Scott Koepf MCC, CTC
Senior Vice President of Sales
Simply Sales With Scott
Driving Your Business to Success
A friend of mine who has been in the travel industry for many years, Larry Dressler, used a great analogy of how the retail travel business is like driving on a highway. With thanks to Larry I am going to expand on that analogy as we look at how to become a successful travel agent.
Picture a multilane crowded Freeway and it is a great snapshot of what it is like to compete in retail travel. There are the big rig trucks that seem unstoppable and we can compare those to the biggest online or offline retailers. Like most retail businesses, there has been a huge shift over the last few years to what are called big box retailers. Think Home Depot, Fry’s, Costco and others. Travel is no different, especially in the online space where a handful of agencies represent the lion’s share of the sales. In addition to those huge Trucks there are also busses which may represent chains and large agencies which crowd the lanes. Then there are various sizes of trucks and cars (agencies) weaving their way down the road with varying success.
Given the fast pace of traffic, the extreme differences in size and power of all the vehicles you share the road with and no discernable speed limit, how do you survive let alone thrive? Blame the Freeway, blame the other vehicles, blame the speed, and blame the drivers? No. We can’t blame the internet for a lack of sales – it is simply a road with a lot of traffic and big trucks. We can’t change the fact that big agencies are casting shadows across the lanes and making it hard to see. You should know that the Freeway is fast and busy before you even merge onto it. And finally, if it is the drivers fault then unfortunately that simply means you were not ready to get on the same road as them!
Unless you follow the guidelines below to get ready it will be, as Larry said, like getting on a Moped and trying to make your way safely in a very dangerous environment. So let’s walk through what you need to succeed on the Retail Travel Freeway!
A Better Car: Having the right equipment is going to make a huge difference if you want to finish the race successfully. It starts with understanding this is a professional business and not really designed for Sunday drivers to get on and off the freeway at every exit and dabble with their vehicle only when convenient. A real vehicle in our industry means you should be a corporate entity (LLC, S Corp, etc.). This is not only an indication of professionalism but a valuable protection for you and your family (without this is like driving a car without brakes). Your agency should also have Errors and Omissions Insurance (don’t count on someone else like a host agency to provide it as that is like hoping the air bags on their truck will protect your car!). Also make sure you have the best technology – both in hardware and software. Like it or not this business is heavily reliant on technology so you need the best resources available. In addition make sure you set up an office for your business. It doesn’t matter where or how big but it needs to be a place where you can focus.
A Better Driver: Travel Agents used to be derogatorily called order takers and sadly there may have been some truth to that moniker years ago. Now, however, you have to wear many hats to be successful in retail travel. In other words just having a driver’s license, or calling yourself a travel agent is not enough. You need extensive product knowledge but don’t try to learn everything about everything. You don’t need to learn how to drive every vehicle on the road, just yours. So be selective as to what you sell so that you know without a doubt that you can provide insight and knowledge that is not able to be Googled. Also in today’s world you have to match the knowledge of your specialties with up to date precision as to the promotions offered by your selected products. Building personal relationships and sales skills should be a huge part of your Driver’s Ed course but remember, if you do not provide the best available offer right up front you will never have the opportunity to use those skills. Like the great race car drivers this is a learning discipline that never ends and should be scheduled daily.
Fill up with Gas: Your Driver’s Ed School will provide the knowledge and skill to merge onto the Freeway but you have to have fuel. In other words what are you doing every day to motivate you? Listen to tapes, read blogs, watch Videos – Attitude and Motivation will always be the ingredient that will let you get up to full speed even if you have a great car and excellent skills behind the wheel.
Set your Destination: I am always surprised how few agents have a good answer for this. When I ask what is their one year or five year goal it usually doesn’t exist or if it does it is very nebulous. Would you venture out on the freeway in your car if you really didn’t know where you were going? Be specific with Sales or Commission goals but also set goals as to what will set you apart from your competition. In other words be bold! Don’t plan on being a good or even a great travel agent. Why not plan on being the very best there is for the products you specialize in. Set a goal for the number and type of customers you will have and plan on their being a waitlist to use your services. Remember good is not good enough today – plan on being exceptional!
Get the Right Passengers in the Car: Unlike some car races that are short and quick this journey will be a long one. So you need the right people to join you in the passenger seat. Some may get in and out like tax advisors and consultants but you also need partners for the long haul. One of the most important, which can either provide or help with every aspect noted above, is a good host or consortium. Do your research and select wisely for a solid company that will be there for you and help you find every resource you need to drive successfully on the crowded road. Then choose your suppliers. Don’t create a list as long as your transmission. Instead just put your energies towards a few that you trust and will support your business. Also make sure your family is willing to come along for the ride as you will need their support.
Use your GPS: Remember a GPS is worthless unless you know where you are going but even if you set your destination, you have to set your path. Setting big and exciting goals is fabulous but the map is how you put all of the other elements noted above into practice. So as I have mentioned in previous articles this is where you develop checklists, systems and plans to get you to your sweet destination. This needs to be as detailed (and yes even as obnoxious as your GPS) with every turn noted and planned on an hour by hour basis. And just like your GPS don’t hesitate to ‘Recalculate’ along the way! Adjust your plans, change up your checklists and do whatever you have to so that ….
You can move from a Moped to a Ferrari and from holding a learners permit to being a race car driver and get to success faster than you ever imagined!