What makes one travel business sell more than another? For many in the travel trade, the most important aspects of selling are getting a deal at the right price, being liked and having the right contacts.
Our definition of selling is building customer commitment, whether that is with someone who is yet to be a buying customer or one with a long-standing relationship. We invest heavily in our sales force, embedding the skills and competencies required to nurture customer commitment.
It’s important that you understand why you are in this profession and the need to display certain attributes. You must have enthusiasm. You will, of course, encounter plenty of apathy and inertia along the way, but neither of those are any match for pure unadulterated enthusiasm.
You also need plenty of energy and the courage to be bold. Only then will you make an impact on customers, influence decision-making and gain referrals to new opportunities.
Look as if you mean business
Research has shown that it can take up to 15 subsequent meetings to correct a bad first impression.
Harvard studies have shown that 93% of the impact of a first-time encounter is non-verbal. And a study by London Metropolitan University shows a direct link between earnings and appearance. A badly dressed man will earn 15% less and a poorly dressed woman 11% less.
In short, it’s vitally important to look like you mean business and ensure that your initial conversations are prepared and thought through with a high degree of clarity.
Know your business
If you want to build customer commitment, you must know your sales propositions inside out.
You must know where and how your products and services add value to a customer and be clear about the needs you must establish to highlight this value to the customer.
Know your customer
I once read a survey about why a sale was lost and the top answer was that the person selling didn’t understand what the customer needed.
Knowledge is power and one of the keys to success is knowing more about a customer than they know themselves. Some people rarely get beyond the headline facts, yet if you know how a business is positioned, or what a customer really wants, you are sure to increase your chances of success.
It can be tempting to quickly provide a potential solution to a problem. But this is usually based on a set of historical assumptions – either thinking about similar bookings you have made or that customer’s own previous bookings.
Making too many assumptions is the second-biggest mistake a sales person can make. The worst mistake by far is offering solutions far too early. To avoid this, ask questions – and plenty of them.
Questions should gradually explore the needs and wants of your customer so that you can quantify how far your suggestion meets their needs, thereby gaining the evidence you need to present your solution as the best one.
Actively listening and noting the answers to questions is a skill that needs developing along with the body language to show your interest. It’s vital to summarise as you go along to clearly demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in what is being said and to ensure your customer approves each stage of the booking.
Target the decision maker
All this is wasted, of course, if you don’t get to grips with how decisions are made. Find out who will be making the decision to buy. Target them, and make sure that any propositions you put forward clearly meet their needs.
Paul Wait is sales general manager at Virgin Atlantic