The concept of the marketing and sales funnel is an old one, but it is enjoying some much deserved renewed currency in the travel agency world. The basic concept is fairly simple: as anyone makes a purchasing decision they go through some fairly predicable steps. If a business understands each of those steps and how to best facilitate the transitions between them, then the purchasing process can be enhanced and optimized. Pretty simple, if you can forgive the buzzwords, right?
Well yes and, of course, no. The basic marketing funnel can be overly simplistic. Marketing and sales are not linear, time-based activities. In an ideal scenario a business is ALWAYS marketing and ALWAYS selling. Remember, marketing is about acquiring new clients and retaining your old and if that is true then you market continually. It's a mindset, remember?
Marketing is a context in which sales takes place. Marketing conditions the sales process and makes it easier. Moreover, in the process of a developing relationship, the grounds and basis of customer service is established.
In a client-centric environment, trust is the foundation of the relationship and is fostered by correct and authentic customer service. If the client understands my motivation is meeting the client's needs, then in every step of the process, you will be exercising the best possible customer service practices which grows the trust between the parties and deepens the relationship.
Whew! My apologies for all of that. Let's see if we can unpack it into a few sentences.
With relationship sales, there is more than one sales/buying process occurring. You are selling yourself and the client is buying travel. We can get lost in the semantics here, but it is not really necessary to do so.
Marketing, Sales and Customer Service operate best when coordinated in one big bio-feedback loop. Travel agencies are no exception to this fundamental principle. Marketing conditions the sales environment. Customer service enhances the trust which grows the relationship. The Marketing Funnel helps you to understand, organize and optimize the process.
The Marketing Funnel Stages and Components
As you read more and more about marketing funnels, you will see many variations and labels applied to the various stages. Don't worry overly too much about the particulars, but the basic concepts are important to grasp. Equally important, as I have already mentioned, is each of the "stages" blur into each other and are not necessarily linear. Note the funnel's shape. Typically, fewer people make it to each stage of the funnel. The number of people who actually become clients at the bottom of the funnel are fewer than the people who become aware of you at the top of the funnel. This effect pertains for any number of reasons, but our efforts should be to convert as many desirable people as we want into clients.
Awareness: All of the marketing tactics we put into place to achieve our goals are designed to increase people's awareness of our company, it's business and our services. The classic lead generation technique play heavily into this stage. Each marketing campaign has as its mission making people aware of our existence in the most favorable light. So when we take out an advertisement in a newsletter or we do a webinar or social media marketing or a trade show or a networking event, each of those individual efforts will generate leads, making people aware of us. The more intriguing the campaign, the more likely the client is to move to the next stage. Historically, travel agencies initiated many of their marketing campaigns for leisure travel through newspaper advertising. Now, much of the emphasis has shifted to social media and other digital platforms.
Interest: If our travel agency marketing is well constructed, some of those who become aware of our existence will be intrigued and want to learn more about our company. This is a crucial stage as this is our first opportunity to begin to engage with the individual. Our initial efforts paid off and now there is movement on the part of the consumer. We have to begin to nurture these leads, peaking curiosity by demonstrating in our advertising, content, copy and each effort how our services meet some basic needs of the individual. It is typically at this stage the lead reaches out to us and the opportunity to engage is realized.
Consideration: The prospective client is asking questions and providing us with the opportunity to provide answers. It is here we can undertake the beginning of educating the client and clearing up more directly any misunderstandings about what we do as travel consultants. This is also where clients can provide information allowing us to simultaneously continue selling our consulting services while gather information on the transactions to follow. We begin to exhibit customer service practices during this phase by responding directly and promptly to inquiries with authentic personality.
Intent: At this stage the prospective client is developing confidence in the travel consultant's branding. The more authentic the approach has been, the easier this transition can become. At this stage the consultant aspect comes to the front of the relationship. Here is where the travel consultant's ability to draw information about the client's preferences, travel history, likes and dislikes is important, as well as information the next travel planned which may well be the motivation for this client's inquiry into the relationship. Typically this is where the travel agent takes all of the client's information and develops a proposal for the upcoming transaction, i.e. the next trip planned.
Evaluation: In the context of travel consulting, this is the stage where the travel consultant has handed over the proposal to the client and the client is evaluating the degree to which the proposal meets the client's needs. Note at this juncture the client is evaluating both the travel consultant AND the transaction. If the client has done a good job training the client and meeting the client's needs, moving onto the next step has a high degree of likelihood. If, however, the client's needs are not met then the client will move on. If, and you may recognize this one, the needs are met but for some reason the travel consultant has failed to sell their own value, then the client may take the information and book elsewhere.
Purchase: The client is happy with the proposal, happy with the travel consultant and moves forward booking the trip.
Wow! There is a lot to unpack here isn't there? Here's the good and bad news: You will spend the rest of your career doing just that!
Finally, there are a many steps beyond the bottom of the funnel. This version of the funnel is largely modeled on transactions. However, as I stated earlier, it's really more of a bio-feedback loop! If the travel consultant continues to market well and delivers great customer service on the current transaction and in follow-up, then the client becomes a repeat client and, in the best of all worlds, an evangelist.
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