Chapter 11 Using personal selling techniques. (PART TWO Selling the travel product.
When you have completed this chapter, you should be able to:
* Define personal selling and explain why travel products and services require this sales technique.
* Compare order taking with creative personal selling.
* Give examples of in-house sales representatives and outside sales representatives.
* Identify the basic steps of personal selling.
* Describe techniques used to gather information from the customer.
* Differentiate between open probes and limited-response probes.
* List the six questions used to qualify the customer.
* Explain the importance of turning features into benefits when making sales recommendations.
* Identify techniques for recognizing how and when to close a sale.
* Understand the important role of sales proposals and sales presentations in travel sales.
* List additional aspects of personal selling essential for success in group and corporate sales.
It is nine o'clock on Monday morning--the beginning of another busy workweek. In offices throughout a major metropolitan area on the west coast, people are settling into their jobs.
At a midsize travel agency in a suburban mall, Linnea Borg is putting the finishing touches on a customized itinerary for a new customer. The customer, an affluent retired gentleman, has purchased an expensive trek through exotic Tibet. Linnea is pleased with her work on this trip. Although it took a good deal of time to make the complicated arrangements, she feels she has helped her customer with his dream of an adventure in a faraway place. After several years as a travel agent, she has developed the ability to quickly size up clients and translate their ideas and desires into appropriate, tangible travel plans.
Meanwhile, at the convention center downtown, Tim Parensky is making a presentation to corporate travel planners attending a regional conference. Tim, who works for the corporate sales department of a major hotel chain, is informing the planners about his company's new executive suites and its frequent-guest plan for business travelers. Tim's main responsibility is to boost the hotel chain's corporate business. In addition to keeping travel planners up-to-date on all of the hotel chain's products and services, Tim makes sure that booking procedures are customer friendly and run smoothly.
What do these two professionals have in common? They sell travel products. The companies they work for--a midsize travel agency and a hotel chain--have carefully positioned themselves in the marketplace and developed marketing strategies. Time and money have been spent on advertising and promotion. However, if their travel products and services are not purchased, all of the preceding marketing efforts will have been in vain. Consequently, effective personal selling is a critical element in the success of the entire marketing process.
PERSONAL SELLING DEFINED
Because of the unique characteristics of travel Products--especially their intangible and perishable Nature--customers usually depend on the assistance of travel sales professionals. A flight on an airplane, a stay at a hotel, a trip to Europe, or a weekend at a resort can't be selected from a convenience-store shelf or inspected in a showroom. Potential buyers must, therefore, rely on the expertise of salespeople when purchasing travel products or services.
Travel sales often result from the personal selling process. Personal selling is defined as sales resulting from personal interaction between buyers and sellers, either face-to-face or by telephone. It ranges from order taking to creative selling. In order taking, the salesperson processes routine requests from customers for travel products and services. Order taking occurs when customers are already familiar with travel products and services and know exactly (or nearly so) what they want to purchase.
Creative selling, on the other hand, is more complicated. Prospective customers are often unfamiliar with the travel products available and may have only a vague idea of where they want to travel. In creative selling, the salesperson must determine the needs of potential customers, recommended appropriate travel products, and motivate customers to buy them.
Personal selling is a powerful element of the promotional mix. Despite the millions of dollars spent for advertising and sales promotion, personal selling is usually superior in converting demand for travel products and services into actual purchases because its message can be tailored to individual customers and it allows for immediate feedback and reaction. Person-to-person communication is a potent and persuasive sales technique.
Have you ever heard friends and acquaintances joke about their lack of resistance to sales presentations? For many people, selling seems to be a mystical art. They suspect that sellers work some kind of magic to induce them to buy every product they see. Although some salespeople may possess a certain charisma that charms buyers, most successful salespeople rely on their training and experience, along with an understanding of their customer's needs. Through study and hard work, they have developed a thorough knowledge of the products they sell, the benefits they can produce, and they have learned a variety of specific sales techniques.
In presenting their travel products to buyers, successful salespeople follow a structure that is designed to encourage progress toward a sale. This structure consists of a minimum of three basic steps: gathering information from the customer, making recommendations, and closing the sale. Although the steps are discussed separately, in reality they often overlap.
These three steps are common to virtually all personal selling, which can be divided into two basic types: inside (in-house) sales and outside sales. The terms refer to where the selling generally takes place, although this can sometimes be misleading.
In the travel industry, much selling is done by in-house salespeople. For example, the agents sitting behind the desks at a travel agency, the reservations agents answering an airline's toll-free phone line, and the person behind the counter renting cars at an airport are all examples of in-house sales staff. All depend on the inquiries of customers to initiate the selling process.
Outside sales are used in the travel industry primarily to sell travel products to large groups, organizations, or businesses, which may sometimes be a part of the travel industry as well. Large travel agencies use outside salespeople to sell their services to companies booking business travel, for example. Airlines use them to sell their products to tour operators, and some tour operators use them to sell to travel clubs. Resorts and attractions use outside sales representatives as well, often to follow up leads from promotional activities, consumer travel, or travel trade shows. Destination marketing organizations (including state travel offices and convention and visitors' bureaus) use outside sales to persuade tour operators, associations, government agencies, and corporations to visit their destination or hold conferences, meetings, or events there. In most cases, outside sales representatives initiate the selling process, including follow-up leads provided by advertising.
[FIGURE 11-1 OMITTED]
But for both outside and in-house sales--whether they are conducted in person or over the phone, on behalf of a supplier, destination, or an intermediary, to an individual, group, or business--three steps lie at the heart of the personal selling process (see Figure 11-1). In this chapter, they are explained in the context of the most typical travel transaction: creative personal selling to an individual customer.
