The first day of CoNexion, the annual gathering of Nexion agents from across the country, has wrapped up in Dallas, after a whirlwind of general sessions and breakout seminars to educate and inspire attendees.
President Jackie Friedman started the conference by challenging each attendee to meet at least 10 new people over the course of the three-day event. “It’s key to have people you can call on later,” she said, adding that the most important part of CoNexion would be when the agents returned to their offices and started to apply everything they learned at the conference.
In all, there will be 30 workshops between Thursday and Saturday, covering everything from basic selling skills to advanced technology. We attended Friedman’s “Marketing Think Tank,” which involved forming teams to discuss how independent agents can market their business using different platforms. The technology table cited e-blast programs like Constant Contact (which works with Excel spreadsheets to gather client data) or Sales Force for client management. Social media is also a must, and mobile technology will become increasingly prominent as smartphones become even more ubiquitous than they already are. Mobile credit card readers are already making it easy to close sales in coffee houses, and near field communication (NFC) devices can broadcast ads and notices to nearby phones.
Public relations can also be a surprisingly affordable (and traditional) method of advertising one’s skills—and a travel agent doesn’t always need a press rep in order to get the word out. One attendee organizes study abroad trips for colleges, and remains in touch with the professors (and their friends) when school is not in session. He also encourages the professors to set up Facebook pages for each trip, and adds himself to the page so that he can contact the students afterwards. Margie Bell, director of sales North America at IsramWorld, used to run a New York City agency, and would advertise her horticulture-themed tours in gardening magazines. By finding the right magazine to fit her specialty tours, she was able to reach an already-interested audience. Carol Rowland of Recess 4 Grownups Travel said that when she comes to conferences like CoNexion, she gets her picture taken with as many presidents and CEOs of other businesses as possible, and sends the pictures—with a press release—to her local papers to publish. “It creates credibility,” she said. She also advises reaching out to local radio stations to speak as an expert on travel.
Marketing also involves holding on to existing clients, and several agents offered tips on how to maintain those relationships. It’s no secret that an agent should follow up with a client upon their return from the vacation, but once that trip is done it’s time to start encouraging the next one. Forward supplier emails with a simple “Thought of you when I saw this,” or send cards on holidays or birthdays. (If you have to take a client’s passport information when booking, be sure to note the DOB for your records.) For VIP clients, offer perks like a dry cleaning service upon return, or send them a copy of a letter you wrote to a hotel’s GM asking for an upgrade.If they know that you’ll offer something someone else won’t, they’ll come back.
Creating a Brand
After the first round of workshops, Vicki Freed from Royal Caribbean spoke about brand identity over lunch, sharing anecdotes about different ways businesses can create an emotional attachment with their clients. Notably, she talked about a waiter who made a dinner at a Capital Grille in Ft. Lauderdale into a memorable experience, and who even followed up with the whole party after the meal. She made a point to return to the restaurant whenever she was in town, recommended the eatery (and the waiter) to friends, and kept in touch with the waiter in between visits. When the waiter was offered a better position elsewhere, she returned to the Capital Grille one more time, but found that the connection had faded without the waiter's over-the-top service. The restaurant's "brand" was gone, and the last time she was in Ft. Lauderdale, she added, she ate at Morton's instead of the Grille.
“A personal brand is a perception or emotion maintained by somebody other than you," Freed said. "[It] describes your outstanding qualities and influences that person’s relationship with you.” Once clients associate an agent with the fun they've had on their travels, they'll come back again for more--but if the agent only does the bare minimum, they'll have no reason to remain loyal. Small details matter (as was discussed in the workshop), and can make the difference between a single tour and a client for life.
Stay tuned for more from the afternoon sessions at CoNexion!