In 2010, I decided on a niche for my agency, Journeys By Steve, to go after corporate incentive and meeting groups. A relative was the VP of Sales for a franchise group of small business owners across the US and Canada, and I felt his company would be a great client for my services. Using his help, I approached the COO of the company, and made my pitch. I talked about what I did, how I did it, and how my arrangement would benefit the company over what they were currently doing. I had done several months’ worth of research prior to this meeting, so I felt confident I knew their challenges and how to correct them. I came away from that meeting, not with a contract in hand, but with a promise that they’ll keep me in mind.
For many, this is equivalent to a death knell. “I’ll keep you in mind next time we need your services” is the same thing as saying “Don’t call us; we’ll call you!” Using information and tactics I learned from several travel industry gurus, (Nolan Burris, Stuart Cohen, Mike Marchev, Richard Earls, and Scott Koepf—I’m talking to you!) I created a plan to keep myself top-of-mind with that company and their COO. I spent the next two years working this plan, keeping in touch with them and reminding them that I exist, and that I have the potential to help them out with their needs. The response was almost always, “Thank you and we’re still not interested.” I kept at it, and though there were times I wanted to use the hammer to beat it into their heads, I kept an even keel with my message– “This is what I do. This is how you benefit.”
One day, I sent yet another message to the COO, and she responded with, “Send us a proposal.” Delighted, I put one together and dressed the proposal up with pretty pictures, easy to understand information, and a clear outline of the company’s needs, wants, and responsibilities along with my own. Little less than a month later, they accepted the proposal and I’m now managing one of their incentive travel programs. If they like what I do and how I do it, this will turn into a long-term relationship that benefits both of us.
I tell this story to illustrate a very important point–persistence is important. It took me two years of regular messaging the COO of this company with my message for her to come around to saying, “Sure, let’s give it a shot.” It required planning and patience. Had I given up early on, with the first, second, third, or even fourth “no, thanks,” I wouldn’t have this new client. Most importantly, I identified a potential client and approached them; I didn’t wait for them to approach me. I didn’t start advertising everywhere and hoping someone would see it and say, “Hey, let’s talk to this guy.” I did a lot of legwork up front, too. I learned what the company did, how they did it, and what their operations were like on as many levels as I could. A lot of this information was available online, but some of it I had to pull to get; but all of it helped me identify issues I could solve for them. And then the hard part—helping them see the issues as well.
Don’t be afraid to go after what you want. Don’t sit back, looking at an agent who just landed a 300 person incentive group, and say “I wish that was me!” Figure out what it would take for you to get there, form a roadmap to navigate that route, and go for it!
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS has been a travel professional since 2005 and currently owns Exclusive Events At Sea and Journeys By Steve with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. In addition, Steve heads up WordPressForTravelAgents.com, an email-based WordPress education system designed specifically for the busy travel professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.