Everybody is busy. So busy, in fact, that we never seem to get around to setting up the meetings with our current customers that we committed to when putting together a sales plan. One of our travel supplier partners, continuing a six-year commitment to meeting face-to-face with trade buyers, is reaping the rewards with information that’s helping them improve the guest experience and drive new revenue to their company.
In her role as Regional Director of Sales for a hotel management company in a very competitive market, Bobbi doesn’t have the regular contact with clients that she did when focused only on a single property in a smaller destination. With her responsibility to oversee multiple properties, market segments and a sales team that’s pulled in many directions, she uses client meetings to find out first-hand how their company is doing and to strengthen relationships with key buyers.
“We are never done making our business better. There’s a big difference between what sounds good on paper, what you can cover in a six or seven minute trade show appointment and what really matters to the customer,” she says.
Here are the five most meaningful reasons you should go visit travel trade buyers on their turf.
Buyers appreciate the visit. In a recent survey of 100+ travel trade buyers, wholesale product managers and group tour operators, more than 75% said they were likely to act upon supplier information they receive during a personal visit from a supplier to their office. As Kathy, the Groups Manager for Suburban Tours wrote, "Your visit to our office helps solidify our memory of each of the products you represent."
Honest feedback and insight. When meeting with buyers in their comfort zone, they’re more likely to provide information that will help you improve your product and get more visitors. Buyers aren’t distracted by the other 100+ suppliers they’ll see on the trade show floor that day and can focus on the relationship they have with only those who are in their office.
Customers have short memories… sometimes. Research shows that the two leading factors buyers consider when deciding which product to include in future itineraries are 1) price and 2) the relationship they have with the person who sells the product. Lower prices can lead to short term gains for those who compete as a commodity, this is particularly true for the OTA and FIT markets where volume comes from lots of smaller bookings. When something goes wrong or when there’s a lot more at stake with each contract, buyers want the assurance that there is going to be someone on hand to take care of their guests and their reputations. Product managers and tour coordinators remember which vendors left them in a lurch and have demonstrated great loyalty to the people who are most helpful, often following sales people with their business when they move to new properties, destinations and product types.
Competitors are calling your customers. More than once, my own trade buyer contacts have let me know when competitors are actively contacting them. I’ve had a bed bank product VP tell me that they’re getting more than 30 calls a day. If you want your customers to know you care, there’s no better way to do that than face-to-face.
Recently, a group tour operator who runs an incredible series through central PA, one through the National Park circuit in the West and another that includes New England & Eastern Canada, told me about a supplier who was trying really hard to win their business away from one of the companies Fire Starter Brands represents. Our client’s competitor had been throwing lots of information (and misinformation) at the buyer without doing much listening. During our recent sales mission visit, the buyer was able to let us know what they love about working with our client and reaffirm their loyalty. The face time builds trust.
It’s a reality check. The current evolution of tourism and travel trade sales models makes customer conversations even more important. As leaders in business, we want to know what our customers are really thinking. We can read the trend reports from Expedia, US Travel, the World Tourism Association and every destination marketing organization, but do they reflect the reality faced by buyers? Smart tourism sales & marketing professionals are constantly adjusting their strategies based on predictions and insight gained from customers. It’s only by talking with customers and open dialogue that we develop our own sense of trends in the marketplace. The more data we can collect, the better the decisions we make for our company’s future.
Earning trust from travel trade buyers, group tour operators and tourism consumers is dependent on your ability to show that you are genuinely interested in the clients’ success and the consumer experience. Tourism suppliers and destination marketers who take the time to regularly meet with customers, collecting first-hand feedback, make better decisions that impact the guest experience, strategic direction and, of course, drive revenue.
Fire Starter Brands produces a number of sales missions each year, introducing tourism and travel industry suppliers, destination marketers and service providers to the most influential and powerful travel trade buyers from both domestic and international segments. Click here to see a list of upcoming sales missions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Stephen Ekstrom is a well-recognized tourism marketing expert whose influence reaches millions of travelers every year. He's been profiled by the New York Times and appeared on CBS, NBC and NY1. He is a fixture in the travel trade and has served as a board member, expert panelist, committee chair, mentor and program facilitator. Fire Starter Brands, founded by Ekstrom in 2010, manages a network of over 6,000 opted-in global travel trade buyers, advising, teaching and assisting smart travel industry suppliers and destination marketers. Stephen currently lives in South Florida with his two dogs, Match & Rudy.