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Research or Searching for Nirvana

Written By: Scott Koepf, Senior Vice President of Sales, Avoya Travel



Since you have no doubt read each of these columns and put them into immediate practice then you know you have moved through the following steps of making a sale:



The Opening/Greeting 

Building a Relationship/Qualifying 


The next step is completing the research necessary to offer the best product to match your client’s desires. Therefore, it is imperative to spend as much time as necessary qualifying with the right questions so you know what your clients really want and need. This can best be visualized by picturing a funnel. From the moment you start a conversation with a consumer, every product in travel is in the top of the funnel. However, with each question you ask more and more products or choices are eliminated. Some of those eliminations happen as the conversation is ongoing and does not need additional research. For example, if the consumer says they want to cruise then it is fairly obvious that every non-cruise option falls out of the funnel. The same would be true if they told you they do not want to go to Alaska or Europe this year.


In some ways, it may seem that the qualifying process is also the research process as the best product may become obvious or is a confirmation of what the consumer was leaning toward in the beginning. While this can be the case, I suggest that you don’t merge the two steps together which would lead to immediately presenting a product after qualifying. I discovered that the process and timing of making a presentation can make a big difference in closing the sale. Sometimes I could go through a very successful qualifying process and realize that the consumer wanted a cruise that stopped at Bali and Singapore in September. Even with a pretty extensive amount of product knowledge I did not know which ship went there at that time. Now I could try to fumble around and look things up while the customer was on the phone but I knew it would be better if I used the classic line to establish value – “Let me go to work for you”. I would then explain that there are a few choices but that I needed to do some research for them and I would set the follow up appointment (remember, never say ‘I will get back to you’ or ‘I will call you in the next couple days’ – always set a specific day and time and let them know that you will have a specific recommendation for them).


What I discovered is that when I was forced into this process versus doing the research in my head on the fly, my closing rate skyrocketed. I believe there was a few reasons for this. First it established my value by expressing that I was working for them to find the best option. Second, and this is why I started to use this process even if I knew right away the best product to recommend, is that I could hold a reservation for the product. How often do we do such a great presentation of a vacation product that the consumer says yes and then we go online or call the supplier to learn that what they wanted is sold out! Now we backpedal and try to convince the consumer that the second or third choice is really better for them which starts to erode their trust to say the least. If you take a research gap then you can hold the room or cabin without penalty. Now when you make the presentation to the customer it is for something you actually know is available.


I realized that travel agents spend enormous amounts of time presenting products that they learn after the fact is not available. It would be like going into a shoe store, finding a shoe you simply love and have the salesperson give you a 30-minute dissertation on the designer, materials and comfort of this amazing shoe. As you wipe the drool from your mouth and ask for a size 8 the salesperson says ‘We are sold out of this shoe!’ Simple to see the inefficiency of this and how the consumer would be none too pleased. Yet we continue to do this in travel every day. No doubt that the internet has not only brought pricing details to the consumer but also inventory access. However, most likely the reason they are calling you is that they are suffering from information overload and need guidance. You actually establish a higher worth if you tell the consumer you need to look into the options versus a quick quote on the phone.


Think of the interaction like asking an attorney for a legal document. If they just sent you a template while they were on the phone you wouldn’t want to pay much for the service. But if they said they will send you a custom letter in two days you would feel like you are getting better service and what you really wanted. The attorney probably used the same template but the extra step of personalization makes all the difference.


So, the research process does happen during the qualifying step and also should happen separately so you can obtain something specific to sell (by holding an option if possible). Remember, due to the internet, travel agents do not provide value by presenting and offering products, they provide value by presenting solutions. How do you know you are providing the best value? By presenting one choice. This may seem to be counter to what you may have learned elsewhere but think of it this way: The consumer already has an unlimited number of choices thanks to the internet. They do not need you to offer another choice but to help them determine the best choice. If you give them more than one choice then it means you did not qualify properly or you do not have the confidence in your ability to discern the best option. Ouch, but at least you know what the goal is for this part of the sales process. And remember, that choice may become easy because you are only going to present what you know you have to sell instead of selling it and then determining you don’t have it to sell.


Taking this approach does not make sense for the customer who calls wanting a specific resort or ship, in a certain category on specific dates. I n those cases, take the order and start building the relationship after the deal is done! But most of the time you need to guide the customer to the right choice and with practice this approach will bring you and your customer to Nirvana!