Driving Success With a Sales-Driven Focus

For owners and agents, some targeted efforts can help boost business

The single-greatest opportunity to increase business in today’s challenging economy may be for travel agents to become more sales-driven.

“We’re all struggling for business with the downturn in the economy, formidable competition from the Internet and a myriad of other factors. So agents need to become accountable for becoming salespeople,” says Robert Stalbaum, president of Havertown, Pa.-based consulting firm Strategies for Success.

Stalbaum says that, on average, agents close three to four sales a day. But Stalbaum says he thinks agents have the potential to close seven to eight a day.

To prove his point he notes that in a recent survey of 1,500 agents, only 33 percent asked for a prospect’s name and number during a call to the agency, only 26 percent of agents attempted to check availability for any of the travel options discussed, and only 18 percent attempted to close the sale.

“Therein lies the problem,” he says. “But it also presents a tremendous opportunity. If this is the way your competitors handle a call, how hard will it be for prospects to notice the difference when they call your agency and you get it right?”

Following are ways that Stalbaum says agencies and agents can become more sales-driven in today’s market:

For owners/managers:

Take personal responsibility for creating a sales-driven environment in your agency.

" Set standards. Establish criteria that enable you to measure performance specifically when it comes to closing sales. Stalbaum suggests that a great agent should be producing $75,000 or more a year in commissions and service fee revenues.

" Monitor. Let agents know you’re monitoring their performance by listening to them sell. (Monitor calls and spend time being visible on the “selling floor.”) Be sure to do this, however, in a nurturing way. Leave agents who are meeting your productivity standards alone. Focus on the underperformers.

" Follow leads. Establish a mandatory policy that requires all agents to follow up with all prospects at least three times.

" Offer incentives. Establish a pay-for-performance salary and incentive program that is designed to offer your agents an open-ended window of opportunity to earn as much as they can sell.

" Become an expert. Be proactive by offering regular training and coaching sessions.

For agents:

Generally there are three ways to be a $1 million producer: book travel for the Donald Trumps and Bill Gateses of the world; travel the world first-hand so you can sell from firsthand experience, and learn how to sell more effectively. Since most agents don’t hobnob with the rich and famous and can’t take off months at a time to travel the world, Stalbaum suggests that learning how to sell more effectively is an agent’s quickest road to becoming a sales superstar.

" Build rapport. Greet all prospects enthusiastically. Make them feel glad and comfortable that they contacted you. Engage them in a genuine dialogue and work to establish a rapport.

" Don’t waste time. Qualify prospects within five minutes by determining their degree of commitment and degree of readiness. Are they a true prospect, a shopper or a “trifler”? To qualify customers quickly: Listen for signals.

" Ask questions. Probe and gather information by conducting a relaxed and informal client interview designed to help both you and the prospect focus on specific travel needs.

Stalbaum contends that for any area of the world there are seven to 10 questions which, when asked and answered, will enable an agent to make proper recommendations.

" Your recommendations. Offer just two to three choices as your recommendations. Any more will only confuse your client.

" Selling dreams. Sell the benefits of your recommendations. Describe them in a way that emphasizes how they will fulfill the client’s vision and dreams.

" Overcoming “no’s”. Overcome objections and resolve concerns. A good agent learns to anticipate most major objections and incorporate them into his or her sales process.

" Close the sale. Closing a sale shouldn’t be viewed as a dreaded struggle. If you’ve done everything right, it’s the natural progression of your discussion.

" Or, the follow-up. If you can’t close the sale right away, commit to following up with a prospect three times.

" “Supersize” sales. When you close the sale, you can work to “supersize” it by recommending things that will enhance your client’s enjoyment: a room with an ocean view, travel insurance, a rental car, etc. You can add 20 percent to 30 percent to your commission this way.

" Building lifelong customers. Think beyond the sale. Every customer has the potential to become a lifelong client. Think about things you can do to add value and exceed his expectations.

" One more thing. Don’t forget to follow up with your customers after the trip. It can offer a lead for next year or even referrals.

" And finally. The goal should be to add at least one lifetime customer each day.