Stuart Cohen is a sales and marketing consultant, a business coach, an entrepreneur and a well-known speaker in the travel industry. His seminars at Travel Weekly’s recent CruiseWorld and Home Based Travel Agent Shows were standing room only events. Stuart was the founder of NEST and now owns and operates Exclamation Points, !nc. as well as JamaicaForaDay.com and BahamasForaDay.com.
TRO : You have a particular mission to help the travel agent community improve their group sales. Is there one particular type of group an agent should begin prospecting?
SC : Yes, my mission is to light a path of group success for agents across the country. The business benefits are bountiful. One particular group type is the “vacation celebration”, the most popular yet the most overlooked. It is a morph between a family reunion and birthday party (or anniversary party). Too many agents aim way high, for the big groups of 50 or 100 staterooms. Those groups are indeed out there, but there are significantly more vacation celebration groups, which lead to the big boys!!! Vacation celebration groups are the best affinity you can find.
TRO : With incentive trips and business travel a seemingly “dirty” word in the past year, is there anything an agent can do to sell the benefits to a business owner?
SC : Yes. If their sales people don’t hit the goals set for them, the trip doesn’t go. However, if they hit, then CEO will be tickled pink to pay for a block of rooms and a cocktail party. Incentive trips are “pay for performance”. Over-achieve and be rewarded. CEO’s use incentive trips to drive super performance. Businesses that stay aggressive during these tenuous times will lead the pack when the dust settles. Another fabulous business group type is the customer appreciation trip. For some businesses, the opportunity to invite their best clients onto a cruise, for example, where they can demonstrate products, provide education, and deeply connect is very powerful. The company typically involves their vendors as well; so many companies end up collaborating, sharing or underwriting some costs, and enjoying the benefits.
TRO : What kind of mistakes are agents making when it comes to earning a profit with their marketing, selling and administering group travel?
SC : Easy, glad you asked. Top two mistakes: they don’t write a business savvy agreement with the group leader, and they don’t do a mini-P&L. Go ahead and ask a dozen group producers exactly how much money they made on their last group and I’d bet they can’t give you a straight answer. They’ll say, “I think we did OK, we still have money in the account”. Agents tend to give back way too much to the group leader, so much so that the group leader earns more (and gets a free cabin to boot). A solid agreement letter and a P&L keeps all the finances exposed and in order. A solid agreement letter and a P&L tell an agent when to say no to bad business, and when to renegotiate the terms of a deal to prevent a real revenue loss.
TRO : As an accomplished business coach, what advice can you give to the TA community to best maximize a mix of supplier training along with improving their personal sales and marketing techniques?
SC : One on one coaching will have a profound impact on performance. Supplier training is critical, too. Do both and you achieve the success and happiness you aspire to. The TA community are very familiar with supplier training, but not with one on one coaching. Supplier training gives you product information. If the trainer is skilled, you will learn about the features and benefits and the secrets of selling and marketing their products. However, they can’t address your specific, personal challenges. We each have varying skill-sets so we may be strong in some areas and weak in others. As a business coach, I pick up where the supplier trainer leaves off. Now, let’s take all the product knowledge, overlay it with our personal passions, and maybe come up with a powerful niche! Bottom-line, a combination of supplier and personal coaching creates an over-achieving travel agent.
TRO : How can you help an individual agent or group of agents with their personal growth?
SC : I have met some agents who have a business coach today, but they are not travel industry specific coaches. The rules of our industry are unique, as it relates to sales and marketing techniques. I offer travel industry focused business coaching, tapping my 21 years in this fantastic industry. From field sales to senior level executive in sales and marketing, I can offer real-time, true-to-life coaching that will eliminate the obstacles faster and illuminate a quicker path to success. It is exciting for me to work with individuals, and businesses, and sharpen their selling skills and focusing their marketing efforts. Too often we get caught up in routine and don’t realize we can operate more efficiently and more effectively. Or, we get discouraged and feel defeated.
This is what I do; connect deeply with a client so that I feel a part of their business. Together, we set goals, shed bad business practices, and achieve the success and happiness desired. Even if a travel agent works with me or a professional business coach for a 3 month period, the impact can be fantastic! I don’t consider myself a teacher, rather a coach. First, they need to believe in themselves by removing the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Once they free themselves from mind-restraint, they can set realistic, ambitious goals with clarity and determination. I try to clear their fears, then illuminate a path of success… along that path I provide the tips and strategies that move them forward.
For me to successfully coach an agent or group of agents, they need to “aspire higher”. In other words, they’ve got to want growth. Equally as important, they need the “gratitude attitude”. Many people around us help to inspire through words and actions. Showing gratitude to them not only humbles us and shows kindness to others, it naturally triggers even more support. It becomes an upward spiral!
TRO : You have a passion for biking, where would you like to take your bike and just ride?
SC : I’d love to bike-hike through in Napa. I’d love to mountain bike through the Appalachian Mountains. Rather than set out on a round trip bike ride, I’d love to use my bike as transportation, to take me from place to place. Biking is so freeing, so silent, so empowering. You see more of life and get more connected to the environment.
I biked through NYC once and I’d love to do it again. In fact, I’d love to bike through other major cities, too. Moving at a slower pace than a car enables me to see things and hear things that I could never before. You get more intimate with the area and see how amazing the structures and the people truly are.
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!?”
SC : Upon reflection, I would not change a thing. I have made mistakes. The key for me is not to make the same mistake again. So, if I had never made the mistakes, how would I have learned and strengthened my skills and decision-making abilities? I believe it is important for us to experience failure. It’s what we do with that knowledge after that helps us or sinks us. Now, as a professional business coach, I can share my success and my failures with others. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that teaches, “To know the road ahead, ask those returning”. I learned a great deal from mentors in my life, and they helped me to make better decisions. But, when I didn’t heed their advice or ventured into uncharted territory, sometimes I tripped up. So, I take the teachings of my mentors, bundle them with what I have learned “the hard way”, and walk a better walk myself, and help others to walk better, too!