BASIC STEPS OF PERSONAL SELLING
As you read about the steps of personal selling, it is important to keep in mind another element of successful marketing. Underlying the methods and techniques of selling should be a genuine desire to serve the customer and provide value for the dollar spent. In a crowded and competitive marketplace, salespeople who can deliver high levels of service and value have a distinct advantage. This has been a recurring theme of this text because it is important to the marketing process, and particularly crucial for personal selling in the travel industry, where companies often compete with each other to sell a nearly identical collection of travel products.
Gathering Information from the Customer
Imagine this situation. A young man with two small children enters a travel agency. An agent greets him pleasantly and introduces herself. The man says that he wants help planning a trip to Mexico. Assuming that the man is thinking of a family vacation, the agent immediately begins digging through her files for brochures on family-oriented destinations in Mexico. But the man stops her to explain that he is a professor who needs to travel by himself to a remote archaeological site.
Or consider this situation. A woman telephones an airline reservations number and asks how much it costs to fly to Phoenix. The reservations agent immediately replies, "Our lowest fare is $99." The woman says, "Great! I'd like to book a flight." However, in the process of executing the reservation, the agent discovers that the woman won't be traveling until October, and the $99 rate to Phoenix applies only to summer travel.
In both situations, the salespeople have wasted time with irrelevant information and perhaps have embarrassed or disappointed potential clients. They have gotten off to a false start by omitting the first step of personal selling: qualifying the customer. Qualifying the customer means finding out as much as possible about the customer's preferences and needs before providing information about or recommending specific travel products and services. Like a physician diagnosing a patient's illness, salespeople determine the customer's needs by skillfully asking a series of questions and paying close attention to the answers.
Using the Six Questions. To begin helping the customer, the sales representative needs to ask some basic questions. Sometimes potential customers will volunteer this information right away. If not, the salesperson must ask for it. The following questions (usually known as the "six questions") are commonly used by sales representatives in the travel industry.
* Where would you like to go? (destination)
* When? (timing)
* Why? (needs, benefits, experiences)
* How long? (duration)
* Who will be going? How many? (number in party)
* What level of service do you prefer? (Price, value, expectations)
Although salespeople want to find answers to the basic questions as quickly as possible, they should not ask them brusquely or hurriedly. Even over the telephone, questions should not be asked in such rapid-fire order that customers feel rushed.
Phrasing Questions. In addition to gaining information, travel sales representatives benefit in several other ways from asking basic questions. The questions get the conversation started and provide a logical direction. By asking questions, the salespeople can control the conversation, not in the sense of dominating it but in the sense of leading it toward a successful conclusion.
When qualifying customers, salespeople can control the conversation by phrasing, or asking, the questions in a certain way. Questions can be of two basic types: open-ended questions and limited-response questions. Because salespeople are attempting to uncover client needs, the questions used in personal selling are often referred to as probes.
An open-ended question, or open probe, encourages the client to respond freely. Salespeople use this type of question when they want to get more information about customers' attitudes, experiences, and needs. Customers who merely say "I want to go someplace warm on my vacation" need to be drawn out to say more. Examples of open probes include:
* What did you have in mind?
* What did you like about your last vacation?
* Why do you think you might enjoy a cruise?
* Tell me about the kinds of service you prefer.
* How have you arranged for your business travel in the past?
A limited-response probe is more specific and is intended to restrict the customer's response to yes or no or some other short response. Salespeople use this type of question when they want to obtain precise information, move the conversation along, or help customers narrow down their choices. Examples of limited-response probes include:
* Do you require a rental car?
* How long do you plan to stay in Seattle?
* Would you prefer to leave on a weekday or on the weekend?
Asking about the Budget. In general, sales representatives should postpone questions regarding budget until later in the conversation. For one thing, until they feel comfortable, customers may not wish to discuss how much they are willing to spend. For another, customers may not know how much a trip is likely to cost. They need to gain a better understanding of the value of travel products in relation to their benefits. By locking into a price category too early in the selling process, customers may not learn about the products that are best suited to their needs.
Listening. The critical companion to effective questioning is effective listening. Research indicates that most people are not good listeners. Travel sales professionals must become good listeners in order to accurately assess customers' needs and preferences.
Improving listening skills is largely a matter of better concentration. In a personal selling situation, salespeople can do several things to improve their concentration. To begin with, they should try to conduct the conversation in an environment free of distractions and interruptions. Taking notes can help increase concentration while also providing a record of a conversation. When speaking to customers on the telephone, sales agents should not be sorting through their mail or doodling on a notepad. Good listening requires a concentrated focus on the words of the customer.
Salespeople can also do several things to indicate that they are listening. They can give occasional verbal signals such as "I see" or "I know what you mean." Paraphrasing, or repeating what a customer has said but in slightly different words, can be reassuring. A face-to-face conversation allows for nonverbal signals such as nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. Of course, in either a telephone or a face-to-face conversation, salespeople should never interrupt a customer or jump to conclusions before the client has finished speaking.
Leisure/Business Differences. In order to effectively qualify customers, sales representatives usually need to spend more time questioning leisure travel customers than they do business travelers (see Figure 11-2). Because leisure travel is discretionary, the motivations underlying it are more complicated and varied than are those of business travel. As you already know, vacationers travel to satisfy a variety of psychological, emotional, and intellectual needs. Uncovering these motivations requires the salesperson to ask probing questions and interpret the responses. Furthermore, in contrast to business travelers who must be at a specific destination at a specific time, leisure travelers have more choices of where and when they want to travel.
