Vacation sales are often not profitable but the reason is typically a lack of productivity among sales agents. It is well known in this industry that a really top-notch vacation agent can be extremely productive and produce significant profits for an agency.
These vacation sales giants have some characteristics in common:
- They give top quality service.
- They have a loyal clientele.
- They are efficient.
- They know how to close a sale.
These agents are essentially consultants to vacations travelers, knowledgeable enough to advise about choice of destination, choice of package, itinerary, and so forth.
The training that is required to develop one of these vacation sales stars must include the following: destination training, techniques for closing a sale, and efficient use of systems for handling business. This is very much in contrast to a commercial travel agent. Destination knowledge for a commercial agent is a low priority while systems efficiency is a high priority. A vacation agent, on the other hand, is primarily a consultant and must be knowledgeable about the destinations being sold.
Any good salesperson will tell you that product knowledge is absolutely crucial for effective sales. You probably have observed yourself that agents who have visited Mexico are much better able sell Mexico to their clients. FAM trips, therefore, are an important training tool for vacation agents. Many agencies use FAM trips as employment perks instead of as training devices.
To use your FAM trips as training, first decide what destinations your agency sells or would like to sell. Schedule your vacation agents on FAM trips to these locations. Destination training is also available from many package suppliers. Again, focus your training efforts on destinations that your agency sells. If Las Vegas is your biggest vacation market, then invest your staff’s time in Las Vegas training.
Finally, there are tremendous resource materials available about specific destinations. Build a reference library of material for your vacation agents. Again, your library should emphasize the destinations that you sell.
The bottom line is product knowledge. What is it that you are selling and how can you train your agents to know that product? If you are selling a particular package, train on that package. If you are selling a particular destination, train on that destination.
Many large vacation agencies have very successfully developed specialties for particular agents. Thus, an agency might have a Caribbean specialist and a European specialist. Such specialties are a tremendous resource to your agency and can be internally utilized for training. For instance, your agency’s European specialist can host destination training seminars for newly hired staff or less experienced staff.
Closing the Sale
A good vacation travel agent is not just an information library. If your agents sit at their desks all day responding to inquiries and handing out brochures when requested, they are never going to pay their way. A vacation sales agent is essentially a salesperson. Potential clients come to your agency with an idea about a vacation, and these leads need to be converted into sales. Your agents need to learn how to close the sale! Many volumes have been written about closing skills and how they can be developed. Some people say that a good salesperson is born, not developed. In any case, everyone can improve.
The essential steps in vacation salesmanship include:
- Identifying a lead.
- Qualifying a lead.
Whenever a client wanders into your agency with a few questions about a trip to Mexico, picks up a couple of brochures, and then wanders out again, an opportunity for a sale has been lost. A top-notch salesperson in an agency would not let a prospective client wander in, select a brochure, and wander out. Your agents need to be trained to see these inquiries as opportunities for sales, and they need to be trained in skills and techniques for converting shoppers to buyers.
As in any kind of training program, the important element is to make your point and then constantly monitor and counsel your agents regarding their performance. Watch the number of inquiries compared to the number of sales; track the ratio and publish it. Everyone knows that ego is a prime motivator for salespeople. Publishing agents’ performance in closing sales can be a strong incentive.
It is extremely important that your vacation agents be supported with systems and procedures that help them maintain a high productivity level. It’s up to you to provide the systems and the appropriate training.
For example, whenever a visitor comes in for a brochure, it’s extremely important that a name and address be obtained and perhaps some additional information about destination interest. What happens to that data? Who collects it? Where is it kept? Who follows up and when? Management must develop a follow-up system and train agents to use it.
Similarly, vacation agents generally handle somewhat complicated financial transactions for their clients. Deposits are collected, checks are sent out, payments are made. You need to provide your agents with a system for tracking all of that activity and train them to use it accurately and efficiently.
To summarize, as you develop your training programs for vacation agents, you need to train your agents in three ways:
- As consultants – who need extremely high-quality destination knowledge in order to serve your clients.
- As salespeople – who need closing skills in order to turn shoppers into buyers.
- As production personnel – who need systems to keep track of all the activity going on in your agency.
If you invest in your vacation agents, tremendous payoffs are possible in productivity, agency reputation and professionalism.