Relationship-Driven Sales: How it Works
The real reason tour operators and travel trade buyers work with you is because they trust you. Period.
The foundation of your success as a destination marketing, tourism sales or travel trade professional will revolve around your relationships with clients. Your clients have entrusted you with a their most valuable assets - their customers, their money and their reputations. When it comes to building relationships of trust there is no substitute for spending time together listening and empathizing with them.
Amazing relationship builders are there to provide honest advice, make recommendations and offer local insight even when and especially when that truth reveals the unpolished underside of a nearby experience. The sales leader who’s open enough to say that the food is better next door, construction is blocking the most prized view or the hotel down the street might be a better fit for that customer type, is the supplier who can be trusted to look after that buyer and their customers’ best interests.
Recent research, coming out of the financial services industry, compared sales styles with long-term grown and company value. Relationship managers spent more than half of their time (56%) meeting with, prospecting and reinforcing relationships with their customers. By comparison, sales managers spent only about 30% of their time on relationships and significantly more time focused on sales management activities - administrative, technical requirements and facilitating with other departments. The results of this ten year study were astonishing…
How do you spend your time with your travel trade clients? Hopefully, you consistently dedicate a portion of your face time on education. I’m not necessarily referring to the ins and outs of your company’s technical abilities, corporate structure, brand standards, etc. I’m talking about teaching and reminding clients how you have the solutions that help them achieve their goals. What do you know about their customer’s wants & needs? What are the benefits of using not only your product but your competitors’? In dollar terms, how much could their trip make or lose if there is an unexpected delay or cancellation? Should the buyer be looking for vendors who compete for the lowest price or should trade buyers be prepared to spend a bit more for a better experience? Treat this education as you would the fire drill - let your customers know what they should be looking for and how they can count on you to make their product better and lives easier.
You might be the only supplier, DMO or industry partner in your area willing to tell them the unpleasant truths that they need to hear in order to create a amazing experience and profitable packaged itinerary.
On Their Turf
We recently asked hundreds of travel professionals about their businesses and decision making process. They responded by letting us know that the personal visit to their office was the single most influential supplier marketing activity.
This is why our sales missions have been such a tremendous success. We’re literally going to meet trade buyers in their offices, where they work and presenting product in their comfort zone.
Here are a few things we’ve learned while visiting operators…
They’re more honest.
When their competitors aren’t listening and they don’t need to be wary of embarrassing a sales person in front of his/her peers, the buyer is gonna tell you the truth about your product, their guests’ experience and what they really need from you.
Your competitors are calling.
We’ve seen them in the parking lot, their names on the welcome sign below ours and even bumped in to them as they are walking out of an office that we’re walking into. These buyers have a lot of options and they’re calling the people who come to mind first.
It’s a reality check.
Your boss might think that your biggest customers work in a high rise office building when, in reality, more than 70% of high volume buyers are small companies with fewer than 10 employees. Is your message getting lost in the short phrases that look great in print & online or are you speaking to the person, the people who are making decisions?
Demonstrates your commitment.
How many of your direct competitors are allocating the time and resources to prove that these operators are valuable to their business? Not enough and that’s your advantage. Show up. Be in their space. Tell these buyers that their business in important to yours.
About the Author…
Stephen Ekstrom is a well-recognized tourism marketing expert whose influence reaches millions of travelers every year. He's been profiled by the New York Times and appeared on CBS, NBC and NY1. He is a fixture in the travel trade and has served as a board member, expert panelist, committee chair, mentor and program facilitator. Relate Strategy Group, founded by Ekstrom in 2010, manages a network of 22,000+ opted-in global travel trade buyers, reaching more than 100 million travelers each year, advising, teaching and assisting smart travel, tourism and hospitality industry suppliers and destination marketers. Stephen currently lives in South Florida with his two dogs, Match & Rudy.