The Client Relationship Formula
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

It’s funny how the topics in travel agent forums change based on how busy advisors are. When they aren’t busy, most topics focus on how to get more clients. When they are busy, the topic of most posts are about how those same clients are being unreasonable, indecisive, or generally giving them a headache. Don’t get me wrong, I know that these agents are still incredibly appreciative for these clients but wish they could find a better way for them to work together.

Good news! I have a suggestion that has worked for many agents, and I would like to share it with you.

My “secret formula” works with all types of clients from budget-friendly to luxury and is appropriate whether you are working with a first-time client or someone you have worked with before.

Here’s what it boils down to: you must control the advisor-client relationship. Unfortunately, most travel agents don’t do that. Here’s the typical scenario for most advisors:

A client (whether new to you or repeat) reaches out about a trip they want your assistance with. The travel advisor immediately begins asking questions like, “When do you want to travel?”, “How many people are traveling?”, “What is your budget?”

In other words, they want to know what they “need” to know to start getting pricing and quotes together so this trip can be booked.

There are certainly times when this approach works fine. The advisor gets the information they need, provides the client a quote, and the client books. Done!

However, quite often it doesn’t happen that way. You give the client a quote and then they want a quote for something else, or the price is significantly higher than they expected (because their expectations were unreasonable), or the dates need to be changed.

The reason this happens is because the advisor skipped an important conversation. Whether the client is new or repeat, the advisor didn’t have enough information. They thought they needed just enough information to book the trip, but that’s not what successful travel advisors do! They curate vacations and make dreams come true. To do that, you need more information.

Here’s a formula I have found that works very well for most travel advisors. It has 5 steps:

  1. Find out the why
  2. Demonstrate value
  3. Evaluate how firm the plans are, determine who the decision maker is, and understand the timeline
  4. Get agreement on how you will move forward
  5. Ask questions needed to generate quotes

If you are working with a new client, you need to also add another step between 3 and 4 that is really 3a: Explain how you work

Step 1: This all about finding out WHY the client is interested in this trip. You want to make sure you understand what is important to them so you can meet those expectations. Rather than jumping right into the “where are you going/when do you want to go/how many people are going” and then running off to get pricing, you need to determine more about why the client is interested in this particular trip. In doing so, you will know what to include so you can create a trip they will love.

However, you are NOT second-guessing the client. You are just looking for more information. Ask questions like:

  • Have you traveled to this destination/with this vendor before? (If no, what motivated them to pick it?)
  • Are you celebrating something or is this trip for a special occasion?
  • What will make this trip fantastic (do they want to relax, see certain sites, have particular experiences, etc.?)

You may think asking all these questions will annoy the client, but it has the opposite effect. They really want to talk about this trip because they are excited about it!

Step 2: By asking more questions as part of step 1, you are already moving into step 2. You are showing interest and letting them know you want to create the perfect trip and this demonstrates your value by sharing the knowledge and connections you have about the destination or product.

Step 3: I think most of you would like to know if the client is just dreaming or if they are ready to book at the beginning of the conversation. You also need to know who is making the decision and how soon they want to make it. These questions will help you get to that:

  • As I am putting information together, who will need to see it to make decisions?
  • Who will be involved in making the final decision on what the trip looks like?
  • How quickly do you want to lock in this trip? (This is also a good test for how reasonable their expectations are.)

This is especially true right now when pricing and availability is changing by the hour. It’s important that you educate your clients on this too.

Step 3a (for new clients): This is all about explaining how you work. You can literally say, “Let me explain to you how I work.” Don’t assume that a new client has ever worked with an advisor before – and even if they have, they haven’t worked with YOU. Tell them what you do, how long it takes, how many revisions you do, and how much you charge.

Word of caution: You may chat with a prospective new client and at this stage you don’t feel they are a good fit for you. That could be because of the type of travel they want to do, or just something feels off. Listen to your gut! You do not need to take every client that comes along and if you don’t feel they are a good fit, tell them that you don’t think you are the right advisor for the type of travel they are looking for. Ideally refer them to someone else but let them go regardless. If you don’t, there is a strong likelihood that you will regret it later.

Step 4: At the end of your conversation say, “I’m excited to work with you, are you ready to get started?” If they say “yes” then share with them how to pay the fee and once they have paid, get started!

Step 5: Now it is time to ask all those questions you need to know to generate a quote! Get all the final details needed, but don’t start the work until your fee is paid.

Expanding your initial conversation with a client at the beginning of a relationship will yield great rewards for you and the client. The client will be excited about working with YOU and in return makes them less likely to shop for other advisors and price match you online. You will also find that they will refer more clients to you because they really understand how you work and what your value is.

One final tip: Incorporate video calls in your process so you can actually SEE how they respond to questions and what you present. This builds connection far better than a phone call, email or text!

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