Hats off to the sales rep, who is always there to support agents, says Gordon McCreadie, If Only sales and marketing director

I’ve talked before about the importance of social media, the print v digital debate and the role technology plays within travel. It’s become apparent that striking a balance between the modern and traditional is paramount in this industry, possibly more so than any other. And this also applies to creating a successful sales team.

Technology has enabled better communication between operator and agents, and agents and customers, allowing reactive, targeted and effective selling. Social media also plays its role. Forums such as Travel Gossip provide quick access, which has aided independent agents in their battle against online competitors. The ease of all this is excellent but is it now something we take for granted? Has the traditional account manager role changed for ever?

Face time

Well, much like the contrast between traditional and modern, which permeates all avenues of travel, the role has changed. However, its core aspects remain as they were 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. While it takes seconds to compose a text or an email, minutes to Skype or speak on the phone, putting in the effort to visit your customers face-to-face remains invaluable. In an age when time is a valuable commodity and travelling has a cost attached, it’s my firm belief that there’s no better way to establish long-standing relationships than by switching FaceTime for some face time.

Providing agents with malleable marketing, engaging incentives and excellent day-to-day service has to be balanced with the formation of a strong bond between (in our case) a business development manager and their agents. We’ve all tried to contact a bank and got automated conversations that infuriate. The same applies for any business: you can only grow as a company by receiving constructive feedback, and you can only receive this by having individuals who can empathise, understand and assist.

Solid bond

While we’ve completely revamped our marketing support for our agents at If Only, we’ve also placed an emphasis on spending time with our agents in person. The secret to this? It’s not very sexy or groundbreaking: it’s all about efficiently managing time and schedules. We’ve increased conference attendances by 40% and shop visits by 70% year on year, as well as hosting three times as many agent events in 2019 as 2018 – all to strengthen the already solid bond we have with our agents.

An article on the sales website Seismic.com entitled ‘Are sales reps still relevant in the age of automation?’ asks whether the role is becoming obsolete in a B2B market. When it comes to travel, it’s not data-driven and there’s no doubt in my mind that the role is as important as ever.

How can an algorithm replace a recommendation for an off-the-beaten track eatery? How can a tablet understand the challenges an independent agent faces daily, or offer a price match to secure that booking for your long-standing clients?

Sales reps are sellers, problem solvers, commercial analysts and, above all, always there to support agents with whatever they need.