After last month’s article, I had several emails and private messages specifically asking about finding the ever elusive pied pipers. I got the impression that many travel professionals feel like they are on a snipe hunt when it comes to finding pied pipers for group travel.
There is no secret formula or handshake involved, but you do need a healthy dose of patience and perseverance, sprinkled with a gift of gab. You need to be able to make “the ask” and ask often. When it comes to prospecting for pied pipers I break it up into two simple categories: cold calling, and warm calling.
The Cold Calling Method
Cold calling prospects is not easy. It’s not fun; and the prospects are more difficult to convert to successful pied pipers. But it’s not impossible. Start with a list. You can make up your own list (and I would recommend it) based on parameters you set, and based on conducting your own research. For example, if you want to focus on charities for fund-raising cruises. Based on how far you are willing to drive (let’s say 50 miles one way) find charities within that radius around your office. If you still have yellow pages, check those. Also check chambers of commerce directories, and don’t forget about the big three search engines—Google, Yahoo, and Bing. You can also search out non-profit organizations on GuideStar to get some basic information about them.
Once you have your list start “smiling and dialing.” When someone answers you’ll want to ask for the Development Director or whomever handles fund-raising. Tell them that you would like to organize a fund-raiser for them, and ask if they can email you with their fund-raising guidelines and basic information about their organization (size, number of donors/supporters, etc.). Before you hang up, try to set up an appointment for a couple of weeks in the future. This will allow you time to review the material they send you, and them some time to check you out as well. At this appointment you will go into greater detail, explaining how they can provide an enjoyable vacation opportunity for their supporters/donors at no financial risk to the charity, and have the event double as a fund-raiser (give them a general ballpark figure on how much you think they can raise). You will need to be clear about your expectations of them and what will be required on their part to successfully market and sell the trip.
Any type of cold calling has its uphill battles. They don’t know you. They will be weary of scam-artists. And of course, they need to protect the reputation of their organization. It’s the most valuable asset that they have. But cold calling is not an impossible task; you can come away from it with several pied pipers in your line-up.
Not Cold Calling – Warm Introductions
Whenever possible get a “warm introduction” to any pied piper. I define a “warm introduction” as someone with a personal connection to the pied piper who can make the initial contact and introduce you. It helps when the intermediary knows you and your business personally. It can be a current or past client, a fellow member of the chamber of commerce, even a next door neighbor. But they can help alleviate the concerns about scam artists and those “too good to be true” proposals.
This is where networking and the “gift of gab” will be crucial. You need to “Get Out There” (to quote a certain cruise line). Attend mixers, go to chamber meetings, join networking groups; talk to your hairdresser, your dentist and your car mechanic. Be specific when you tell them who you are looking for – if you don’t have a name, and then be as descriptive as possible. For example, you want to reach out to someone that owns an insurance agency so you can propose an incentive group cruise for their sales people. You want a connection to the alumni association of the local university. Or you are looking for a golf-pro that would like to take a group to St Andrews. Once someone says “oh, I know….” ask them if they would be willing to introduce you to that person.
“Warm introductions” are not a guaranteed sale, but typically they are easier to cultivate than a cold call.
Who do you want as a pied piper? Think of ways you can get introduced and go after them!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships N Trips Travel as well as niche operations trading as Kick Butt Vacations, focused on college students; Kick Butt Events focusing on fundraising; and Your Kiwi Specialist specializing in anything New Zealand. You can reach Susan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.