This is not to say, however, that salespeople should limit their questioning of business travelers. The needs of business travelers may be more specific and demanding in some respects. They may need to know, for example, what specific business services a hotel offers or which hotel is most convenient to their business meeting. When companies restrict the travel budget of employees, sales representatives may have to work harder to locate suitable transportation and accommodations. By qualifying business customers, travel salespersons can also reveal opportunities to sell them products for leisure travel. In fact, a growing trend among travel companies is to develop the leisure side of their corporate business, including adding on a short minivacation before or after a business meeting or appointment.
The heart of the personal selling process is making recommendations. Sales representatives must apply principles of psychology, as well as knowledge about products, in making recommendations. They think about the client's underlying motivation for travel and consider what type of traveler the client is likely to be. Using information from computer systems, print sources, colleagues, and their own experience, salespeople must then identify the products and services that match their analysis of the client's needs.
Acknowledging Needs. After the complete picture of the client's needs has emerged, travel sales professionals should verify that they understand those needs correctly. They can do this by paraphrasing what the customer has said and using a limited-response probe. For example, a hotel reservations agent might say, "So, you'll be in Milwaukee from March 7 to March 11, and you'd like a room to accommodate two adults and three children. Is that correct?" Or a travel agent might say, "Let's see, you want to travel with a group, but you also want free time to pursue your own interests. Am I getting that right?" By acknowledging needs, salespeople demonstrate that they understand what is wanted. Customers, in turn, then feel more confident that what the salesperson recommends will meet their needs.
Introducing Features and Benefits. Every product or service possesses features. A feature is a specific aspect of the product or service that is always associated with it--it is an inherent characteristic. For instance, the features of a major hotel specializing in business travel might include:
* Suites with living rooms for business meetings.
* Free daily newspapers.
* Express check-in and checkout.
* Guaranteed corporate rate.
* Full-service business center, including personal computers, a fax machine, and a business library.
* Exercise room and swimming pool.
* Cocktail lounge with nightly entertainment.
FIGURE 11-2 Leisure travelers have more choices than business travelers. But it takes a lot of effort on the part of a travel agent to satisfy any traveler. Leisure Traveler Q: Where would you like to go? A: Somewhere warm. Q: Do you have a specific destination in mind? A: Place with beaches, palm trees, white sand, casinos. Q: When would you like to go? A: I have one week available. I'd like to go during the winter, probably January. Q: It's least expensive in December. Especially if you leave on a weekday and return on a weekday. Is there a week in December during which you would like to go? A: Let's make it during the first week in December. I'll leave on Thursday and return the following Thursday. If I change my mind, I'll call you. Q: Who will be going with you? A: It will be my wife and I and our two children. We'll need a place where we can each have our privacy. And maybe a day camp for the kids. Q: How much money would you care to spend on this vacation? A: Of course as little as possible, but between $2,000 and $2,500. Q: Would you like to stay on the line while I work on this? A: No, but could you call me back? Q: When can I call you back with some suggestions? A: Tomorrow at 10:00 in the morning. Business Traveler Q: Where do you need to go? A: New York. Q: When would you like to be there? A: I will need to leave here Wednesday evening during the second week in December. I need a flight back here that Friday evening. Q: Will anyone be accompanying you? A: No. Q: In terms of cost, there are two choices. Will you have a preference? A: Of course my company would prefer the cheaper rate, but it is more important that I get there on time and return on Friday by 8:00 p.m. Q: Can you think of any special accommodations or services you'll need? A: A room with a fax and computer connection. Q: Would you like to stay on the line while I work on this? A: No, but could you call me back? Q: When can I call you back with some suggestions? A: Tomorrow at 10:00 in the morning.
Salespeople should point out the features of travel products to persuade travelers to buy them. However, it is not enough to simply present information. On the basis of their understanding of the client's needs, travel sales professionals must go on to translate those features into benefits. (For similar reasons, travel marketers translate features into benefits in the course of establishing a product position; see Chapter 4.) A benefit is the value the client seeks to derive from a feature. If a business traveler has expressed dissatisfaction with conducting meetings in crowded, noisy restaurants, then a hotel room with comfortable space for business meetings is a benefit. If a traveler exercises regularly, then a hotel with exercise facilities will provide a benefit. Of course, features provide different benefits to different people, and sometimes features produce no important benefits. For example, when talking to a family traveling with children, a salesperson is not likely to emphasize the hotel's nightly entertainment in the cocktail lounge.
The ability to translate features into benefits is extremely important in personal selling. Sales representatives who help a customer understand a product's benefits make the product seem meaningful and distinct from similar products, (and often more personal), and are, therefore, more likely to achieve a sale.
Emphasizing Benefits. Salespeople use several techniques to emphasize benefits to their customers. One technique is to incorporate a client's earlier statements into the recommendation. For example, a travel agent might say, "You mentioned that on your last tour you didn't have enough time to go shopping. I'm recommending this tour, which has more free time built into the schedule." Another remark might be, "I'd like to make a reservation for you at the Marriott. It's located downtown within walking distance of your convention." This technique also has the advantage of showing clients that the salesperson is listening to them and treating them as individuals with unique needs.
In a face-to-face situation, sales representatives can use brochures to make the benefits seem more tangible. The salesperson reviews the brochure with the customer, pointing out interesting features and relating them to the customer's needs. (Note: the salesperson--not the customer--holds the brochure. When customers have control of the brochure, they can become more involved in leafing through the literature than in listening to a recommendation.) To personalize the brochure, the salesperson can underline, draw circles around, or place asterisks by features that are potential benefits to the customer. No more than two pieces of literature should be shown at a time. Otherwise, the customer may become distracted and unable to make a decision.
