Although many agents charge fees for their services, commissions remain an important component of most agents' compensation packages. And the most basic truism of every commission-based industry is: To make a living, you've got to make the sale, day in and day out. Some agents, especially those new to the travel industry or to sales in general, might wonder about how to improve their sales performance. Here we ask experts to give their best advice to newbies—and to more experienced agents who'd like a refresher on turning lookers into bookers.
"Good listening is a must-have skill set for successful salespeople in any field, but especially in travel," says Joanie Ogg, president of the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA) and TravelSellers. "Simply listening intently and allowing a client to share their real thoughts in an atmosphere of acceptance on your part is key to building a trusting relationship," she stresses. "The agent is the expert, but often clients who have researched a great deal feel that they, too, are experts, and they want to share all that they know."
Use this to your advantage and steer them towards providing important details, by asking: "Where have you traveled in the past? Who will be traveling this time, and what are their names and ages? What do you want to do and see? Is this trip for business or pleasure?" Identify clients' goals and desires, how long they wish to stay, any scheduling issues they may have and their budget range. Once you know your clients well and have taken into consideration everything they've told you, you are ready to use your expertise to recommend the perfect itinerary, package, cruise or tour. The way you present this product—and yourself—will determine your success in closing the sale. "The greatest tip I can give to agents is that too often people think they're in the business of selling trips," says Bob Lepisto, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the SeaDream Yacht Club. "They'd be more confident and successful if they could convince themselves that they're selling lifetime experiences. Paint them into the experience in a passionate way," he continues. "Then the hook isn't just a hook, it's an exciting, unique experience that matches the needs of your clients based on the information they've given you."
How do you overcome clients' objections or concerns? The most common source of anxiety is the cost. "If clients are concerned about price, stress the extraordinary value of the experience," he says. "Articulate the features, everything that it includes, so that clients understand the product's value and feel that it's a can't-miss opportunity," Lepisto says. Buying Signals
How do you handle clients who have a tough time making decisions? "Fear of loss generally is a great method to help someone make a buying decision," says Ogg. "Examples might be: 'This is the last balcony cabin on this ship, let's grab it for you now so you do not miss this great opportunity!' or 'Why don't I look for that oceanfront villa for you at XYZ resort and see if they still have it available; I have some contacts with that resort and, even though it's high season, I think I can get it for you,' or 'I have had so many satisfied clients who have sailed on this line, I would be happy to ask them to share their thoughts with you in an e-mail to help you with your decision.'" It's handy to have a client database that makes it easy to locate this kind of information. Tips for Closing the Sale
Lepisto advises providing matter-of-fact information. "Business is good. If people don't book early, they have to pay more, and they might not get a place," he says. "The agent must be proactive; if he isn't, then the client calls back two weeks later, and the booking is not available or it's more expensive. Many cruise lines, for example, charge 25 percent more for the same stateroom if you book late. If this happens to clients, at least you've warned them." Often, simply giving clients such a warning will convince them to commit early.
But what about that moment of truth? "You can't be embarrassed to ask for the sale," Lepisto states simply. "Say, 'How will you be paying? Cash, check or credit?' We're not in the business of giving out brochures. To close, you gotta ask." —Dan Butcher