I appreciate and enjoy my clients, I really do. Sometimes however, working with prospective clients can be like herding cats.
I’m still learning the finesse of closing the sale when a prospective client is indecisive. I’ve read articles, watched webinars, sat through conference sessions and still find it difficult. My experience has run the gamut from those clients that ask for a quote then seemingly fall off the earth, to clients who are in the 11th hour of providing payment information then make a complete 180 and change their whole itinerary. I’m not sure if it’s cold feet, my approach, or a combination of both.
To mitigate spending all my time and effort without any reward, I’ve tinkered with charging a service fee upfront. It has received mixed reactions from prospective clients. Some don’t want to pay for a service they have not yet received even though I’ve offered to put their service fee towards the deposit once they book with me. Others don’t see the value in paying someone to do what they can do themselves online (I realize these are the bargain hunters and should be taken with a grain of salt).
On the flip side I’ve also done away with any upfront fees and just done all the leg work of providing a quote, only to never have them book. I’m still working on that happy medium by vetting prospective clients’ inquiries a little more thoroughly – if the language in their first contact is positive and they are confident in their decision for future travel, I don’t charge a service fee. If all they want is the cheapest option or have a generic, “I want to go to the Caribbean,” destination, then I charge a service fee. While I’m profiling clients in a way, it’s with the best intentions in mind for my agency. It’s still a hit or miss type situation, but has slowly been getting better as I’m able to read prospective clients more effectively.
Another hurdle for me is creating a personal connection or “closing the relationship” as Richard Earls puts it, with prospective clients. Why is this so hard you may ask? I can count on one hand how many clients I have met in person (prospective or those who have booked). This is not by my choosing. I’ve actively suggested and offered to meet with them at a place and time that is convenient to them. However, my clientele are busy Washingtonians who barely have time to eat lunch, much less meet with me, so email or phone is preferred. I’ve slowly but surely moved from accepting only email interaction to making at least one phone call to the prospective client before they book, just to make that extra connection. This may sound like a no-brainer to seasoned agents but it took me some time to realize this extra effort could seal the deal. I was looking for the fastest way to close the sale instead of the best way.
Rounding out my top three closing the sale issues, is working with clients who take one step forward then two steps back. Recently I had clients who requested a multi-destination itinerary that was weeks in the making going back and forth between the in-country provider and the clients. We went from matching their budget, to exceeding it by $1000-1250 because they chose every optional tour, to changing the countries, to changing how many cities they wanted to visit. Long story short, we shaved the cost by about $1500 but then of course my commission was also given a buzz cut as well. With some (a lot) of patience, some firm nudging and some additional education, the clients did finally book but the whole process lasted just over a month (and some 45 emails). It was a seemingly endless process that I’m wondering how I could have handled better… or maybe every agent just gets these clients now and then?
All in all, each day I’m learning more and more about the world of sales. I’ve gained more insight with the trials and tribulations I’ve experienced than in some of the how-to books I’ve read. Jumping in with both feet can be a frightening experience and while I’ve sometimes had difficulty keeping my head above water, I’m starting to learn how to swim more gracefully.
Nathan Graeff is the owner of Capital Travel and Events based in the nation’s capital of Washington, DC. His agency is a full service travel agency serving leisure and business clients but specializes in adventure travel, non-profit agency travel and accessible travel. Nathan is a home-based agent and a member of Millennials in Travel and OSSN.