The Week in Focus: Agents struggling to close the deal

The Week in Focus: Agents struggling to close the deal
By admin

If I was a wholesaler I’d have been pretty concerned at the results of a survey released at last weekend’s Travelscene American Express conference.

Come to think of it, if I were Travelscene management or an agent I’d have been twitching nervously.

During a mystery shopping exercise with 237 of its members – a regular exercise to help build on the strengths of the network and establish where there is room for improvement – no fewer than 87% did not ask if the client wanted to book following a consultation, leaving, if my maths is correct, barely one in three who did pose the question and request a deposit.

Furthermore, 40% of agents did not ask for the customer’s details. Of those who did, 84% did not follow up with a phone call.

Credit must go to Travelscene for releasing those figures so publicly before an audience containing many preferred suppliers, who trust in agents to sell their product. I know one or two who found those statistics worrying.

I thought it was a staggering result, though not, we were told, particularly unusual in the travel retail environment.

Let’s be generous. It’s possible that a few agents just happened to have been off their game, stuck in a bad day after a few too many shandies the night before. God knows I’ve had enough of those.

But even if that were true, it can’t disguise a fundamental flaw in the selling process.

Being a travel agent is a demanding job, I have no doubt. The depth of knowledge, not only of destinations, but of technology systems, airline codes, the myriad fare classes – the list goes on – is immense.

But as Travelscene’s general manager David Padman quite rightly said, that information and knowledge goes to waste if there is zip to show at the end of it. He should know. He was a travel agent and can speak with some authority.

Not that it’s easy to sell and, essentially, ask for money. As a backpacker, I once went door to door charity collecting and loathed every minute of it. I made a few dollars in commission bought a couple of beers and promptly quit. It wasn’t for me, however genuinely worthy the cause.

But asking for the sale – asking for the money – is part of the game. Perhaps with these figures in mind, Travelscene included a ‘closing the sale’ workshop at its conference in Alice Springs, presented by sales and marketing expert Anthony Bonnici (who, incidentally, stepped back on stage later in the night as vocals in the conference band).

It was a fascinating insight into the psychology behind some of our behaviour, and went some way to explain perhaps why agents, and other people in the sales game, struggle to cross the finishing line.

Fear of rejection, fear of failure and confrontation, preconceived notions: there's a host of mental barriers that hold us back. Here’s a link to a story we ran this week on the workshop.

Whatever the causes, it’s something the retail groups need to work on.

The conference itself was a good one, with plenty of food for thought for agents. Among the usual promotional messages from suppliers were several workshops which offered genuine opportunities to learn – chief among them, the session on closing the sale.

The thorny issue of preferred suppliers reared again at the conference with Travelscene chief executive Mike Thompson taking the unusual step – he said so himself – of naming Scenic as a non-preferred supplier he wants to agents to reject.

Clearly the group is leaking sales to Scenic, sales which provide no financial value whatsoever to Travelscene head office and does nothing for the group’s targets.

Not surprisingly, his call for agents to switch sell if a customer comes in with a Scenic brochure prompted a few sharp responses to Travel Today.

One of the problems in attempting to switch sell is outlined in this column. Agents are not confident about asking for the sale in the first place, so encouraging them to switch sell when a client is prepared to book with Scenic? It’s a big ask.

It’s understandable that Travelscene needs and wants members to back preferred suppliers. But if a customer enters a travel agency with a Scenic brochure and wants to buy a $15,000 holiday, it would take a brave consultant to potentially irritate the consumer by attempting to book them with a different company, and most likely a company they have never heard of.

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