On Father’s Day, my father-in-law decided we should all go the Snoqualmie casino near Seattle for the afternoon. I am not a big gambler, but for a few hours of fun – I was game. One of the players at our poker table repeated with every hand, “Go big or go home”.
This reminded me of a big gamble I made with my travel agency. Outwardly we were very successful and from a sales perspective we were. However, we were in real danger of bankruptcy. So we made the biggest gamble since starting the company: we did a 180-degree turn and began focusing on attracting affluent customers as part of the overall sales strategy. Go big or go home!
Many agents are intimidated by affluent prospects, people who have achieved a high level of social, career, and financial success in their respective fields. I was raised on an artist’s commune in the 1970s. On a scale from 1-10, at the time our social and financial standing in the community was probably in the negative numbers. I was definitely intimidated by the social standing of many people in our area, specifically based on the combination of income, popularity, and power of position. As I got older and came to know many of these folks, I realized the fear was unfounded. It was based on my perceptions of who they were; I was the problem. Do you have the some of the same perceptions about some of your prospects? Are they standing in the way of the success of your career or business?
Although I didn’t have a name for it until I recently, I discovered the phenomenon of situational status when I was a young SCUBA Instructor. Oren Klaff, in his excellent book “Pitch Anything”, describes this concept and how to use it to your advantage.
In a world that covets social status based on perceived wealth, popularity, and power, the Scuba Instructor ranks pretty low on the social ladder. While it may be considered a dream job to many, professional vocations such as doctors, lawyers, and business executives tend to occupy an exalted status in the socioeconomic pecking order.
Generally speaking, one does not choose a career in scuba diving to become rich. In fact, just the opposite is true. We do it for the love of diving and are able to pursue our passion every day. Scuba instructors have a reputation of being folks not too interested in getting a “real” job. Most people see us living the life of a Jimmy Buffett song. I have to admit, in many cases this is true, but it is also a classic example of how you can use social status to your advantage.
Before running away to join the cruise line, I counted among my scuba students: the head of a well-known furniture manufacturer, the owner of one of the largest HVAC company in the southeast, as well as a number of esteemed professors, physicians, attorneys, executives, and mechanics. Many of whom hired me on a private basis to teach their families to dive and escort them on their dive vacations. Why me? This was my first real encounter with situational status.
I was hired to teach a very specific skill, which to them was very foreign. These were individuals who are used to being in control. It put them out of their comfort zone. In doing so, my status temporarily changed. I was no longer the Caribbean beach bum, but the skilled, articulate teacher responsible for their safety. At the same time, they assumed the role of attentive student, hanging on my every word and action. The field had reversed itself. I had temporarily gained a higher social situational standing with my clients. When we got to the parking lot the roles went back to the social norm, but for a short while I was the one they deferred to for advice.
As travel professionals, we often find ourselves perceived in the same manner – dream job, ability to travel the world, but traditionally not a high-paying profession. Prospects come to us because of our specialized knowledge and experience. We have something they need or want. This is our opportunity to seize situational status and exude our local star power.
Do not be intimidated, fearful, or in awe. In most cases, they are just like you and me. They happen to be very good at what they do or have a title that carries a lot of weight in the world. It is important you not let yourself be affected by their status.
Assuming you are, like them, very good at your job, they have sought you out for consul and advice. This temporary status puts you in control and allows you to make the rules. You can create value using your knowledge and experience to maintain your situational status.
The fastest way to lose your status and most likely the sale, is to make it about price. You will lose any situational status or star power you may have had and quickly become expendable. You may never be able to compete with some of your prospects in the way the world applies social status, but it can be very fun and profitable if you properly use situational status to your advantage.
Dan Chappelle is President of WealthyTravelAgent.com where he develops sales leaders for the travel & tourism industry. He assists sales professionals achieve their full potential by expanding their vision, shifting their mindset, and transforming their businesses to produce tangible results. An internationally known travel industry expert, sales executive, and speaker, Dan has earned an enthusiastic following among travel agents and industry leaders worldwide. He has been featured in numerous trade and consumer publications and is an instructor for the Travel Institutes’ Professional Educators Program, providing insight for travel professionals. You can contact Dan by email at Dan@WealthyTravelAgent.com.