In last week’s column, we discussed how not every potential traveler is an ideal client for a travel advisor. This goes beyond the style of travel an advisor focuses on—“I’m a romance travel advisor. I don’t work with families.”
Despite the fact that professional advisors are so good at matching ideal clients with the right vacation experience, I believe they receive too little support from suppliers and destinations in generating sales leads that make everyone more money.
In my consulting work and writing, I still see and hear about how most suppliers and destinations shape their travel advisor partnerships from a “me-centric” viewpoint. And the research we recently conducted at Travel Business Mastermind (TBM) shows us that there are quite a few opportunities for improvement.
In our practice at TBM, we try to get travel advisors to develop supplier and destination partnerships that are 50/50 propositions. We urge advisors to talk to sales leadership teams who want to discuss the advisor’s ideal client, and how they can partner profitably. We also urge our clients to take fam trips that align with their business model, and to make supplier commitments on things like marketing plans, e-mail and social media sales campaigns, etc.
But, as much as we push advisors to be proactive, suppliers have to do the same (and some, like Sandals Resorts are.) So, as long as we’re asking advisors to step up their game, here are the three things suppliers and destinations need to do to help advisors better target their ideal clients.
1) Embark on a Total POV Change
It is the number one thing we heard in our research across the 50-question survey—where 59% of the respondents said they have more than 10 years of experience.
Everything, from marketing collateral to fam trips to conference presentations to education portals, needs to be reoriented. Our survey respondents told us that suppliers and destinations are overly focused on their features and benefits, while a travel advisor’s success depends on converting great marketing into a sales funnel that works for their business.
Some companies, like Sandals Resorts, are getting the message. I recently hosted a webinar for travel advisors who participated in the TBM Survey. During the call one experienced advisor told me in great detail about how her last Sandals fam trip was designed to get her deep into sales planning with Sandals based on HER romance travel business.
I also can see through recent Facebook posts and other social media that Sandals has been doing a great job with their onsite travel advisor webinar broadcasts. They are letting advisors take center stage in front of clients and prospects, talking about the properties live while attending a fam at a Sandals Resort.
Sandals takes a lot of hits from some advisors for some of their business practices. But, what I hear from many happy agency owners, in the current environment advisors are seeing a clearer path to Sandals partnerships that work with THEIR agency’s ideal clients.
2) Open Up
This is one of my hot buttons. I have sat through hundreds of sales presentations across a variety of industries, mostly in travel the last five years.
I have found that most sales and marketing teams do a poor job helping independent sales people, like travel advisors, understand who their mutual ideal clients are and the economics of partnering to generate more of them.
For example, I recently was on a very popular cruise line’s travel advisor webinar to see how they position their product and assist advisors in being amazing “Cruise Line X” marketeers. If that was their best effort, wow… that was awful.
Over an hour’s presentation time, and dozens of slides promoting features and benefits, this cruise line spent all of less than five minutes and one slide dishing out 5-6 ambiguous demographics about who the cruise line’s “ideal client” is.
Afterwards, I spoke with a tenured travel advisor who loves this cruise line and asked, “Am I missing something? Does their portal training go deeper to help advisors?”
“Not really,” she responded, adding that this particular cruise line is not out of the ordinary when it comes to assisting advisors in burrowing deep into ideal client details.
Suppliers and destinations need to help advisors understand what a direct channel customer looks like in terms of needs and profits, and why these prospects are better left to online travel agencies, wholesale clubs, etc.
They then need to demonstrate how advisors should focus on the more complex, higher value clientele that makes suppliers, destinations and advisors more money. And, most importantly, they need to demonstrate how suppliers and destinations can support advisors in moving down that path.
3) Empower Your Sales Teams
When we asked in our survey what advisors need most from their supplier/destination sales teams [remember, 59% had ten years or more experience], in rank order they said “help me identify ideal clients,” “express a genuine understanding and interest in my business,” and “provide me with effective marketing coaching.”
Yet, when we asked how helpful the typical business development manager is in delivering on those needs, the largest percentage of “very helpful” responses we received across any sales discipline was 35%—for expressing a genuine understanding and interest in an advisor’s business.
Across all of the dimensions we measured, the largest share of responses was for “somewhat helpful,” in the 45%-plus range. And in one case—helping generate sales leads—44% of our survey respondents replied that the typical BDM was “not very helpful.”
Having helped run, and train, sales and client management teams, I understand why. We shape sales team job descriptions, we recruit and train sales teams, measure their performance, etc., based on an internal point of view, even if we receive consistent feedback that this approach hinders our mutual success.
But given today’s conditions of suppressed travel demand, we need to challenge the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. We need to be more introspective about whether what we are doing can be improved.
I’ve privately briefed about three dozen industry executives and travel advisors about this research since we wrapped it up in January. All of them told me they are thankful for Travel Business Mastermind picking up this banner. They understand we are here to help bridge gaps. They’re open to innovation.
We’re living in very different times today, that call for different, innovative ways of thinking. Are you ready to think differently? Experienced travel advisors are waiting for your answer.
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.