The consumers of this decade are smarter and better informed than the consumers of the past. Their computer screens are portals into an unbelievably deep and rich world of information. Beyond that, however, today’s consumers have grown up on television, radio and newspapers. They have seen and heard almost every permutation of marketing and sales, both the good and the bad. As a result, today’s consumer can see an inauthentic sales pitch coming from a long distance away, and they want none of it.
You know an inauthentic sales approach when you hear it. You even have names for the type: “slick”, “come-on”, “pitch”. The inauthentic sales person over-promises, looks too hungry and isn’t really interested in what you need or how you want to be treated. This type of sales person is mostly interested with only one thing: selling you something. You don’t trust them and they don’t care much about you. It’s the car salesman who runs up to you the moment you walk onto the lot and says “Isn’t she a beauty?” (and he’s talking about a car on the lot – you hope). It’s the furniture sales person who is so obviously on commission that they follow you about the store and won’t allow you and your partner a moment alone. You have warding spells to exorcise them, usually beginning with “I’m just looking.”The sales techniques that gave birth to these characters and their irksome behavior are as old as time itself. Before the advent of the internet, however, sales people had a near monopoly on key information about their product. There were very few retail outlets, so choice was limited. Comparing cars across a wide range of consumers, options, safety and other factors was a matter of intensive, time consuming research. Buying any consumable good meant relying on the few retailers in your neighborhood who sold the product. If you wanted an airline ticket, a cruise or a trip to Europe, you almost had to begin with a travel agent. The transactional nature of a purchase meant that most purchasers were deemed “customers”.
Sales people twenty and thirty years ago were schooled in sales “techniques” and “marketing” meant a collection of gimmicks to lure people closer, mechanisms something like a venus-fly trap might employ. Smart consumers were skeptical, but nevertheless largely reliant and therefore vulnerable to the machinations of unscrupulous and manipulative sales approaches. Is it any wonder that people so mistrusted the transactional, retail model of sales?
Times have changed, you know that very well. The question, then, is are you still selling like it’s 1990?
For a travel consultant trying to consistently grow their client base, the retail model is not only antiquated, it’s disastrous. With so much information available to consumers, and with the proliferation of distribution channels for travel, the hard sell, retail techniques of years before are both useless and even laughable. The customer won on price, will be lost on price. The consumer who receives a rebate will use it to purchase their next trip elsewhere. The smart “travel agent” has become a “travel consultant” or a “travel counselor” and the “customers” have become “clients”. The business of being a travel professional is no longer about transactions – selling travel. Instead, being a travel consultant is about a relationship built on trust.
Resolve to put away your concern over price, outdated notions that you sell travel and every vestige of the old retail model. Approach clients with the idea of establishing a relationship. Engage clients in conversations that personalize you and your company. Speak to the client about their needs, their desires and ambitions. Where have they been in the past, where do they want to go “some day”? What are their hobbies, what do they like to do on vacation. Do they have plans? How did the kid’s school year go? What are they doing this winter?
You get the picture. Modern sales is about relationships. People do business with people and companies they like, companies that demonstrate an interest in them. That is the basis of modern sales, and that is the opportunity you have in front of you now.