Every business relationship is built on trust, and travel consulting perhaps more so than most. Rather than a linear, transactional retail paradigm, modern travel sales is about establishing a relationship with the client, analyzing the customer’s needs and making recommendations based on the expertise of the travel consultant. The best practitioners in any field of expertise exhibit a set of characteristics that can be studied, learned and emulated. By looking at the habits and attitudes of top travel consultants, we can set out an agenda for expanding and enhancing our own skill set.
Top travel counselors understand that the very nature of “sales” has changed. The internet has forever retired the retail paradigm of travel sales. The best in the field now treat themselves not as travel agents, but as travel counselors or travel consultants. This is not merely semantics, but a real difference based on the role of the travel professional. No doubt in each travel planning episode a sale is taking place. Actually, two sales are taking place. The travel supplier is selling travel. The travel professional is selling consulting services. No serious travel consultant should confuse the two sales initiatives, because to do so is to lapse back into the retail paradigm with the attendant problems of price shopping and a transactional relationship with a customer rather than a consulting relationship with a client.
Every good travel consultant is motivated by their love of travel and their desire to be good at what they do. Highly focused and goal oriented, top travel consultants exhibit a confidence that is borne of their knowledge of suppliers, travel product, sales and marketing psychology. But more than any other single characteristic, a good travel consultant seeks to understand the client’s motivations, needs, concerns and apprehensions. Top travel consultants know how to form a rapport with their clients that communicates not only a competence, but an empathy with the client’s needs.
Seek to find common ground with your clients. People like to do business with other people, not with companies or brands. Make it personal. Perhaps your children attend the same school, you have mutual hobbies, you both love cats, science fiction or CSI Miami. Hopefully, your clients will see the testimonials of other clients or will come to you via a referral from a common acquaintance. Your clients are going to want to know that you are a person just like them and understand their situation. Spend some time getting to know your clients as people. Build a rapport by making your clients feel comfortable and by removing all pressure from the consulting environment.
Be a good information gatherer, and understand fully what it is your client wants from the travel planning exercise. When you make your presentation to the client, demonstrate clearly how you sought to meet the client’s agenda.
Great travel consultants are not necessarily born that way. There is every evidence that practice, determination and a study of marketing and sales can make a real difference in the success you have as a travel professional. At heart, your ability to relate to others is a matter not of your travel knowledge, though that is certainly important, but your understanding of psychology and how to build a rapport based on trust and empathy.