Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations, kicked off the first General Session of ExecConnect with a presentation and panel on prospecting for new business. Before the session got into full swing, Kazlauskas asked a very important question of the audience, “Why did you become a travel agent?”
Responses from the travel agent members of the audience ranged from “because I wanted to travel” to “I wanted to share information with people.”
Kazlauskas provided agents with a primer on the best ways to qualify leads and told the audience that, before you do it, you should ask yourself “why would somebody buy from you?”
He advised agents to come up with their own USP — unique selling points — by thinking of four reasons that someone should book a vacation with them.
The next step, said Kazlauskas, is to find out what your specialty is and to figure out which markets need you.
Agents should determine what they specialize in, what commonalities they have with their clientele and identify and capitalize on key relationships they have in their community, as well as with family and friends that can be leveraged to target affinity groups.
“Fish where the fish are,” he said.
Kazlauskas referred to this strategy by defining key terms that agents can use to help define their market — demographics and psychographics.
The demographics are determined by age. For example, young boomers are born between 1955 and 1964. Older boomers range from 1946 to 1954. According to Kazlauskas, 50 percent of the U.S. discretionary spending power rests with the baby boomers and they are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending.
While the demographics show that this market is the most lucrative, ignoring the psychographics would leave out a key market: the youth.
“The future is in the youth,” said Kazlauskas. “If you are missing this market, you are not setting yourself up for the future.”
Other markets that are included in the psychographics are markets such as family. Kazlauskas asked for a show of hands of agents who had booked a family vacation in the last month and the majority of attendees raised their hands. Adults traveling with children or grandchildren make up 30 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers. Grandparents traveling with grandchildren represent 7 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers, and family travelers take an average of 4½ trips each year.
The affluent market, which, according to Kazlauskas, did not stop traveling despite the economic downturn, continues to grow. This group merely changed the way in which they traveled and gave up expensive items such as purses and jewelry but not vacation time.
Affinity groups are another group that is growing. Targeting scrapbooking groups or fan groups is a great way for agents to develop new business.
Panelist Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar Tours, provided additional insight into targeting consumers, noting that women are a key demographic for agents.
“Sixty percent of travelers are women,” said Wiseman. “They make the decisions.”
Jason Coleman, president of Jason Coleman Inc., also recommends targeting the residents of your community. He targets the 800 residents of Playa del Rey, Calif., like a realtor, with flyers and brochures.
Coleman has also developed relationships with key contacts in his niche industry. Coleman, who has hosted celebrity fan cruises, works with publicists to network, develop relationships and grow his client base.
Wiseman also recommended using lists.
“Trafalgar agents who are successful are good at managing lists,” he said.
Lists can be developed by creating a newsletter and offering free information. Wiseman noted that suppliers are pushing content and will tailor it to an agent’s needs, as will many consortia.
He also reminded agents that lists of clients who have purchased from an agent are invaluable.
“The best source of new business is old business,” said Kazlauskas.
Identifying Sources for New Sales Leads
To build lead lists, Kazlauskas had a number of suggestions for agents.
* Join the local chamber of commerce and/or business associations
* Host a talk / seminar at a local coffee shop or library
* Advertise in alumni association newspaper / newsletters
* Utilize your social media lists
* Advertise on online classified sites such as Craig’s List
* Join and participate in online discussion groups, such as Yahoo groups, Google groups, Facebook, etc., to find groups relevant to your niche.
* Sponsor promotions or contests
* Attend community events (farmers’ markets, fairs, school events)
* Use your existing database for customer referrals
Qualified vs. Unqualified Leads
Buyers vs. Shoppers
Once you’ve identified your market, you need to be able to determine if a potential client is a “buyer” or a “shopper,” said Kazlauskas.
Kazlauskas turned to panelists for their opinions about identifying buyers and shoppers and Coleman advised agents that they can be seen as one in the same.
“All buyers have to start out as shoppers,” said Coleman, and he provided a quote from a friend of his. “Shoppers and buyers are all travelers; some are just easier to close than others.”
Wiseman agreed with Coleman and had a similar statement.
“There are dreamers, researchers and un-ticketed travelers,” said Wiseman. “Research shows that people have six to 12 destinations cycling around in their minds. At some point, something happens to trigger one of those destinations.”
He suggested that there are four types of people in this world: eagles, owls, doves and peacocks. When determining what type of client you have, a buyer or a shopper, it can help to identify them in this way.
“Eagles are impatient, doves are fun, owls are incredibly organized and peacocks are driven by personality and crave attention,” said Wiseman.
While both types of buyers and shoppers may eventually lead to future business, when qualifying a lead, you need to ask specific questions to be able to categorize what type of approach to use. Kazlauskas suggested developing a checklist of five questions and polled the audience to find out what questions to ask.
Suggestions from the agents in attendance included everything from asking about standards for accommodations and whether or not a client has traveled before to obtaining a credit card billing address and background checks.
The signals of a buyer include a client who provides agents with contact information, who sets up an appointment and who has a date, a destination or some specific trip profile in mind.
Finding Your Niche
Finding your niche or an untapped market is an important way to find new clients. Kazlauskas suggested agents exploit clubs, groups and speakers.
Coleman agreed with Kazlauskas and used his own experience with the Betty Boop fan club as a good example of the power of discovering an untapped market. He created fan clubs with both the Betty Boop fan club and for the fans of the canceled soap opera “Passions.” While the “Passions” cruise was a one-off, the Betty Boop fan club is still scheduling cruises with Coleman.
“The smaller the niche, the easier creating business is,” Kazlauskas said.
Get the Word Out
Once you have found your niche, you need to get the word out. Kazlauskas suggests learning how to write a press release (for tips on how to craft an effective press release, visit www.travelagewest.com/Tools/Travel-Articles/Public-Relations-Basics-for-Travel-Agents); learning the basics of marketing, public relations and social media; and direct mail, which still does the best out of any type of marketing.
“Direct mail is not dead,” said Kazlauskas. “You should use direct mail with two key points in mind, recentcy and frequency. That is, have they traveled with you recently and do they travel with you frequently?”
Follow-Up Is Everything
To demonstrate what Kazlauskas meant by the value of following up with clients, the audience listened to several recorded, anonymous phone calls that were made to various, randomly selected agencies. The first mystery shopper was put on hold for 14 minutes before being told to leave a message for a particular agent. The next was an agent reading from a script who also asked the mystery shopper to leave a message for an agent who had already left the office and call back another time.
Kazlauskas pointed out that good calls are answered by agents who get a name, introduce themselves to the client and try to help them. That, he said, is the bare minimum.
“You have to ‘wow’ them immediately,” said Kazlauskas. “Otherwise, they will shop somewhere else.”
Must-Do Follow up Skills
* Get the caller’s/inquirer’s name, email and phone number
* Ask how they heard about you and track what works
* Take the lead and establish next steps
BUSINESS PLAN: Steps to Successful Prospecting
* Identify targets
* List organizations you can get prospect lists from
* Build a prospect list which includes existing and new clients
* Outline three to five ways you can communicate with your targets
* Create a marketing plan with action items
* Reach out: Make phone calls, follow up on emails and attend community events