Sometimes salespeople can refer to a third party to support their recommendations. An agent might say, "Mr. and Mrs. Healy have just returned from a similar trip to Scandinavia, and they really enjoyed it," or "The Hillcrest Company has always been satisfied with the travel arrangements we've made for them." Of course, the salesperson should have permission to use the recommendation of the third party, and the third party should be someone with similar interests, preferably someone the client knows and respects. Sometimes an anonymous recommendation is equally effective, such as, "We've booked a half-dozen couples on that cruise, and they all had fun."
Sales representatives should always try to convert travel jargon into everyday language. Customers can't recognize the benefits of curbside check-in, round-trip transfers, and dine-around plans, if they don't know what the terms mean.
Recapping. After presenting the recommendation and discussing it with the customer, the sales representative summarizes the benefits of the product to the customer. Recapping gives the customer an opportunity to comment on or ask questions about any of the details of the conversation and helps to ensure mutual understanding. If the client seems satisfied with a travel product's benefits, then the salesperson can begin to close the sale. Any disagreements or objections revealed during the recap process, however, must be resolved before the salesperson can proceed with the booking.
Overcoming Resistance. A customer may resist a sales recommendation for a variety of reasons. Salespeople should not panic or become defensive when this happens. Instead, they should react positively by trying to determine the reason for the resistance and then applying an appropriate technique to overcome it.
Sometimes customers resist a recommendation because of a misunderstanding resulting from poor communication. This type of resistance might begin with a customer saying, "Well, I'm not sure about . . ." or "I don't get what you mean by...." When they hear such phrases, salespeople should probe to find the obstacle and then offer appropriate clarification.
After listening to a sales presentation, customers may point out a drawback or an objectionable feature. In this case, a salesperson might agree with the objection as if it were the only one standing in the way of the sale and then go on to try to convert the drawback into a benefit. For example:
Customer: This tour seems to spend too much time in London and Paris.
Salesperson: The tour does spend more time in those cities, but that's so you can visit all the sights you want to see. It also means you won't be packing and unpacking every day.
Another type of resistance is skepticism. The customer questions or doubts that a product will provide all the benefits the salesperson suggests. Skepticism is best countered by making a proof statement citing an additional source, such as an impartial third party, a magazine article, or personal experience. In the long run, the best method of countering skepticism is to build a reputation for providing outstanding service, thereby increasing customers' confidence and trust.
A final type of resistance is indifference, or a customer's lack of interest in a recommendation. In this case, a customer's needs or intent in a travel product have been misjudged. More probing is needed to uncover what the customer really desires.
Upgrading. Another element of the recommendation process is upgrading. Upgrading (upselling) occurs when a sales representative recommends a more expensive product than the one currently being considered by a customer. Salespeople recommend upgrades when they believe that a more expensive product offers more value to the customer, even though it costs more.
Consider this example of upgrading. A traveler who wishes to purchase a three-week grand tour of Europe is mainly interested in visiting the historical and cultural attractions of its major cities. In most instances, these attractions are located in the downtown areas. Two tours are appropriate and offer virtually the same itineraries. The customer chooses the less expensive tour. But her travel agent knows that the hotels on that tour are generally located in suburban areas or near airports. The hotels on the other tour, however, are within walking distance of most of the attractions the customer wishes to see. Believing that she would not want to waste time and cab fare in each city, the agent recommends the more expensive tour as providing more benefits and better value.
Selling Additional Products. Opportunities should not be overlooked to sell more products and services than customers originally intended to buy. Of course, travel sales professionals should attempt to do so only when it would truly benefit customers and when the additions are compatible with their customers' budgets. For example, a tour operator sales representative might suggest that a retired couple would enjoy a tour of Scotland and Ireland after completing their tour of Britain. Requests that seem like routine orders for travel products can be turned into sales opportunities by creative personal selling. For instance, an enterprising airline reservations agent might suggest that a person calling to book a flight also reserve a rental car and hotel room through the airline.
Closing the Sale
A man telephones the reservations department of a major cruise line. He explains to the agent that he has a one-week vacation coming up, and he would like to take a cruise. The caller says he must leave on August 7 and return no later than August 14. He has a budget of $2,000 for the trip.
After asking several questions, the agent discovers that the man's parents were Greek immigrants. He then suggests that the man might enjoy the company's Aegean Holiday, a cruise from a port near Athens to several Greek islands. The man likes his suggestion. The sales agent then proceeds to locate a cruise that fits his time schedule and determines that minimum accommodations on the cruise are within his budget.
In response to this information, the caller says, "Great! Thanks for the information!"
"It's been a pleasure," replies the agent. "I'll send you our Aegean Holiday brochure and my business card. Let me know when I can be of service."
This sales agent has made one of the great mistakes of personal selling. He had an opportunity to close the sale--to get a commitment from the customer--but he let it slip by. He should have said, "Minimum-rate cabins on our cruises fill up first. Why don't I make a reservation for you so you don't miss out? All I need is a credit-card number." But he didn't, and now the man may or may not call back, or he may even decide to book with another cruise line. Although sales representatives must be friendly and helpful, they cannot simply dispense information all day long. If the company is to remain in business, travel sales professionals must close sales!
When to Close. Knowing when to offer to close a sale can be a dilemma. Salespeople do not want to close too soon for fear of appearing pushy or high-pressure. On the other hand, if they delay too long, they might lose the sale.
