Supplier relationships were topics addressed at two different recent conferences–Cruise World 2014 and the HBTA Forum in Chicago. At Cruise World the panel consisted of three travel agents sharing their best practices about building relationships with suppliers. In Chicago, it was a panel of supplier representatives moderated by our own Richard Earls, sharing their insight on the subject. What struck me was that many travel agents do not know how to develop and nurture a relationship with their supplier representatives.
So here are some tips I picked up at the two sessions, peppered with a few of my own ideas thrown in along the way.
Tip #1 – don’t wait for the supplier representatives to reach out to you. Suppliers that have Business Development Managers (BDMs) out in the field typically have them covering a large territory. They cannot possibly know every agency in the area they cover, so help them out. Reach out and find out who your BDM is and email or call them. Introduce yourself, and ask for an opportunity to meet in person.
If you live in a remote area, maximize the BDM’s time. Get a group of fellow agents together and invite the BDM to come out and meet you all at the same time.
Tip #2 – don’t wait until you need something from them. Reach out to your BDMs and start to establish a relationship before you need something. If your first contact is to ask them a favor or ask them to fix a problem, that is not the best way to start a relationship. They won’t ignore you or refuse to help you, but knowing you beforehand might help speed up the process.
Tip #3 – be proactive and have a plan. When you reach out to your BDM and introduce yourself, have a plan of attack in mind. Do you have an idea for a group cruise, and you would like your BDM’s help to make it a success? Ask what you can do to build your business with that particular supplier, and what they can offer you in return. At one of the conferences one of my BDMs offered me a 3% commission increase if I agreed to work towards a specific 2015 sales goal with her company. Ask your BDM for specific suggestions on what you can do to book more of their product. What client demographics should you target? What strategies do they suggest? These are all things that they are eager to do, because you are not only increasing your bottom line, but you are helping them increase theirs.
Tip #4 – supporting your suppliers and building a relationship with your BDMs also includes attending their events. If a BDM is sponsoring an event in your area (or within reasonable driving distance), make the effort to attend. If you RSVP, show up. Or call in advance if circumstances change and you cannot attend. They are often paying a large amount of money to host events, for the room, food, etc. And for wholesalers that bring in many of their vendors, those vendors have an expectation of attendance. Nothing embarrasses a BDM more than setting a certain expectation about the number of attendees only to have it fall short.
Tip #5 – be realistic when making requests. Keep in mind that BDMs have limited budgets and only so much time in any given day (just like you). When asking for assistance in solving a problem, smoothing over a customer service issue, or working on a co-op marketing idea, don’t ask for the moon. Keep requests within reason, and work as true partners in finding solutions.
How have you built relationships with your own BDMs? Feel free to share in the comments!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209).