Selling Up, Selling More

Do you find you're always trying to grow your client list as a way to increase your sales? How about taking your existing list of customers and trying to grow the quality of business that you exact from them? Here are some best practices for doing exactly that, which I've learned through some of my more recent meetings with successful travel agents and consortia leaders.

Inside Sales: Have you ever been too busy to reach out and touch a client who is due for another vacation? If so, you're missing out on money just sitting there waiting to be spent, and the odds are that another agent will benefit from a relationship you've already forged and nurtured.

One way to maintain your alliance with your clients—and retain their business—is to develop an inside sales force. This could be as simple as having one well-spoken individual in your agency perusing your clients' past-trip files and getting in touch by phone or e-mail to ask them if there are any travel needs you can help them with. Over the past year, Vacation.com, which has 5,100 travel agency locations in the United States and Canada, established an inside sales force to reach out to its members by phone. The call allows Vacation.com representatives to ask the agency if it needs assistance from them with anything; it also gives the consortia the chance to remind members of any special promotions that are currently being offered. By adapting this practice to your business, you may be able to prod your client to remember that they've got two weeks vacation coming up in just a few months or that they need to book their Christmas week vacation now so that they get into the resort that they stayed in—and loved—last year.

Ancillary Sales: Can you offer your client additional products besides travel? Anastasia Mann, owner of Corniche Travel in West Hollywood, calls it "selling strawberries;" that's a hotel industry term for building up the check. This strategy can come in the form of offering to reserve a limousine transfer for the client to the airport, or asking them if they want to rent an international cell phone through your agency for their European vacation. These are services the client can actually use, but might not realize they need when they are booking their trip.

Corporate Sales: Do you have a small to mid-size corporate client for whom you regularly book travel? If so, why not hold a leisure travel fair for the employees of that company in their cafeteria one Friday afternoon? Your preferred vendors will gladly ship you brochures for the event; perhaps you can even create a special offer with the supplier for just this group in order to incentivize them to make a decision now about traveling. Be sure to have several of your agents on hand who have traveled to the destinations you are promoting so they can speak enthusiastically about their trips. There's nothing like hearing about a dream vacation first hand.

Leisure Sales: Maureen Jones, owner All Horizons Travel in Los Altos, CA, pays house calls to her ultra-affluent clients. Is there someone you know who is so busy, who keeps promising to come in to plan a trip, but never shows? Why not prepare a presentation for them on the country they want to visit and deliver it to them in the comfort of their own home? There's a good chance you'll be able to upsell them in this environment, and, as you can see from this week's cover story, that's what it's all about.

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC Editorial Director rterrero@questex.com