Creating a business plan for your travel agency. Step 1: Understanding Some Crucial Psychological Shifts
Many of you who have heard me speak in the past will probably be familiar with much of what I have to say here. Indeed, this is my core lecture, we might even call it a sermon, that forms the basis of my entire way of looking at travel marketing as a discipline. What you are reading now is the first few chapters of a soon to be published book for Travel Professional Academy entitled "Up and Running: A Guide to Marketing as a Travel Consultant."
Before you start a business plan, you must have a strong understanding of your Mission Statement, essentially a short, concise phrase describing the reason your business exists.
Mission Statement = (what you do + for whom you do it)
Thus, a mission statement is expressed in terms of your clients. The importance of a mission statement cannot be emphasized enough, as it is the compass by which you will gauge your ongoing process of making many important business decisions. As we move through your business plan, you will come to realize how a mission statement becomes the touchstone for your marketing strategies and tactics.
Before we get to your mission statement, however, we have to be sure we have a common understanding of some important business precepts with regard to the discipline of marketing your travel practice. Without some degree of agreement on these fundamental ideas, it is likely we will launch our business plan on less than a sound basis. Therefore, we will first address five crucial psychological shifts we need to undertake in our thinking. Then, we will begin drafting our mission statement.
Why are these psychological shifts important?
We must realize that consumers largely do not understand what you do as a travel professional. In fact, what we have to realize is there are times when even we mistake our own mission. Let’s begin by examining what we really do as travel professionals.
In every profession, there is a group of people who do really, really well in the execution of their discipline. This is the top 20%, and I know you have seen these professionals. They are the ones earning the income they want. They are the ones that have the free time that they want. You read about them in trade magazines and even in consumer publications. They are hosted by trade shows to meet with suppliers and those suppliers respect their ability to pull off their business strategies. Their websites and Facebook page are littered with client testimonials.
You are capable of whatever you want to achieve, but it is necessary to adopt some of the psychological shifts we are about to discuss. I don't think that you will find anything and what I'm about to say with which you will intellectually disagree. However, the trick is to develop a certain muscle memory, a way of integrating this discussion into your travel practice so you think and act automatically, without hesitation.
When you first got into this business you didn't say “Some day I’m going to be so average.” No, you said, “I'm going to be the best travel consultant possible.” We want you to re-commit to that ethic and desire. What we want to do is help you achieve the goal of being the best travel advisor possible.
So, consider each of these little psychological shifts as you think about the way in which you might integrate them into your travel practice and as you attempt to do so, become very, very conscious of the way that you're thinking about travel and seek to put them into use.
Psychological Shift #1: You Don’t Sell Travel You don't sell travel, you sell yourself. At first, it seems so obvious. Yet our language and actions often betray otherwise. Travel your clients can get anywhere. They can get travel on the Internet, they can get travel from magazines and newspapers, they can get travel from other travel agents, they can buy travel directly from suppliers.
Your clients do not need you to “buy travel.”
Instead, your clients need you for something from more important: they need you to help them make intelligent buying decisions.
Help your clients by intelligently being their travel coach. Be their travel advisor. We are discussing a dynamic shift where you are not sitting on the opposite side of the table handing your client travel product, like a seller of travel, but you are instead on the same side of the table evaluating the possibilities, like a travel consultant. The truly great thing about selling yourself is that you can't be found cheaper on the Internet. You are unique. For better or for worse, your company is going to walk and talk exactly like you do, so make the best of your personality. Place your personality at the center of your company. Your website and your other marketing collateral should be about you and the value you add to travel, not about travel product and suppliers not about an itinerary.
Simply sell yourself.
Psychological Shift #2: Travel Transactions should happen in the context of a relationship Living from transaction transaction is a terrible way to make a living.
There are those who would argue that there's no such thing as relationship sales. My thinking, however, is it's everything in a one-to-one business like travel consulting. You want to build relationships. You want to have clients who think of you as their travel consultant, you want them to take ownership of you.
Unfortunately, too many travel professionals live transaction to transaction: we sell a cruise and then we are on to selling the a FIT tour and then we are off to help the client on a business trip. Okay, those are fine transactions but the core of your travel practice needs to be relationships because then the transactions have a context of trust in which they occur. You want your clients to come to you because they would not think of traveling without you.
In order to fully develop a relationship you have to create an atmosphere of trust. In a transaction you have to “close the sale.” In traditional sales technique, the “close” is the penultimate step with a great deal of urgency and stress. In a relationship, the sale is often closed before the client even comes to your door because you are the person who handles their travel arrangements you are “their travel professional.”
In order to have that absolute sense of trust, you have to become entirely client-centric. The client’s needs are at the center of everything and you work in every instance to meet the needs of that client. You strive to ask the client the proper questions about who they are and why they are traveling. You inquire about what goes to make up a good trip for them ask appropriate questions about who they're traveling with and what this particular trip is all about. The more you know about the client, the better you can meet their needs.
But as in every relationship, it takes two to tango. You also explain to the client something about yourself: you tell them who you are and what you do and how you do it. You educate the client about travel and demystify travel for them. You explain how they benefit by working with you. You translate the features of your travel practice into benefits for the client: you don't say simply that you been in the business for 10 years you indicate that you been in business for 10 years and that means that you know how to select the select the right tour operators and the right suppliers for your clients. You explain how your industry relationships, your familiarity with suppliers and your host agency or consortia is a collection of additional benefits for them.
Trust and good practice, plus a solid performance for your clients creates the relationship. But let’s make sure we understand the role of loyalty. We think of client loyalty as the client being loyal to us. Maybe, however, we have that backwards. Maybe instead we should be loyal first to the client and to their needs and then the client reciprocates the loyalty.
