How to be found and build clients | Travel Research Online


How to be found and build clients

Regardless of what you sell, one of the ongoing challenges running any business today is first being found. Getting potential clients “in the door” and then turning them into clients who purchase products using our professional services and expertise is the next critical step. In the case of travel agent professionals, once we get that first sale and get the booking in, the next step is getting those clients to come back and continue booking through us. What’s the best way to be found and build your clientele?

Building Trust and Elevating the Experience

In any sales situation, building that level of trust first is critical. Yes, as travel professionals we do have to “ask for the sale”, but that can be handled through the right phasing. In our case, we are also elevating the experiences for our clients from beginning to end by eliminating the stress they would go through if they tried to arrange and book everything themselves.

Think about a purchase you made yourself. How did you find the business, company, or professional in the first place? Was it through a referral, possibly from someone you trust, and who has a good relationship with that business or professional?

Relationship Marketing

A key area in being found involves relationship marketing. One of my favorite ways to create future sales goes back to a phrase, “build the relationship first, and then the sale will come.” It goes back to getting to know more about a person who could be a potential future client – knowing what they like, what’s important to them, their preferences, their personal style, how they make decisions, priorities, and more.

Insights from Dean DeLisle, Founder and CEO, Forward Progress

Chicago area based company, Forward Progress, headed up by Dean DeLisle, Founder and CEO, has an incredible success when it comes to helping businesses and people connect with leads and closing sales. Dean and his team have helped over 4,000 clients connect with leads (over 25 million) and closing over a billion dollars in sales. But it’s based on helping their clients make the connections that count. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dean for a few years and he mentions that online networks are important when building a business, and he’s passionate about helping his clients build a “community.”  A “community” is a way to build a longer-term resource for potential clients. Getting to know people first, and building those personalized relationships with them, is part of what builds social selling. In the travel business, that’s also a good way to think about it – building our own respective “communities” first, and then develop the personalized relationships that can turn into sales, all with that “social selling” element. 

SeaDream Yacht Club’s Success – The Little Cruise Line That Could

Bob Lepisto
Robert “Bob” Lepisto, President of SeaDream Yacht Club

Now celebrating its 15th year anniversary, SeaDream Yacht Club is a wonderful success story and has won numerous awards. When they started in 2001, it perhaps was not the best time to start a new cruise line. They faced some challenges: the terrorist attacks on 9/11 brought travel to a literal standstill. In the cruise industry, cruise lines continued to head into a new direction, building even larger, more massive ships complete with new features, alternative dining venues, lavish spas, and diverse entertainment options.

So where did SeaDream Yacht Club fit into the picture? SeaDream Yacht Club began with the purchase of two sister yachts, which went through an extensive dry-dock and refit. Re-christened and named SeaDream I and SeaDream II, they accommodated 112 guests, had a 95 person crew, and were 4,250 gross registered tons each. With a tagline, “It’s Yachting, Not Cruising,” they provided a more unique, all-inclusive alternative, with a very intimate setting.

Robert “Bob” Lepisto, President of SeaDream Yacht Club, credits the success to a few key things. He explains, “We sell with passion. Also, ours is a product whose success is really driven by word of mouth. When SeaDream Yacht Club began back in 2001, we had a different vision. We wanted to be a casually different unique private yacht experience, with high end, quality dining and cuisine, and impeccable service appealing to like-minded people.”

As a result, Bob notes, “Our guests tell us again and again they love the cuisine as well the diverse choices, and being able to make new friends onboard. SeaDream, for instance, has eight massage therapists who can serve a maximum of 56 couples. Our guests can also take advantage of yoga classes and tai chi, and more. Once again, this is where word of mouth has been the most successful way we’ve be able to market ourselves. When you have people who come back and sail with us again and again along with bringing their friends? Yes, it’s their passion that fits in with our selling with passion.”

Focusing on the Uniqueness – More Insights from Bob Lepisto

When asked how SeaDream Yacht Club can best be described, Bob explains, “We’re a bit more like a high-end boutique hotel, but one that can sail to unique ports. We create our itineraries with our guests in mind – popular ports like Monte Carlo and Mykonos, of course. But the small size of our yachts allows our guests to also visit memorable lesser-traveled ports as well.”

SeaDream Yacht Club’s clientele is one that has grown more conscious of healthier lifestyles and quality dining. So when it comes to cuisine, this is another area where SeaDream elevates the experience. Bob notes, “We also offer the only ‘raw food’ or ‘living food’ at sea. Our guests have the option of experiencing dishes that are prepared only with organic, raw, and vegan ingredients. And none of these are heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, by the way. This menu was created in conjunction with the Hippocrates Health Institute. We don’t push it, but we have it all available.”

Another part of SeaDream’s unique guest experiences? One of the highlights that occurs during their Caribbean sailings is SeaDream’s Caviar and Champagne Splash™. Guests can wade out into the water where a surfboard, complete with white linens, festive bubbles, premier caviar, and more, is theirs to enjoy. SeaDream also offers Wine Voyages, which offer exclusive, unique wine tastings, wine pairing dinners, and personal winery visits.

Planting the Seeds to Grow the Business

When it comes to not just starting but growing a business, which Bob and his team have done at SeaDream over the years, he explains, “You need to plant the seeds. Know when clients want to do something spectacular. For instance, do they have a big milestone coming up? Also, be ready to customize. At SeaDream we’re able to customize in diverse ways – one is our offering of full ship charters. Once again, with the SeaDream I and SeaDream II having just 56 staterooms accommodating 112 guests, full ship charters are not out of reach for most agents. This provides a great opportunity for travel agents to explore charters and arrange them with us. And we’re an all-inclusive product, which once again is a great selling point.”

Back to the Success – Having Excellent Partners

As far as the success that SeaDream Yacht Club has experienced through its fifteen years of existence, Bob mentions that they do a minimum amount of advertising. SeaDream relies on their customers and dedicated travel agents to get the word out. He further notes, “We don’t have to do it all ourselves; we just need to have good partners.” Bob has also found that agents are bringing in an incredible number of their clients who are celebrating milestone events, because people today are now more interested in experiences, and not just collecting “things.”

The Many Takeaways

It gets back to some key things that Bob Lepisto shared. Find your target audience, get to know them, present something that will draw them in, and provide that unique experience. With SeaDream Yacht Club, their tagline, “It’s Yachting, Not Cruising,” says it best.

Cindy Bertram has  15+ years of cruise and travel industry expertise in marketing, sales, training, diverse content creation, as well as areas of social media, including blogging. She handles projects through her own company, Cindy’s Inside Cruise and Travel Track, LCC, in addition to working in small business consulting. A diverse writer who’s nationally published, Cindy has presented workshops at travel and cruise conferences, along with being the opening speaker for PR NEWS’ Writing Boot Camp Chicago November 2014. Passionate about having a positive impact, her short story, “A Cruise and a Promise,” was included in Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul (published 2002.)    She can be reached at  

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