Stealing Knowledge is Stealing, Period



Ruthanne Terrero
Vice President—Content/Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero

Carolyn, a travel agent, knew she was going to have a great month in sales. She had been working with a client for three weeks to plan a family reunion in Europe. The project had been labor-intensive; she’d had to deal with international suppliers constantly to ensure her client’s demands could be met, and she’d had to reach three different members of the family involved to ask them specific questions about their needs. She had sent over a final itinerary to the client for approval, and she had been promised they’d place a deposit within the next two days.

As the day she expected to close the deal drew to an end without a word from the client, she began a chase to get the final answer that lasted two weeks. When it eventually came, it was a casual “Oh, we’re going to pass. We decided to book the trip on our own.” Carolyn was stunned. The client had known nothing about traveling through Europe until Carolyn had filled her in. She’d shared with her all her knowledge on the top hotels and given her suggestions on where to eat. She’d written out extensive instructions on how to get around by rail. In short, she’d given away the store to a client she didn’t know very well and hadn’t even taken an initial consulting fee to cover her research efforts. The worst part? Carolyn heard through the grapevine that the client did indeed go to Europe, following the itinerary she’d mapped out. Talk about feeling used.

Ironically, Carolyn had just done the same thing to a supplier, yet didn’t grasp the irony. She’d met a small tour operator at a trade show who was promoting customized tours through Napa’s wine country. She told the supplier about all of her clients’ needs, and he’d sent her several e-mails suggesting specific exclusive wineries they should visit. After his third e-mail, Carolyn had looked at the neat, little list of stops he’d recommended and Googled them. She shot off a few e-mails to the general managers she saw listed on the sites and asked for appointments for her clients. Then she booked a low-cost limousine company to take the group around to each vineyard and the restaurants the tour operator had recommended. “Wow, that was easy,” Carolyn said, smiling to herself as she bundled in a hefty service charge for her “efforts” before sending the final itinerary and invoice to her clients. The tour operator she’d borrowed all her ideas from e-mailed her a few times and then starting calling her to see when her group would be booking with him. Carolyn avoided his calls, but when he did reach her one day, her message was simple. “Oh, they decided to pass,” she said.

The travel industry is filled with trusting people. They’re also very passionate and want to share their passion with others. Travel agents have been doing this for years, accidentally giving away so much information to would-be clients that they’ve actually ended up working for free. But how many times have travel consultants in turn done this to suppliers who have trustingly mapped out an entire vacation for their clients, only to never hear from them again? This can happen only a few times before an agent loses his or her credibility, but it runs the risk of tarnishing the reputation of the entire travel advisor community. So don’t do it.

Speaking of trust, we’ve profiled in this issue the winners of the Top Supplier Sales Reps in the industry. These are the folks whose job it is to make you and your clients satisfied customers. They often spend weeks and weeks on the road and give up time with their families to ensure they have your trust. Cherish that trust and be sure to thank them the next time they come to your office to visit. They deserve to see your smile and hear your kind words when they step through your doorway.