business sense.
What does it mean to be a “professional”? Having spent my career as an agency owner as well as a consortia and cruise line executive, here are six things I believe epitomize what it means to be a travel professional.
You have a plan.
Be prepared, and that means having a plan. This will set you apart from the majority of travel agents. This should be a specific plan for building a business with a preferred vendor. You should include realistic sales projections, target prospects, marketing program, and financial commitments from both parties. Ideally, you should have one to share with each of your preferred vendors.
You have skin in the game
Are you willing to put up your own money and time to execute the plan? A realistic co-op expectation is 1% of your sales volume. To get these funds, you must be willing to match at least the amount you are asking for, and provide a plan of how the money will be used. If you aren’t willing to invest in your own idea, why would you expect this from anyone else?
You invest in your professional education.
This is my soapbox! Selling travel is our chosen profession and continuing education is essential to long term success. “Knowledge is Power.” Pick a specialty, and invest your own time and money to become the “go to” expert in the field. If your sales skills are lacking, take a course online or at your local community college. A coach who specializes in travel sales would also be good investment. Not only will you learn more, you also have someone who is holding you accountable. Not only do I coach a number of travel professionals, but I also work with a business coach of my own who helps me be more effective and holds me accountable for my actions (or inactions). I am a believer in emulating the success of others, and a good coach will help to move your business forward.
You operate from a place of uncompromising integrity.
You have a business relationship with your suppliers and your actions speak volumes. While you may not always agree, don’t take anything personally. Let’s be clear: no one owes you anything, so playing the victim will not help you advance your cause. Neither will yelling at a reservation agent or threatening to “off sell” one brand to another. This not only makes you look bad – it isn’t going to win any friends. As big as it is, this is a very small industry, so you want to make sure you have friends to help when you really need it.
As vice president of sales at Windstar Cruises, I had very specific instructions for our reservations team. If a travel agent was rude or disrespectful, I wanted to know about it and then we would all listen to the recording – yes, all conversations are recorded. Depending on the severity of the call, I would either call or send a quick email to the agent, reach out to the agency &/or consortia management to discuss, or in extreme cases, “black-ball” or decline to do business with the agent in the future.
Personal integrity goes a long way. Be the agent others look up to and aspire to emulate. Be honest, be fair, and admit your mistakes instead of blaming others. This will help you gain respect from your suppliers, your customers, and your peers.
Your Business Development Manager is your business partner.
BDMs typically have large territories. If you need to schedule a meeting with your BDM, it is preferred to send an agenda with a clear purpose so he or she knows what to expect. You do this, and it will almost guarantee a meeting. They have a wealth of knowledge, so ask them to share what they have learned not only from their own experiences, but from their peers throughout the country.
For instance, if you plan to propose an idea that you think will revolutionize culinary travel, such as partnering with a local chef, and your BDM suggests there might be better ways to spend your collective efforts – I suggest you listen to them. Odds are they have already seen and tried it 99 times. It’s doubtful once more will produce a winner.
BDM bonuses are based on revenue growth, so they want you to succeed as much as you do. They are investing in your success, be respectful of their time and treat them like a true partner. The average BDM changes companies three times in their career, but typically within the same territory. They will be with you for a while so treat them well. I made it a habit to treat my BDMs to lunch or dinner on a regular basis. Even though they have an expense account, this little gesture proves you are willing to invest in your relationship with them. Everyone wins.
You embrace FAM trips for the learning experience they are intended.
FAM trips are a great way to learn about experiences and destinations, however if they are not available, you should be willing to invest the full price of the vacation in order to experience it in the same manner as your guests. You will be a much better salesperson for it.
FAMs are designed to be fun learning experiences, and the vast majority of agents behave in a respectable and professional manner. However, there are always a few who give the profession a black eye. I have seen a number of “travel agents” over the years treat fams as their own personal holiday at the supplier’s expense. Unfortunately, this behavior is more common than one might think and as a result most suppliers now carefully choose those to be invited.
Suppliers invest substantial resources in these programs. The biggest sign of disrespect, and a sure way not to be invited back, is to not show up for meetings and events. They don’t do these for their health. These events are an opportunity for you to get to know the management and staff as well as networking with your peers.
Just because the food and booze are free, doesn’t make it okay to overindulge on either. I kid you not -I have actually witnessed an agent dump a bowl of shrimp into her handbag and others reach behind the bar to grab bottles of liquor to take to their rooms. One word – Unacceptable.
You are not only representing yourself, but also your consortia, agency, and host agency. Be the person who professionally we all look up to and want to emulate – not the “Shrimp Lady.” Let’s continue to promote the travel agent channel to our supplier partners as their most effective means of distribution with positive and professional actions.
Dan Chappelle specializes in helping sales professionals achieve their full potential by thinking BIGGER, working SMARTER, and producing real RESULTS.
Dan Chappelle is a professional business advisor, sales coach, author, and speaker. His training and consulting firm helps develop sales oriented business leaders, individual salespeople, and entrepreneurs. His best-selling book Get Your S.H.I.P. Together: The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales, is available on Amazon.com. For information on Dan’s Sales Acceleration programs, visit: www.DanChappelle.com