WE TALK A LOT IN SALES ABOUT QUALIFYING OUR PROSPECTS before presenting product; about how it’s one of the most crucial parts of the sales process. Qualifying means two things: making sure that the product we eventually recommend will match what the prospect wants, but also (and you don’t hear this as often), making sure that the prospect is worth your time and energy.
We’ve talked in previous issues of CT about building your sales funnel – that the more prospects you have on the go, the more sales you will close. You want to be making sure those going in your funnel are high-quality and will likely lead to sales; the sales process for travel can be long and labour-intensive, so having “tire kickers” (to use a throwback from my car sales days) occupying your mind, voicemail and e-mail will only lead to lost time and frustration. Let’s look at these two equally important aspects to qualifying your prospects so you can watch your sales increase, while freeing-up resources to provide the best customer service to your clients.
To qualify a prospect, it will be helpful to create a list of ideal-client criteria in order to quickly determine if a prospect is worth your time. (If you’ve decided to specialize, this will likely be easier, as you’ll have a strong sense of your optimal client profile.) Information to include could be minimum budget and details of past travel experiences. If a prospect doesn’t satisfy most of your criteria, there’s a good chance they’re not worth your time.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive to everything we’ve learned in the past about selling; sales people have been told time and time again to give each prospect equal attention and effort. But I’m here to tell you it’s OK to decline prospects when you’re reasonably sure there will not be a sale. That said, don’t ignore calls or e-mails because we all get surprised from time to time, but be comfortable with providing basic pricing and information, following-up a couple of times, and then moving on.
The more we invest in something – money, time, energy – the more attached we become,
not to mention, the more personal it feels when it doesn’t pan out. Who hasn’t been ghosted by a prospect after spending hours working out the perfect package for them? Or, perhaps worse, finding out that they took your information and went ahead and booked elsewhere? It’s insulting, infuriating and hard not to take personally. But once the sting wears off, you’ll be able to look back and see ways in which the prospect didn’t match your criteria list.
However, be aware that you’ll still get ghosted from time to time by those who match your
ideal client criteria, which is even more en- raging because you’ll have been that much more confident in their potential. When this happens, remind yourself that you did your best, and be aware that people’s situations sometimes change unexpectedly, through no fault of your own.
Let’s move on to qualifying prospects for the product you’re going to eventually recommend. The travel industry is unique in that you have a near endless world of options to present to your prospects; in this industry, we don’t deal with specific and limited inventory, so the qualifying process isn’t going to look the same as it would for a company selling clothing, cars or phone packages, for example. If you can’t find product to match-up with what your prospects are looking for, you may want to consider a career change.
Your first step in qualifying, therefore, will be finding out exactly what your client wants. The only way to accomplish this is to get them talking; ask strong and thoughtful questions. Open-ended questions will be key here; those that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. The more you can find out about your prospect, the better able you’ll be to find appealing options and present said options in a way that speaks to their interests and vision. If they say they want to go to Machu Picchu, for example, ask them why they want to go rather than moving to ask about dates, budget and other practicalities. What inspired them? What do they imagine that trip will look like and how do they want to come home feeling? Does this trip hold any special meaning to them?
Travel is an intensely personal thing; knowing their motivations will not only build a deeper connection, it will also instil trust and confidence in you. If they’ve spent time telling you about themselves, they’ll know you understand them, which will establish a level of loyalty.
As an aside, wait three seconds before responding once your client finishes talking. Many people are uncomfortable with silence and so will automatically move to fill that space; often they’ll expand on what they’ve just said and the nuggets they drop may be some of the most useful in determining which product will suit them best.
From here, it’s time to lean on the product knowledge you’ve gleaned through presentations, BDMs, FAMs and personal experience. Looking at your preferred suppliers, for starters, it will be helpful to have a list for each one, like the one you make to identify your ideal prospect. For those travel agents who have been in the business a long time, you’ll already have a mental list of which product best suits which prospect, but for those just starting out, leverage the knowledge of your colleagues and your BDMs, and take advantage of FAM opportunities.
Many suppliers say they have something for everyone – we hear it all the time – but each one has an ideal client, or should be able to give you information on their typical client (how often they travel, other types of trips they’ve done, other destinations they’ve often already visited, their typical travel style, etc.).
You’ll eventually establish your favourite suppliers but know that it never hurts to learn about new and different options. In such a competitive landscape, suppliers are constantly growing, evolving and fine-tuning their offerings to suit the ever-changing needs and wants of consumers, so stay educated and aware of product evolution within the industry.
In next month’s column, we’ll talk about how to position and present product to your prospects and clients, based on the information you’ve gathered through the qualifying stage. Until then, happy selling.
Look out for the March issue of CT for your guide to positioning and presenting product.