Your role in each and every travel planning exercise is not to sell travel. In fact, in an established relationship with a client you are not selling anything. Instead, you are assisting clients to make intelligent buying decisions. Some would argue the line I am drawing is one of mere semantics. In new relationships, of course, you do have to sell yourself. Once you are engaged in a relationship with your clients, however, your role dynamically changes. Nevertheless, the difference between being a buyer or a seller is important at the very least from a psychological perspective and worth your consideration.
Certainly I hope it is clear you don’t sell travel. Intellectually, most travel agents will agree with that statement. Yet, read the travel agency forums, and the inquiries reveal that most travel agents believe they are in competition with online sites, with suppliers and with any media that advertises travel to the public. How often do we hear a fellow agent complain they “lost a sale” to Costco or some other retailer? To then compound the problem, those same agents begin imitating the tactics of their perceived competition, advertising supplier brands, marketing price and, in general, acting like a retailer of travel product.
Understand your clients can buy travel without you! They do not need a travel consultant to purchase travel. Travel is available on the internet, in the newspaper, and direct from suppliers. When you market travel, you will almost inevitably be setting yourself in competition with the many other distribution channels for travel product. You will find yourself competing on price. Fundamentally, travel consultants do not compete on price well. Living from transaction to transaction is a lousy way to make a living!
Yet, when travel agents are of a mind set that they sell travel, that is the arena in which they find themselves.
What if instead of sales we thought in terms of buying? In a sales dynamic, you find yourself on the other side of the table from the client negotiating. However, in a consulting context, you are helping them make an intelligent buying decision. You are assisting your clients in evaluating the options available to them and then making the right choices to ensure the best possible travel experience. You can’t be beaten on price because you aren’t selling anything!
Intellectually, I know you understand that shift. But can you take it to heart? Can you absorb it so deeply that you not only understand it but you believe it? Can you communicate it to others – like clients?
When consumers are happy with a purchase, they will brag about the buy they made. When they are unhappy, however, they will complain about what they were sold. It is true – people love to buy, but they hate to be sold. In that simple truism is a lesson for travel consultants: help clients make intelligent buying decisions.