Six lessons in luxury selling

Six lessons in luxury selling

Most of what I’ve learned about luxury selling and creating luxury brands comes from three decades of listening to travellers, then doing my best to deliver what they want. My education also includes paying attention to worldwide trends, being an active and curious traveler, and asking lots of questions. If I sound like someone who’s still learning, you’re right.

Looking for ways to boost your own luxury sales success in 2017? Here’s my time-tested advice.

1: Experience the world and the products you’re selling.

The most successful travel sellers know that lifelong education is essential. Nothing substitutes for first-hand experience of destinations, local deliverables and travel providers—after all, this is what you’re recommending and selling. If you’ve never visited New York, it’s hard to describe the many differences between seemingly similar luxury hotels, restaurants, events, excursions or shopping districts. And New York is night-and-day different from San Francisco or Paris. See, touch and taste the product whenever you can. Gather and share information with trusted colleagues when you can’t. The benefit of education isn’t to have all the answers. Instead, it’s to help you connect your client to ideal experiences through honest, first-hand knowledge.

2: Keep pace with global luxury trends and tastes. There’s plenty of opportunity to sell luxury travel in the year ahead. A 2016 Amadeus report predicts a compounded annual growth rate of 6.2% in luxury travel over the next decade, while Clia anticipates overall cruise passenger growth of 1.1 million people (roughly 4.5%) in 2017 alone. To sell more, keep pace with global events and know your market. Luxury trend-watchers foresee more off-season and shoulder-season travel, more event-driven travel (festivals, art shows and the like), and a greater focus on urban vacations. A few of the big buzzwords in luxury travel right now are community, “soul” and connectedness—can you feel the yearning for closeness and conversation in those words? Top-tier travelers continue to seek experiences with meaning, insight and purpose, placing a high value on authentic connection with local cultures and people, one-of-a-kind events and exclusive excursions. They also want to engage with interesting fellow travelers and feel safe and well cared for.

3: Set goals and have a plan.

Are your goals in your head? Write them down, and you may become more accountable. I’ve kept a small book of goals for nearly my entire adult career. Sometimes I look back at the end of the year and see I didn’t come close to reaching them. Other times I’m wildly successful. I’ve also found that when I succeed in the personal realm it often affects my professional success (and vice versa). Somehow we’re a composition of all our aims.

You also must have a plan, particularly for professional goals. Perhaps your target is to close sales with revenue behind them 80% of the time. Your plan might include providing the most accurate and up-to-date information to every client; booking more guests in a suite with a view; never leading a sales discussion with price; or asking better questions and being a better listener. Review where you’ve succeeded or fallen short at least once a year. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.

4: Listen more, talk less.

The Dalai Lama referred to silence as “life’s opportunity to listen and comprehend”. My Portuguese grandmother put it more succinctly: God gave you two ears and one mouth so you would listen more and talk less.

The best sales agents I’ve met are amazing listeners. They express interest in their clients’ lives, not just their travel plans. They possess genuine, natural warmth. Their clients want to talk with them, stay awhile, and ultimately buy from them. Imagine that! And it all starts with active listening.

Or, as a professor once taught me, “The easiest pathway to sales success is to not behave like a salesperson.” When you’re motivated by helping your client reach the best travel decision (as opposed to a quick commission for yourself) it shows. Over time, trust and loyalty grow. Referrals and sales follow.

5: Don’t waste time, and be prepared to close the sale.

Travel sellers have the habit of talking because that’s how they connect with people. But if you spend an hour talking to someone who’s not the decision-maker or buyer, you’re wasting time. Of course it’s polite to provide information, but I think it’s wise to be paid for your work!

When dealing with decision makers, bring everything you have to the discussion. You’ve educated yourself, listened, asked good questions, and presented options and alternatives. You’ve put together a vacation that delivers all the benefits your client wants. Now it’s time to ask for their business.

Uncomfortable, right? But it doesn’t have to be if you ask closing questions that clarify, provide missing information, and gently narrow the discussion to the best choice. Good closing questions might include: Would you prefer sailing in June or July? Do you prefer the ocean view or the larger veranda? (Not: “There are 20 categories, which would you like?”) From a dizzying array of choices, good closing questions lead to a natural decision point. And that’s the seller’s job: to lead from complexity to simplicity. Then close the sale.

6: Follow-through, learn, repeat.

Finally, always take the opportunity to follow up after the vacation. Some sales agents avoid the follow-up call because they don’t want to hear complaints or what went wrong (especially on an expensive luxury vacation). The best agents scoff at this logic. Isn’t it better to learn why your client enjoyed their holiday, destination, hotel or ship? Of course you want to hear about it! Always keep the client connection alive. And that follow up call? It’s a great opportunity to begin the discussion about the next trip.

Finally, boost your luxury sales by being mindful of your goals and best practices. Have no fear of client engagement. The truly affluent traveler uses professional advisors in many areas of life. Why not be their lifestyle holiday advisor?

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