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Agent to Agent: Above All, Sell Yourself

Dear Tammy:

I’m trying to increase the sales of my business, so I do what I need to do. I go on FAM trips and I travel all the time. The truth is, though, while I’m learning about all these destinations, it doesn’t seem to be translating into sales. I know what I’m worth to my clients, but I can’t seem to convert my knowledge into sales. Can you help?

Tammy:

The legendary actor Burt Lancaster once said, “Sell yourself first, if you want to sell anything.” The truth is that if you want your travel agency to succeed, you have to sell yourself as the expert that people should go to. Would you go to a foot doctor if you were looking for an orthodontist? No. You wouldn’t go to a hardware store if you were looking to buy produce either. With any business, you need to go to the right person or business to get what you’re looking for. It’s up to you to market and sell yourself properly.

However, it sounds like you are caught up in one area of being a travel agent and that’s the actual travel. Through the years I’ve noticed that travel agents are caught up in the travel agent world. They are worried about when there will be another familiarization or FAM trip. Many aren’t even open that much and most just have their voicemail on. By the way, in this day and age, not many people leave messages anymore.

For your business to succeed, you need to be able to sell yourself and the products that you are selling.

Studies show that the majority of small businesses fail in their first five years, not because of the product or service, but because of poor sales. Travel agents need to learn to be sales people and owners need to run their agency like entrepreneurs, but not all travel agents have the ability to sell in them, so how do you increase your sales?

I seem to have great luck with sales and growth in my business by hiring outside salespeople. Why? It’s because salespeople are driven by just that, sales. Sales people are motivated and have to keep working. They love working on their own time and making commission. They are also good in getting their own leads. Once you teach a salesperson what to sell, they will go out there and do it for you. It’s a simple fact.

If you’re struggling, then why not pass off the sales to someone else and you handle everything else? Once the salesperson has brought you an interested lead, you can use your travel knowledge to seal the deal. See if that works for you.

Agent to Agent: Dealing with Bad Reviews

Dear Tammy: I have a unique situation and need some help.

While many travel agents are aching to get publicity, I’ve received a lot of it. That’s been great, but with it has come with some negative publicity too. I had one client who posted a scathing review of me on Facebook and Twitter. I remember her, and she was a difficult client who I just couldn’t please. She complained about everything—including the five-star resort, who also said that she couldn’t be pleased. We did what we could to even compensate her but to no avail.

Will this one bad experience ruin me?

Tammy:

Believe it or not, this isn’t a unique situation.

There are many travel agents who aren’t necessarily bad agents but have been the victim of a client-gone-wrong. Ever hear the expression, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well, throw it out the window because bad publicity can cause quite a problem for your business.

Think about what United Airlines just went through.

In this day and age, all it takes is for one comment, photo, video or review to go viral and it can affect your business. Of course, if you truly did something wrong, then it’s hard to get back in a positive light with your clients and it could take a long time before that negative review is just a blip on your radar.

So, how do you prevent this from happening to you and, if it does happen to you, how do you get over it?

First, if someone posts something negative about you or your company, do not have your knee-jerk reaction be to start defending yourself and posting private information about what happened all over social media. However, don’t avoid the situation either. You can say something like, “I’m sorry to hear that this happened. I would like to talk to you to discuss this.” It shows you’re concerned, but does not admit fault—since you may not be guilty.

Once you talk to the client about the situation and have rectified it to the best of your ability, ask if they would be willing to post a positive follow-up about the situation.

If there is something incorrect in an article, use the comments section to correct the information as well as contacting the writer to see if the information can be fixed in the article. Many writers will run a correction in the next day’s printed paper.

If the situation is minor and will just go away if it’s not addressed, there’s always the idea of saying nothing. Remember that “Haters gonna hate,” and on the internet, someone is always going to say something negative about someone.

How you respond can often be the catalyst for an even bigger public relations debacle. Think before you act and then act professionally. Have a plan in place as to how you can deal with situations like this.

