With more than 25 years in retail travel Scott Koepf became President of the National Association of Career Travel Agents in March of 2008. Most recently Scott was with Sabre Holdings as General Manager of the Jurni Consortium, TMA and the host Travel agency, Nexion. Prior to joining Sabre, Scott was a full-time motivational speaker and sales trainer.
TRO : What is the biggest obstacle you think independent contractors face when it comes to training?
SK : It used to be that accessibility was the biggest problem. Now with online training programs, webinars, training from NACTA, hosts, franchises and other avenues, determining which program to be trained on and what to focus on is the biggest problem. Finding a focus or niche is tantamount with all of the information now available.
TRO : What is the biggest problem you see with training courses today?
SK : With all of the above options, too many agents are lacking in learning the fundamentals of sales. It is easy to stay focused on product, product, product, but learning how to move a prospect to client AND retain that client is extremely important for agents.
TRO : Is most training truly relevant to agents, and is it something they put into practice? How do can they avoid slipping into bad habits?
SK : An agent has to have a continuous thirst for knowledge. They MUST continue to focus on sales training. They need to look at everything they are doing from a learning perspective and maintain a balance between product and fundamentals of sales knowledge. For instance, if they spend two hours day learning about a product or destination, they should spend an equal amount of time learning and training on the fundamentals of sales.
You cannot be successful in business without those sales fundamentals. You need to learn how to use them; how to best relate with clients; how to give advice with confidence. Agents need to know what to do with the knowledge given them and become about people first and not about product first.
TRO : How much weight should a prospective agent give to a host’s training program when deciding which host to choose?
SK : Quite a bit. If you are an employee you can follow the lead of the employer’s program. However you need to follow your own education plan to develop your career. You can be 100% independent and go it alone. Or you can affiliate with either a host or become an owner of a franchise. There are many things to consider and the economics of each are important. They can have great technology and management, but what do they offer as far as education and training. The training provided should be key criteria in selecting who to affiliate with.
TRO : What is the biggest piece of advice you would give a travel agent to move a prospect to client?
SK : Time and patience. An agent should not think in terms of transaction. Agents are NOT in the business anymore of providing a product or being a transaction handler. They are being paid to get to know the customer. They must find and create the results a client is looking for. You cannot get to know a client in a 10 minute conversation and it is a struggle really even over an hour lunch.
Agents are dealing with a fun product which is ultimately an emotion desire of their client. The business we are in is ultimately about marketing and sales are merely just a function of that. Those who are exceptional at sales are excellent at marketing. They are the ones who draw in both repeat customers and get customers to make referrals to them.
TRO : What three books would you recommend travel agent read with regards to sales?
SK : Purple Cow – Seth Godin (really anything by Seth Godin)
Hug Your Customers – Jack Mitchell (Study how to treat customers)
E-Myth – Michael Gerber (The importance of working on your business not in it)
TRO :Given your use of frequent sport analogies, how will Tim Tebow provide value to the Broncos?
SK : I laughed when I read this question. Believe it or not I do not watch as much football as I loved playing it. However, I think ultimately you will find that a great leader will make the difference rather than one with a great skill. If you look at someone considered a fantastic quarterback they may not be the most skilled at the sport. What he is or was is someone who provides great leadership and utilizes the skills of the entire team in one cohesive unit.
TRO : If you could do it all over again, what would you change? Is there anything you wish you could go back in time and knock yourself in the head and say “Don’t do that!?”
SK : I am very blessed in my life. I have been involved in travel and theater. I have lived overseas. There is no regret that is big enough to make me wish I had not taken that step. Yes there have been mistakes, but those boneheaded moves eventually took me along the right path. There are times I wish it had worked out with Cruise Holidays as I was the fifth franchisee to join that system. However, all of the adversities in life have led me to where I am today!