What Makes Referrals a Revenue Generator


Nexion’s Jackie Friedman
Nexion’s Jackie Friedman: ‘Ask for referrals during the trip planning process.’



Drew Daly
CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s Drew Daly: ‘The best thing not to do is to come across as too aggressive.’

A physician in the Northern U.S. randomly called Margie Jordan, CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Serviceof Jacksonville, FL, to book a trip to Paris. That started a pipeline of business referrals. She’s since booked vacations for the doctor’s family and three colleagues. She’s quoted trips for his sister. And she’s booked a U.S. trip for the physician’s friends from London. “A well-cared-for client can be the source of endless streams of business,” says Jordan.

“Any company will tell you that word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind there is, so referrals are extremely important,” says Michael Hirsch, senior vice president of sales, Oceania Cruises. “Happy clients—as long as they’re happy with their agent and not just the vacation their agent sold them—represent an opportunity to increase agent business.”

Think of a referral as the ultimate compliment, says Edie Bornstein, senior vice president—sales and marketing, Azamara Club Cruises. “Savvy travel agents know this and cultivate referrals by incorporating them into their business model,” Bornstein says. And, she notes, during difficult economic times, referrals can even be a lifeline for businesses; clients who get good services from an agent will go back to that agent.

Both Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., and Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion, say referrals are a highly cost-effective marketing tool; they can help drive down the overall marketing cost. For home-based agents, this is vital. Here are a few tips to help agencies effectively tap into referrals.

BE CURIOUS WITH A PURPOSE:  Jordan always asks potential customers: “How did you hear about us?” They may have contacted her based on a referral or even some other form of marketing. But she says, one won’t know unless one asks.

BUILD CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS FIRST: Relationships build businesses and create referrals. "Remembering this simple statement will not only get you referrals, but life-long clients,” stresses Bornstein. If the client bristles at your questions about names of friends to refer, you probably haven’t built a solid enough relationship with them. Bornstein urges agents to position themselves as a superb specialized service provider much like a doctor or a mechanic, and “you suddenly become the go-to person.”

Cruise Planners’ Michelle Fee: ‘You should be tracking where every lead comes in from.’

Learn about your clients’ wants, needs and preferences, and match them with a vacation they could not have selected on their own. “Clients will be forever grateful,” Hirsch stresses. Referrals will follow.

ASK FOR THE BUSINESS, DON'T BE AFRAID: Michelle Fee, president and CEO, Cruise Planners, says: “I always say ‘cruisers know other cruisers’ so who better to ask than your past customers.” Look for clients everywhere, such as on a plane or at the grocery store, suggests Daly: “Before you know it, you exchange business cards, they book with you and start referring their friends and family.”

Whatever you do, never be afraid to ask for referrals, because “the truth is that most [clients] may not think about it, even if they are delighted with your service,” notes Friedman. Referrals carry immediate credibility and increase the likelihood of closing another sale.

UTILIZE THE TRAVEL PLANNING PROCESS: Don’t wait until your customers return from a trip. “One easy way that an agent can double or even triple their business is to ask for referrals during the trip planning process,” suggests Friedman. Ask booked clients if they have friends or relatives who may want to join them. Turn a vacation for two into a trip for six or eight.

As soon as a client books, send out “thank you” notes. Handwritten notes will wow them and Daly advocates that agents include a few business cards—asking the client to hand them out.

CHECK YOUR EGO, BE NATURAL:  “A referral is the biggest compliment you can receive and you don’t want to build your business by fishing for compliments,” notes Bornstein. While agents should certainly ask for referrals, “the best thing not to do is to come across as too aggressive,” recommends Daly. “Everything should flow naturally...as though it is a natural part of the conversation rather than a strategic move on your part.”

SHOW THE CUSTOMER YOU CARE: Agents must genuinely care about their clients and let that show. “If agents bring enough personal and professional value to the relationship and ‘wow’ clients with how extraordinarily well they assist and guide through vacation planning, then clients will become automatic recruiters,” Hirsch says.

SEEK REFERRALS FROM OTHER BUSINESSES: Friedman says it’s easy to cross market and build referrals with other local businesses. So perhaps an Italian restaurant might refer customers to your agency if the owner hears that long-time patrons are thinking of a bucket-list trip to Italy. Similarly, you might refer a client booked on a past fitness cruise to an upcoming wellness event at a local gym or spa. It’s a great way to build referrals through partners.

JUST DO A SUPERB JOB:  “If clients feel that agents do their jobs exceedingly well, agents won’t have to ask for referrals—clients will just tell others about them anyway,” says Hirsch.

TRACK YOUR REFERRALS:  Referrals should be methodically tracked to assist with planning and budgeting for future business, notes Daly.

“You should be tracking where every lead comes in from, not just referrals,” says Fee. By doing so you may find that “one client is referring a lot of people to you [and] you can reach out and thank them…or heck, make them a ‘pied piper’ for your agency.”

CREATE A WRITTEN REFERRAL PLAN: Set goals for the number you’ll ask for and the percentage you plan to close. Putting it in writing and measuring results will increase the likelihood of the figures becoming a reality.

But “the best tip I can provide eager travel agents is to be serviceable,” says Bornstein.



Margie Jordan
Jordan Executive Travel’s Margie Jordan: ‘A well-cared-for client can be the source of endless streams of business.’