I was recently interviewing a prospective client, who repeatedly asked, “Dan, what are we going to do about my marketing plan?” After reviewing her efforts, I told her, “Maybe a tweak or two – here and there – but for the most part your marketing is fine.” I replied, “What’s missing is a sales plan.” The phone went silent, and I waited while she processed what I had said. “A sales plan?” she asked, “I’m not even sure what that is. I thought all I needed was a marketing plan.” As I explained the purpose of a sales plan, I could almost see the light go on in her head.
A marketing plan does not guarantee that you will sell anything. It does guarantee a substantial investment to attract and retain clients, but I repeat – a marketing plan does not guarantee sales.
As travel professionals, we operate on a business model virtually identical to our friends who sell real estate, insurance, autos, software, and other products in a number of different industries. We don’t own the product, we get paid on commission, and technically, revenue is considered earned at time of travel, not necessarily when it is paid.
However, like my prospective client, many travel agents still do not consider their role to be a “sales job”. They are “purveyors of dreams and experience makers” and all that, but they are not sales people.
In my experience, the primary reason most agencies and independent agents don’t live up to their full potential is simple: they don’t distinguish between the purpose of sales and marketing.
Marketing is not sales, and sales is not marketing – yet both work together to play an integral part in your overall business plan. The retail travel channel typically works on a 4-6 month booking cycle, so you may not get paid for something sold today for up to six months. Many of you have probably experienced a similar situation. You just had a record sales month, yet not a penny in the bank to pay the bills.
This comes down to cash flow, or rather the lack of it. There are many businesses that are very profitable on paper, yet they are forced to close down because they don’t have enough cash to pay their bills. Cash flow is the life blood the business.
We worry about too much about marketing, when in fact the real concern should be cash flow. Therefore, you need a sales plan to help you prepare for the cycles.
The primary function of most consortia and host agencies is to serve as a marketing organization that supports the sales efforts of their members. The consortia model went through this transition more than two decades ago, and host agencies more recently. But, when it comes to sales planning, most fall short.
A good sales plan, in addition to being a revenue forecast, should answer three questions.
- What am I selling (products)?
- How I will sell it (strategy)?
- What am I doing to proactively drive revenue (activities)?
Let’s focus on the last one, as it requires the most effort on your part. Attraction, or any marketing, should always be in support of the sales plan, not instead of one. The core of your sales activity plan should be “Prospecting”. Prospecting can provide, and ensure, a steady stream of leads to help prevent gaps in cash flow.
There is a fundamental difference between marketing and prospecting. Marketing, even when targeted, tends to be reactive and can be costly. However, prospecting puts you in the driver’s seat. You have control to proactively seek out specific people or groups with surgical precision. In prospecting, the largest expense is typically your time.
Let’s face it. Sales is a contact sport. Someone is buying goods or services, usually from another person. For this to happen, a relationship must first be established. However, most people would rather have their fingernails ripped out with a pair of pliers than pick up the phone to call or even email someone they barely know. Fear is common, but overcoming it is fundamental to successful prospecting.
Heed the advice of Henry Ford who said, “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”
I often tell a story that personally illustrates the words of Mr. Ford. In college, I signed up to spend a summer selling books door-to-door. In training, we were told that over the course of the summer, knocking on thousands of doors, we should expect to get one slammed in our face less than a dozen times. No problem. First day, first house, I started my pitch…Wham! I was mortified and ran off to the nearest McDonald’s where I stayed until the end of the day. I was done – going home! My sales manager asked me to sit tight and spend the next day with him. We knocked on a few doors until someone bought the books about 30 minutes after we started. Wow! That was easy. I had internalized the fear of rejection and let it paralyze me for a full day. The guy who slammed the door, forgot about me before it was even closed. This was my “surprise” – action cures fear. I knew I could do it and spent the rest of the summer without fear. That summer, that moment changed my life.
Prospecting is relatively easy, as Nike says, “Just Do It!” Identify who fits the profile of people you want to do business with. Then, proactively use your personal, professional, and social networks to systematically target them. This is the secret of truly great salespeople. They use their networks to build relationships with potential clients.
Don’t get caught with your pants down. Successful, commissioned salespeople execute a written sales plan supported by their written marketing plan. Make prospecting a top priority to help ensure that you always have clients and don’t have any cash flow problems.
Dan Chappelle is a professional business advisor, sales coach, author, and speaker specializing in the travel and tourism industry. His training and consulting firm helps develop sales oriented business leaders and entrepreneurs. His best-selling book, Get Your S.H.I.P. Together: The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales, is available on Amazon.com.
For information on Dan’s business development programs, visit: www.DanChappelle.com