For help in deciding when to close, sales representatives need to learn to recognize signals from customers that indicate their readiness to make a commitment. These include comments such as, "Well, this sounds like what I'm looking for," or "Will I need a passport?" In a face-to-face situation, salespeople can observe a customer's physical actions and facial expressions. Touching a brochure, sitting in a relaxed position, or smiling can indicate a willingness to buy. By contrast, customers who remain silent, reread a brochure closely, sit with arms folded and fists clenched, or frown, are probably not ready to buy.
Salespeople should be constantly on the lookout for buying signals. The opportunity to close can come surprisingly early in the interview. Customers who travel frequently and are confident about their travel plans may even close the sale themselves. They might say, for example, "That's all I need to know. You can sign me up." Indecisive customers may even appreciate being nudged toward a decision, since extending the conversation may make them even more uncertain.
A sales representative should not feel timid about asking for the sale. After all, in most cases of selling travel to individuals, customers initiate the contact, meaning they must already have some interest in traveling. Realizing this, salespeople should not feel they are twisting people's arms to buy travel products.
How to Close. Knowing how to close a sale can be perplexing. In general, closing begins by summarizing the product's benefits to the customer. The summary provides reasons to commit. Then the salesperson puts forth an action plan. The action plan is a concrete way customers can demonstrate their commitment, such as signing a contract or writing out a check for a deposit. When the salesperson has a commitment from the customer, the sale is "nailed down." The salesperson can then go on to provide details about deposits or payments, picking up tickets, applying for a passport, and so forth. At this point, the salesperson is also writing up the order, being extremely careful to record all information accurately.
Types of Closings. Sales closings can be classified according to the various techniques used to execute them. Customer behavior during the selling process may influence the type of closing technique selected for use by the salesperson.
In the direct approach, the salesperson asks the customer if he or she is ready to purchase--"Shall we go ahead and reserve space?" This type of closing is used when the presentation has been logical and direct and little resistance has been encountered. Self-confident customers usually appreciate the direct approach.
Another type of closing is the assumptive approach. The salesperson acts as if the sale has been Made--"I'll just write up this reservation for you." This approach can be useful with an indecisive client.
When the sales conversation has gone on for a while, the selling agent might begin closing the sale with the summative approach. The sales agent would begin by summarizing past points of agreement--"Okay. Now we've agreed that...." The summative approach reinforces areas of harmony between the sales agent and customer and reviews facts that may otherwise have been forgotten or misunderstood.
Finally, the sales representative might offer an incentive to close the sale--"If you reserve the convention center this week, you'll be able to take advantage of a 10 percent discount." Whether or not customers decide to buy, they should always be informed of deadlines for special rates. If they should return later to buy, they could be disappointed or upset to learn of a missed opportunity to save money.
When prospective customers balk, salespeople can use open probes to determine the nature of the obstacle, or they can offer to do something--get more information or work out an estimate, for example--to keep the sales possibility alive. They might suggest making tentative arrangements with no obligation on the part of the customer to follow through. This technique should be used sparingly, however, because conditional arrangements are sometimes difficult to undo and may just waste a salesperson's time.
Sometimes customers have legitimate reasons not to commit to a purchase, such as the need to consult a spouse. When this happens, salespersons should make arrangements to contact the prospective client later, not wait for them to "get back" to them.
What to Do When the Closing Fails. The closing fails when a customer refuses to make a commitment. But this does not mean the sales representative will never sell to that person. It just means that this particular opportunity for a transaction has been missed. Salespeople should not take failure to close a sale as a personal insult but instead should learn from the experience and look forward to the next opportunity to make a sale. The conversation should end on a pleasant note, with the salesperson thanking the customer and inviting him or her to call again. Whatever happens, the salesperson should never be the first one to hang up, end the presentation, or walk away.
ADDITIONAL ASPECTS OF GROUP AND CORPORATE SELLING
Although selling to individuals is the most common form of travel sales, the industry offers many other sales career opportunities as well. Here are a few examples of group and corporate sales efforts:
* A sales executive of a car rental company negotiating a deal with a major airline to offer a fly/drive package to the traveling public.
* A salesperson for a midsize travel agency trying to convince a local business to let her agency handle all of its business travel arrangements.
* A sales representative from an incentive travel company trying to persuade a corporation to establish an incentive travel program for its employees.
* Representatives from airlines, hotels, and destination marketing organizations attempting to sell their products and services to tour operators so they will be included as tour components.
* A salesperson for a major hotel chain offering a discounted rate to the corporate travel director for a client company, tied to the annual dollar volume of business booked by that company.
Selling to groups and businesses is often more complicated and time consuming than selling to individuals, sometimes requiring additional steps in the personal selling process. These include prospecting for customers, writing sales proposals, and making sales presentations.
In general, sales representatives selling to groups or businesses, on behalf of either a supplier or an intermediary, have more responsibility to initiate the sales transaction than do those selling to individuals. Like miners searching for gold, these salespeople must conduct research to identify likely customers. Prospecting is the process of looking for new customers. It is an ongoing process; even successful salespeople must continue to prospect as old customers move away, go out of business, switch to the competitor, or develop different needs. As a company grows, new customers must be found to develop new sources of revenue.
Prospecting consists of two main steps. The first step is simply gathering leads, or the names of individuals, groups, and businesses that might be interested in purchasing travel products and services. This is the "suspect" group.