Transactions will still take place, but in the context of a relationship based on trust, the entire matter proceeds much more smoothly with less tension and with a certain confidence in the process.
Psychological Shift #3: Value is not the same as cost Value is not the same as cost. This should be repeated over and over and I encourage you to print out this picture and post it somewhere in your office. Your clients are going to naturally think in terms of cost and price. That's not surprising: they are civilians. But you are the professional in the relationship. Clients will drive to the bottom line first thing every time. You, as the professional, however, must steer them back to value.
Value is important to the equation because that's really what your client is concerned with. They may talk in terms of cost and price, but they don’t mean it. Even when they say “I just want to get there as cheaply as possible” the don’t really mean it. If so, they would walk to Cancun instead of flying. Statement like this betray a client’s fear of paying too much. Without the advantage of the relationship you are going to form with them they are afraid of spending too much for their vacation and not getting what they most want out of it.
And this is where you, as their trusted travel counselor, come to the rescue.
Here is they key difference between cost and value:
Cost is what you pay for something. Value is what you receive for what you pay.
In that framework, I daresay that cost doesn't even matter to your clients. They say it does, but what they really mean is value.
An example I often use is when you go to Whole Foods and you pay $100 for groceries you're not upset you paid $100, you are upset that it all fits in one bag. If you got 10 bags of groceries for your $100 you would be ecstatic. It is not what you pay that matters, it is what you get in return.
If cost were really all that mattered to consumers, I suggest Starbucks could never sell a cup of coffee for $5.00. I contend Starbucks is not selling coffee, in the same way you are not selling travel. They are selling a coffee experience, their own value-add to a cup of coffee. Sound familiar?
The best way to express value is to speak to that side of your client’s brain that understands emotion and romance. We often make the mistake of speaking first of all to the rational side of the client’s psychology, but that side is all about numbers and logistics. The romantic side of the brain is all about value. You would do well to try to cultivate the art of being a story teller. You don’t have to be Mark Twain to tell a good story. Let me give you a very simple example.
When my son was 17 and I was about 43 he and I went to Tanzania and together we climbed Kilimanjaro. We got most of the way up until he became very very ill and we literally had to carry him off of that mountain and it was a grueling trip down.After he recuperated a bit we went on Safari and we saw elephants and wild boar and the most amazing lions and the Maasi.We bonded together in a way that that you so seldom have an opportunity in day-to-day life to bond with your children. I don’t remember what I paid for that trip because I have the memories and that is what is important.
Now as I tell that story, can you feel the emotion? I'm hoping you can because what I am trying to convey is how to be authentic in your storytelling. Tell a story about your own travels or tell a story about a client's travels but tell it speaking to your client’s romantic side. Romance the experience. Price and logistics can come later. You can you can tell your story well if you will only be authentic in your relationships with your client: be who you are.
Even if you are a high functioning introvert like me you can still relate to people about travel because everyone loves travel and everyone loves to talk about travel. In your exchange of information about travel emphasize the memories, the experience, the way the air smells the way a temple bell sounds.
Do it well and your clients will understand value.
Psychological Shift #4: Your Passion is Important, but the client’s passions are essential Passion we hear about all the time. People get into the travel business because they love travel, because they are passionate about travel. But here we have another small psychological hurdle here to overcome. You must be equally passionate about your client’s travels.
You must be passionate about wanting to help others travel well and to experience all that travel has to offer. You must be passionate about the community of travel.
Your own passion for travel will get you into this business but it won't keep you there. Only your passion for helping others travel well will serve you in terms of working with clients. Tapping into your clients’ passion for travel means being client-centric, putting the client as the heart of the relationship. Remember, your clients are interested in themselves. Until you show your clients how they benefit from the features you and travel offer, they will not fully understand your presentation.
So if your client says they want to travel with family talk about the memories, talk about the kids, talk about the spouse, talk about all the opportunity for building memories that they'll be creating and reach into your clients passion for travel or for those activities for which they travel.
That's not manipulation, you're romancing the client in order to ensure that they have the trip they really want and desire and deserve.
Psychological Shift #5: Train Your Clients Finally, train your clients. This this is so important. Remember, your clients don't understand what you do. Your clients think you sell travel and that misapprehension will cause them to shop you around unless you explain how you work and what you expect to them. So right from the get-go, you should set them down and explain what it is you do. Explain how you do it, explain in the context of the benefits that they receive by working with you your consortia, your host agency, the training you have and the relationships you possess with your peers and suppliers.
Empower your clients. Be authentic with them. Be confident. Tell them you don’t sell travel: your mission is to coach them into making good purchasing decisions. You know they are going to be researching right alongside of you so encourage them to bring anything they find, absolutely anything, to you to allow you to evaluate it with them. Educate your clients on travel. Demystify travel for them. Be their travel coach and they will value the way you put them and their needs in the center of the relationship.
Then ask for something in return:
Mr. Client I want you to know when I go to this type of effort for a client I ask only one thing: that after all of our research and effort, you allow me to book your travel. This is my job, my profession. My job is to assist you in making intelligent buying decisions, and booking that travel is how I get paid. If you can agree to that then our relationship is off to a brilliant start and I will work day and night to be your travel advocate. I’m there for you for the entirety of the trip and beyond. The only thing I ask in the context of this relationship is that you book your travel with me. I expect that as part of our relationship and I will do my best to find great values for you a trip. Do we have a deal?
This chapter is the heart of my personal contribution to the Travel Professional Academy. We will return to these points again and as the basis of sound travel marketing, travel sales and travel customer service.
Tomorrow, we will begin writing our Mission Statement, and then on to our Business Plan for 2018.