Finally, if you really are doing something wrong in your business that’s causing these bad reviews, fix it.

Agent to Agent: Should I Join a Host Agency?

APRIL 26, 2017

Dear Tammy: I have a goal of becoming a travel agent, but I do not understand the difference between working with a host agency and working as an independent contractor. Which one is more beneficial?

Tammy:

Don’t worry. You’re not alone in not understanding this.

I was recently at a tradeshow and I kept asking agents if they were on their own or set up under a host. They would answer, “Under a host.” I would then ask which one and they would say, for example, “ABC Travel, it’s a small agency with about four independent contractors.”

That is not a host agency. That is just an agency that has hired you and you are an independent agent. Now, if one of those travel agents had said they were under Cruise Planners, Uniglobe, or Nexion, those are hosted agencies that have many agents that are set up under their own company name. Cruise Planners has, for example, Betty’s Travel Agency, Inc. under their hosted Cruise Planners agency.

Host agencies came about primarily after the attacks on 9/11 when a lot of agents were out of work and they wanted to find a home to work out of. Most are bonded, accredited ARC/IATAN agencies and, through these companies, you make your bookings.

If you are a home-based travel agent you are typically an independent contractor looking to build your own agency and working under a host agency allows you to do that. Usually, you have to pay a commission or fee to the host each month.

On the other hand, working as an independent contractor (IC) is quite different. You work for a travel agency that may or may not give you leads, but you work as a part of their agency. So for example, my company, Elite Travel, has ICs and they have a choice — they can work in my office if they need to or they can work from home. I have chosen to give them a place they can work out of, but do not ask them to work during certain times or days. That is their choice. I give them leads and they work under the Elite Travel Brand.

Whatever one works for you depends on your level of experience and your future goals. So when asked, you need to know who you are with and what your role is in the industry.

Agent to Agent: Working With (and In) the Media

Dear Tammy: My travel agency business is going really well and my marketing and public relations campaign is starting to pay off. I’m getting clients and booking trips.

So, what’s the problem? I’ve attracted the attention of the media and while that sounds great, it terrifies me. I’m nervous about being misquoted and I feel like I stumble in interviews. I see that you do a lot of interviews for print and you’re on television, so I’d like to know if you have any tips for me.

Tammy:
First of all, congratulations because your PR and marketing campaign really seems to be working well. Being interviewed by the press can be a little intimidating, but don’t let it be. With a little practice, you’ll be a media pro before you know it. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Rehearse: Have a friend or co-worker ask you questions that you might be asked by a reporter. Practice your responses, but don’t memorize. You don’t want to seem over-rehearsed. Just practice until you’re comfortable talking about your business and the industry.

Research: If the reporter has given you an idea of what you’re going to be interviewed on, take a few notes before your interview. For example, let’s say that a magazine reporter will be calling to talk about the top five island destinations for summer travel. Choose your five favorites and write out a few notes as to why they made your list.

Of course, this method works great for radio and magazine interviews, but if you’re going to be on television, you’re not going to be able to write out notes. Do your best to remember your facts about each island so you can explain your answers.

Talk in sound bites: If you are on television or radio, keep your answers relatively short. Long-winded responses aren’t necessary. However, if you are doing an interview with a magazine reporter, you can probably go into more detail and they will extract what they want for their story.

Stop promoting: Overall, the media does a great job getting the name of your business out there. Do not start every answer with, “At my business, Ann’s Travel,” or you will most likely be edited. They aren’t looking for an interview filled with ads. If you’ve written a travel book, make sure that you do not respond to every question with “That’s in my book.” Give the reporter the information they need to do their segment or article on you. If they wanted to just take it out of your book, they wouldn’t have contacted you directly.

Follow up: Don’t annoy the media. If they do not respond to your press release, following up once is fine. After that, assume they aren’t interested. However, if they do respond, follow up immediately because they are often on tight deadlines.
Oh, and if you don’t want something quoted—don’t say it!

 
 
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