Many methods turn up possible sales leads. One way is to ask satisfied customers to suggest names of people they know who might also be interested in purchasing the product or service. Known as the "endless chain," this method could theoretically go on forever as one customer recommends another customer, who in turn recommends another, and so on. Another way of gathering leads is to ask satisfied customers to provide a referral. This goes beyond simply suggesting a name, because the customer does something such as writing a letter of recommendation or setting up a meeting. A third way is to ask for help from influential people--friends and acquaintances in a position to influence the travel decisions of others. Additional methods of gathering names include mail-in or telephone responses to advertising and promotions, business directories and other listings, canvassing by telephone or in person, and searching on the Internet using key words that will locate the companies, organizations, or associations that fit your customer profile.
The second step of prospecting is to narrow down the suspect group. Salespeople try to prioritize and focus by determining which leads are most promising. These leads are the "prospect" group of a high-potential sales target. Sales representatives also follow up on leads by making cold calls, telephoning for an appointment, sending a letter and making a follow-up telephone call, or by employing a combination of these techniques.
Cold Calls. Cold calls are made when salespeople arrive unannounced at the office of a prospect with whom they have had no previous interaction. They take a risk that the person who makes travel decisions will not have time or be willing to talk with them. Nevertheless, many salespeople feel that by actually being on the premises rather than phoning they have a better chance of getting to talk to their prospect. They believe that people are less likely to say no face-to-face than over the telephone. Cold calls to small and medium-sized companies, where decisionmakers are more accessible, are generally more productive than cold calls to large companies or organizations.
The first obstacle in making a cold call is usually the receptionist or staff assistant. When a receptionist (whose job includes screening out salespeople) inquires about the purpose of the call, sales representatives should not respond that they want to sell someone something. Instead, they should make a benefit statement such as, "I'd like to discuss a plan to save your company 10 percent in travel costs and reward top customers."
Once past the "first obstacle," the salesperson should strive for a "tell-me" rather than a "sell-you" session. In other words, salespeople should discover as much as possible about the company's travel needs so that they can respond immediately or return with a detailed recommendation for meeting those needs. Of course, salespeople who have researched their prospect and can demonstrate that they already know a great deal about the company are more likely to be well received.
Telephoning for an Appointment. Telephoning for an appointment has several advantages over cold calls. For one thing, the salesperson can make many more contacts in the same amount of time. Also, the prospect may view a telephone call as less of an intrusion and, therefore, be more inclined to speak to the salesperson.
As with the cold call, getting past the receptionist or staff assistant is the first hurdle. When the prospect is reached, salespeople should not ask immediately for an appointment. Instead, they should begin with a carefully worded, attention-grabbing statement and then lead into the request for an appointment. They might say, for example, "One of our clients recently saved 10 percent in travel costs and increased revenue by 8 percent with our incentive program. I am confident that I can do the same for your company. Would it be convenient for me to stop by your office tomorrow morning at ten, or would you rather see me in the afternoon?" If the prospect presses for details over the phone, the salesperson should hold out for an appointment in order to explain things more adequately unless it is essential to provide details in order for the prospect to consider your product and services at all.
Sending Out a Letter. Many sales representatives prefer to send a letter to a prospective client and then follow it up with a telephone call. They find that being able to refer to a letter makes it easier to get past the "first obstacle" ("I'm calling in regard to the information that I sent") and start the conversation with the decisionmaker ("Did you get a chance to read the letter that I sent to you?"). The introductory letter should stress the potential customer's needs and benefits. It should close by indicating the intention to follow up by telephone.
Writing a Sales Proposal
When selling to individuals, representatives can often open and close a transaction and present their recommendations informally in a single meeting with a customer. When sales are geared toward major accounts--perhaps involving millions of dollars in potential sales--they usually require more preparation and more than one meeting. Before making recommendations, sales representatives will study prospective customers' operations and needs, sometimes devoting a considerable amount of time and money to a detailed needs analysis. Or they may have to respond to bid specifications (meetings, conventions) or a request for a proposal (RFP). After assessing a potential client's needs, salespeople create a formal written proposal outlining how their products and services can meet customers' needs while providing benefits and value. This proposal should include any special services or discounts that can be provided.
A well-written sales proposal can be an important and effective tool in winning an account or closing a sale. It should demonstrate attention to detail and sensitivity to the prospective customer's needs. The proposal should be written in a positive tone and be well organized. It should be concise, so that the prospective customer does not have to waste time wading through irrelevant information. It should be sent by courier, not regular mail, as a printed document or as a file on a computer disk, or it could be faxed or sent as an e-mail attachment to speed up the response time. Graphics, good-quality paper, an attractive cover, and a handsome binding all help to create a professional image for the selling company.
In a situation in which a travel supplier or intermediary is competing for an account, a written sales proposal that effectively communicates recommendations is even more crucial. Often, sales proposals are written in response to the RFP. The company usually supplies all competing bidders with the same background information about its operations and a format for the proposal. Decisionmakers look unfavorably upon proposals that deviate substantially from the prescribed format. Within that format, however, each sales representative must be creative and clear in order to distinguish the products and services that they offer from those of the competition.
Making Sales Presentations
In a sales presentation, the salesperson presents the sales proposal in person. An effective presentation can greatly enhance the selling company's image and convince a prospective customer to make a commitment. Salespeople making presentations must appear professional and possess a pleasing voice and style of speaking. Since some presentations are made at the client's office, salespeople need to learn appropriate techniques for handling interruptions and distractions.
Regardless of where the sales presentation is made, a summary of the key points, which is distributed to those listening to the presentation, should be developed. This will make it easier for them to follow your presentation and better understand the important benefits of your products and services.
Since sales presentations are generally geared toward a group of people--a community, professional, or religious association; a business or corporation; or another travel organization--they should include audiovisual aids. Color slides, films, videotapes, compact discs and computer projections (presentation software programs), flip charts, or graphs help to improve the quality of the presentation and hold the group's attention. Time is needed to prepare the visuals and to integrate them smoothly into the presentation.
