Let’s begin looking more closely at the process of working with a client to determine how the travel agent can increase the number of successful encounters. We are going to more finely analyze the sales process into its component parts. Why? Because very small problems can cause a sale to go off course to an amazing degree. The problem can be so small that it will hide behind the poor result and be difficult to identify.
Sales is an organic process, but there are typically some very clear steps that lead from the first encounter with a client to travel planning and repeat business. To illustrate, we want to revisit the concept of the “sales funnel” as a metaphor: a large number of leads go in at the top and then fall away as the process continues until a few actual sales occur at the bottom of the funnel. While not a perfect metaphor for travel planning, the astute travel agent can use the sales funnel to determine where in the sales process clients are being lost. With a bit of honest self-evaluation, the travel agent can adjust their client encounters at critical points to increase the number of clients at the bottom of the funnel – successful repeat business.
Here is a representation of the sales funnel. The labels represent the way most of us think about the process of travel planning, coaching clients through the buying process. In our hypothetical, over some period of time, perhaps in the first half of the year, the travel agent encounters 50 initial leads. Some of those leads may have come from referrals, some from advertising, some from the agency website. Of those first 50 leads, 30 responded to an initial outreach by the agent. That means 20 clients did not respond. Perhaps here is an area for analysis. What happened to those 20? Were they not serious leads? Perhaps something in the initial communication put them off? Are there follow-up efforts that might add them someday to the client roster?
Of the 30 that received that first communication from the travel agent, 15 agreed to receive a telephone call from the agent. Of those, 8 agreed to a meeting. Again, here is an opportunity for analysis. While it is not unusual to see a large number of initial leads fall away, the further down the funnel and into the process, the more control the travel agent has and the more the process can be adjusted to improve results. At that first meeting, 4 of the eight agreed to the concept of a fee request and requested travel planning. Three of those actually traveled and within a one year time frame, two were repeat clients.
Note the vital importance of achieving an understanding of the sales funnel is for your travel agency. The further down the funnel a client travels, the more expensive a loss becomes. If you lose a client after a presentation is made, you have already invested significant time and resources in marketing, lead generation, preparation, phone calls, meetings, research and presentations. The time you spent with a lost client is very difficult, and often impossible, to re-coup. Thus, it is very important to determine ways to improve your sales process and increase the number of successful encounters you have with clients.
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The actual steps in the sales process for you and your travel agency may look different. In fact, the steps may be different for varying sales channels – your process for internet leads may be different for referrals. In those instances it is probably worthwhile analyzing the process with separate sales funnel diagrams. However, the basic concept is the same. The sales funnel can help you to spot problems and take corrective action. Better training, more authentic communications, a more skilled approach to the process are all possible corrections each step of the way. Using the sales funnel will assist you to better understand where in the process you are losing clients, and where adjustments might make a difference in the number of clients making it to the status of repeat clients.
Brainstorm with your agency associates how to best flowchart your sales process – what steps occur in each sales channel. Then, chart the sales process against the sales funnel and track how clients fall away from the process. Make a list of current leads and track their progress. How many leads do you actually make contact with and of those, how many meetings result? Of the meetings you schedule, how many turn into actual presentations? Of the presentations you make, how many clients actually travel? Compare your actual results with your anticipated results over a period of time. Chances are, you will find some real bottlenecks in your own version of the sales funnel that are causing fewer potential customers to become repeat clients.