The ability to sell to a group of people requires special skills and experience. In particular, sales representatives must appear confident and at ease and be able to deal with a variety of questions and responses.
But the basic steps of personal selling apply whether sales are to individuals, groups, or businesses, or are in-house, outside, or both. These steps are particularly important to the travel industry and travel sales professionals never lose sight of this fact. They learn to execute every step of the personal selling process with an emphasis on the value and benefit of the travel products they sell and--always--on service to their customers.
* Travel sales usually depend on personal selling. Personal selling differs from self-service reservations or brochure/catalog shopping because the customer depends on a salesperson to recommend and sell the product or service.
* Personal selling is considered part of the promotional mix because of its information-gathering and -providing role in advance of the sale. It can be more persuasive than advertising and other forms of promotion because the message can be tailored to fit the customer.
* Personal selling may be as simple as order taking or more demanding, as with appointments, proposals, and presentations. Both types are necessary for the sales of travel products and services.
* Both suppliers and intermediaries use personal selling. Personal selling occurs in-house when a potential customer telephones a sales representative of a supplier or intermediary or visits them on the supplier's or intermediary's premises. Outside sales occur when sales representatives of the supplier or intermediary telephone or visit prospective customers by appointment or to provide a sales presentation.
* In general, travel companies sell in-house to individual leisure and business travelers. They are more likely to use outside sales to sell travel products and services to groups, organizations, corporations, and associations.
* A successful salesperson follows a system designed to move a sales transaction toward a conclusion. To gain an edge on competitors, the successful salesperson also strives to provide the client with better service and travel products that provide benefit and value.
* The basic steps of personal selling are qualifying the customer, making recommendations, and closing the sale.
* In qualifying customers, the travel sales professional uses the "six questions" to get prospects to describe their needs, likes and dislikes, and previous travel experiences. This information is needed to begin forming recommendations.
* In making recommendations, salespeople translate product features into benefits for the customer. Upgrading (upselling) and selling additional products and services are special elements of this step of the personal selling process.
* In closing sales, salespeople observe clients for signals that they are ready to make a positive buying decision. Salespeople close by moving toward a conclusion by summarizing benefits and formulating an action plan.
* Outside sales representatives must locate their own customers. They follow up on sales leads with in-person cold calls, telephone calls to make appointments, letters with a follow-up telephone call, or a combination of all of these methods.
* Because group, association, and corporate sales generally involve large sums of money and affect many employees, salespeople spend more time studying the needs of these types of customers. This includes prospecting--looking for new customers.
* Salespeople prepare a more formal recommendation for a group than in a sales transaction with an individual customer. The recommendation with group and corporate customers may be made in the form of a written sales proposal, a verbal sales presentation, or both.
inside (in-house) sales
qualifying the customer
close the sale
request for a proposal (RFP)
1. What is personal selling? Why do travel products and services require personal selling?
2. When is personal selling more like order taking? When does personal selling become more creative and demanding?
3. Who sells travel products and services, and to whom do they sell?
4. What is the difference between an in-house sales representative and an outside sales representative?
5. What are the ways in which inside salespeople obtain information from customers?
6. What is meant by turning features into benefits, and why is this important?
7. What are some signals that a client is ready to close? How can salespeople begin to move toward closing a sale?
8. What additional steps in personal selling are necessary for groups, sales to associations, and corporations?
Using Personal Selling Techniques
Name: -- Date: --
Directions: Answer these questions as you read the chapter. You will be able to use these answers to help you review the chapter.
1. What is personal selling?
2. Compare order taking and creative selling.
3. What is the basic difference between inside and outside sales?
4. To what types of markets are outside sales usually geared?
5. Describe how you can use questions to qualify a customer.
6. What is the difference between an open probe and a limited-response probe? How are they used to gather information?
7. How can identifying features and benefits help a salesperson to make recommendations to a customer?
8. Describe three ways a seller can make recommendations and overcome hesitation in a customer.
9. What is upgrading (upselling)?
10. How can you tell when it is the right time to try to close a sale?
11. Describe four methods of closing a sale.
12. Describe three methods of prospecting used by outside sales.
13. Describe five qualities of a well-written sales proposal.
Using Personal Selling Techniques
Name: -- Date: --
IT'S YOUR MOVE
For each situation described, supply the question or response that will help close a sale.
1. You are a travel agent in a busy shopping mall agency. An elderly woman approaches you, accompanied by an elderly man in a wheelchair. She says: "I need information on a cruise to South America."
A. You respond:
After answering your questions and discussing possible cruise arrangements, the customer says, "I really must speak to my husband's doctor about this vacation."
B. You say:
2. You are the sales manager for the newest edition to a major hotel chain. Your hotel is located next to the convention center in a busy midwestern city, and you have been traveling around the country making proposals to potential customers and meeting with considerable success. Next month you will be traveling to the east coast, and you are trying to make an appointment with the director of a trade association that has booked the convention center for its international trade show and conference next year. When you call the association, the receptionist says, "The director is in a meeting. What is the nature of your call?"
A. You say:
You call again at a specified time, and the director says, "I have five minutes between meetings. Tell me what your hotel has to offer us."
B. You say:
When you finish your five-minute speech, the director says, "You know, when a hotel is so close to the convention center, it gets so crowded with convention-goers that you feel like you're in Grand Central Station."
C. You say:
3. You are an independent tour operator specializing in creating custom tour packages for travel groups with special interests. Last week you had a preliminary meeting with the travel committee, and tonight you will be making a presentation to a hundred-member nature hobbyists' group considering a three-week tour of Australia. The itinerary will include trips to the Great Outback, Great Barrier Reef, and several wildlife reserves and natural attractions such as Ayers Rock and the Olgas.
A. What sales aids will you bring to help you in making the presentation?
B. At the conclusion of the presentation, you say:
C. Many of the group's members have questions about various aspects of the tour. Why is it important for you to listen to each one?.
D. What do you say and do to show that you are listening to the group members?
4. You are a travel agent in an agency that handles mainly leisure travel. A single woman in her thirties sits down at your desk and says, "I run my own business and I need a vacation. I'm under a tremendous amount of stress because my business has tripled over the past year. A friend of mine spent a week on St. Thomas, and it sounds like just what I want."
A. You ask the following questions:
As a result of your conversation, you find out that your customer wants to travel alone and that the week she has chosen will be a school vacation time, when many families will visit the reasonably priced resort she is interested in. However, you have been on a fam trip to a more luxurious resort nearby, which you sense would be a better choice.
B. You say:
C. You take out a brochure describing the resort you have recommended. How do you use it?
D. After discussing transportation, costs, and features and benefits of the trip, you see that the customer is smiling and looks relaxed.
5. You are the owner of a restored inn in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you are meeting with the representative of a major tour operator. Your goal is to be included in the itinerary of the company's popular motor coach tours of the southwest. You have sent the company representative photographs of the inn, plus a concise description of its features: location in a historic district, intimate atmosphere, authentic furnishings, gourmet dining (including in-room breakfasts), and proximity to art galleries and museums, shops, and places of interest. The company representative says, "Your inn is very attractive, but what makes you think it will appeal to our customers? They're mostly over fifty, and they have very specific likes and dislikes."
A. You say:
After listening to your description of the hotel's benefits, the company representative says, "Of course, many other people are after our business, and those we choose stand to gain a lot. In return, we expect a break that will help us sell more tours."
B. You say:
Tour conversation with the tour company representative has gone on for nearly an hour, and she seems undecided. After recapping what you have said, you attempt to close. She says, "No, I really can't make that decision at this point. I still have to see some other people and hand in my report to the vice president."
C. You say:
WESTERN LEISURE COMPANY PROFILE
Western Leisure, Inc. was established in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1979, and is the oldest full-service receptive operator in the Intermountain West. Originally formed as a convention service company, Western Leisure now also provides a complete range of personalized group travel services including: meeting service, tour planning assistance, incentive programs, bilingual and step-on guides, and tour programs of varying lengths.
Western Leisure's Mission Statement is as follows:
"We create, package, and manage customized travel programs for the hospitality industry. In providing these services we will always strive to:
1. Meet and exceed the customer's expectations,
2. Provide innovative ways to offer the best possible product,
3. Make customers feel welcome in a foreign place,
4. Treat customers as our guests and exemplify Western Hospitality, and
5. Provide superior service at a fair price."
For the first two years, Western Leisure concentrated entirely on convention services. Then, says Keith Griffall, President and CEO, "Our business evolved, and we began to customize inbound tours for operators bringing groups into the western United States. We acquired a much broader range of customers, and our business began to grow dramatically." In 1985, the company's market mix expanded to include international tour operators.
"We began by serving the European market," says Griffall, "but it quickly became clear that it would be easier for us to gain a share of the Japanese market than to compete against large and well-established receptive operators for Europe." The Japanese business now comprises more than a third of Western Leisure's gross income; over the past five years, it has grown faster than any other department in the company.
The other dominant market, Inbound Domestic Tours, has benefitted from Western Leisure's sharp focus on territory. "We concentrate on a very specific area," says Griffall. "We specialize in tours of the Western United States including the Rocky Mountains, Southwest Desert, California, and the Pacific Northwest. And we really know our territory--we are up-to-date on new roads and hotels, fine dining, top evening entertainment and all the other components that add up to create an enjoyable, successful tour. When we operate a tour, the customer doesn't have to worry about any of the details."
Rather than selling directly to the public, Western Leisure wholesales tours to other operators, who then sell the tours under their own companies' names. This strategy, called 'private branding,' allows the purchasers to provide their customers with a wider range of products than they could produce on their own. The private branding of tours is especially useful as more and more groups demand tours that are specific to their members' particular needs. "We deal with a lot of tour operators who have preformed groups," says Griffall, "and the customers in these groups are smart and sophisticated. They know exactly what they like, and are open to unusual and rewarding experiences. These groups are the fastest growing segment of the domestic tour market." To accommodate the demand, Western Leisure's latest product line of Active Adventure Tours, called 'Pathfinder Vacations,' is a way for small tour groups to experience and explore the West by foot, horseback, raft, jeep, boat, and minicoach.
Western Leisure's international customers demand even more variety in their products. In addition to custom group tours, they require FIT products, adventure tours, and incentive programs, and the company has carved its own niche in the market by providing these services.
Western Leisure's marketing is aimed directly at the travel professional through direct mailings of factual brochures, as well as associations and trade shows. "We do produce a catalog for our Asian products," says Griffall, "and we provide operational support and detailed written information for all the tours we sell."
In closing, Griffall says, "This is an exciting time to be in the travel industry. Challenges and rewards are greater now than they ever have been before. As a knowledge-based company, Western Leisure sells its expertise and creativity, and I can't think of a more dynamic marketplace in the world."
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|Publication:||Marketing and Selling the Travel Product, 2nd ed.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 10 Setting up the sale.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 12 Satisfying the customer.|