Travel Agents, Here’s How to Qualify Clients
You may be thinking, Yay! I’ve got a client lead . . . now what?!
When it comes to the entire sales funnel of booking travel, there’s a lot of steps advisors need to take in order to complete the sale. So we’re writing a 5-part series on travel agent booking basics! Hurray!
The first step is Qualifying Clients. Ready for the deep dive? Good. So am I.
After you’ve done your phenomenal marketing and clients start to come your way, the first step is to qualify your client. This is done with your initial client contact, whether that contact be over email, phone or if they walk into your office (hey, it still happens!)
Your goal as a travel advisor is to get to know your client to help them dream and scheme. If your client knows exactly what they want, this might be a pretty quick step. But heck—you’re a travel advisor! So probably your client is coming to you because they have brain fatigue from falling into the black hole of Google trying to plan their trip. After all, YOU have the expertise, not them (and definitely not Booking.com!).
When you begin to qualify clients, there are two main goals:
1. Determine if you are a good fit for that client and vice versa:
It’s scary to turn away clients, especially if you’re just starting out. But having a niche is crucial to helping you manage your time and develop expertise.
If your passion is booking destination weddings, honeymoons or babymoons in Jamaica, and someone comes in asking about a family trip to Ireland, it’s unlikely it’s worth your time, effort, and sanity to take the time to learn a new destination and book that trip. (More on that very soon.)
When you’re thinking if a client is a good fit, consider these factors:
- Do they have skin in the game? You don’t want a client who is price shopping. While it’s normal for clients to want to get a few quotes from agents, you want to prevent the heartache of having a potential client use all your time to put together an itinerary only to book it through an online travel agency (OTA).
- Are they asking for a trip that fits with your niche expertise? (If not, is it advantageous for you to learn the new type of travel?)
- If they don’t book a trip with you, can you use the information for current or future clients? Even if clients have to pay a fee, and they end up walking away from you quote, consider if you can reuse or repurpose the work you put into that trip by either cannibalizing the itinerary and incorporating into future trips or using the entire itinerary for someone else.
- Were they referred to you? Who referred them? If they weren’t referred to you, how’d they find you?
- Does their budget fit your agency model? You never want to assume what a client’s budget is. But you want to ensure they have realistic expectations on what they can expect to spend for the type of travel you’re willing to book.
2. Get an idea of what kind of trips you will research for your clients:
You want qualifying your clients to be as thorough as possible so you can spend less time second-guessing during the later processes of researching and booking their travel.
Does qualifying your client take time? Yes. But thoroughly qualifying your clients will also enable you to have less back and forth when you research suppliers to create potential itineraries. Plus, if (WHEN) they become a repeat client, the time investment of getting to know your client will really pay off in the long run.
Essentially, the type of info you need when qualifying a client is a blend between the logistics of travel and the client’s ideal type of trip.
When qualifying your client, you want to get a feel for what kind of trip your client wants including logistical information such as budget, group size, type of group, travel dates, and other travel preferences, including (but not limited to):
- Dates available
- Duration of trip
- Number of travelers
- Group size (if applicable)
- Type of trip (Beach bumming? Adventuring? Culinary?)
Client travel preferences:
- Bucket list/ dream vacations (if money weren’t an object)
- Travel Preferences
- Hobbies and interests
- Must-do activities
- Previous trips
Ugh! How do you manage your time and keep track of all of this info! We have just the thing(s).
Technologies/ Automations to Help you Qualify Clients
There are two main ways you can help streamline the process of qualifying clients:
1. Include HAR’s travel interest survey form on your website:
Before you extensively chat with a client on the phone, you can get a lot of preliminary information that will make your conversation with them even more productive (and will also focus on your expertise as a travel agent).
Our free travel interest will go over all the logistical aspects of what a client is looking for in a trip before you schedule your initial call with them.
A few things: In order to use the template above, you'll need to start a Jotform Account. The free plan comes with everything the paid plans offer (encrypted forms, payment processor, signature fields, etc.) as well as unlimited fields. It just limits the amount of forms (5), amount of monthly submissions (100), and amount of total submissions (500). For many smaller agencies, those amounts should work for awhile!
If you don't have a JotFrom account yet, here is a referral link!
The travel interest survey will give you an idea of the logistics: How many people? What is the occasion? When/ where do they want to travel? What is their general budget? Etc. Knowing this before you invest time in a phone call will save you a lot of headache and heartache.
It will help you gauge a client’s interest level and save you a ton of time on lengthy phone conversations with clients. Including JotForm, here’s a few other options for client forms:
- Jotform - Free! Our personal fav and the one we use at Host Agency Reviews. We used JotForm to create all of our form templates for our Free Travel Agent Forms article including this form.
- Cognito: Starts with a free plan but you don't get certain features like electronic signatures or encrypted data. For the Pro Plan (needed for electronic signature and for clients ability to download copy of form), the cost is $10.
- Acuity Scheduling: Acuity is an appointment-scheduling app (see below), but it also includes a “client intake form” you could use to create an interest survey for clients to fill out when they schedule a call. If you want to have multiple forms for clients to fill out—such as a service fee forms, contract for services, trip confirmation details etc.—that are not attached to scheduling appointments, this may not be the best fit for you.
- DocuSign: Fees start at $10/mo, or $25/mo if you want to send more than 5 documents for signature per month. (Jamie uses this form, and her templates look GREAT).
- Adobe: $9.99/ mo send requests for the individual plan (where you can send e-sig requests to clients). Thanks to Lisa Wood Rossmeissl who commented below about this resource!
2. Enlist in a call-scheduling program or software
Once your clients fill out their travel interest form, the next step is to schedule an initial consultation with them. Adopting an appointment scheduling program will take out the time going back and forth with the client trying to schedule an appointment.
The scheduling apps/extensions will put the ball in the clients’ court, allow you to set the days/ hours you’re available for calls. Here’s a few options:
- Acuity: Has a free scheduling app that you can embed on your website so clients to schedule. For $15/month, they offer features like time zone conversions, appt. Reminders and ability to brand to your business. Acuity also has a “client intake form” you could use to create an interest survey for clients to fill out when they schedule a call.
- Calendly: Provides a free basic scheduling app. That integrates with Gmail. If you want to get a little fancier, it’s $8/month for added features (such as removing Calendly brand, etc.)
- HubSpot: Another meeting scheduler that can integrate with Gmail. They have a free version, but packages go up quick to $50/month from there.
- Assistant.to: This is an extension program you can add to your Gmail. When you send an email, you can embed meeting times directly into the email that they can click on to schedule. The downside is that it won’t integrate to your website, so it can only be used over email.
Tips on Qualifying Clients
At the travel agent forum, agents and suppliers offered a few tips on successfully qualifying clients. Here’s what they had to say:
- Ask open-ended questions: It’s hard to say “no” to an open-ended question. If you ask a client if they want transfers, they can easily say no. If you ask what their preferred transportation from airport to the hotel is, then you’re opening them up for a conversation about how you can build transfers into their trip budget. What are some open ended questions you can ask?
- Why are you interested in the destination you indicated on your Travel Interest Survey (this can help you provide options for destinations they may not have thought of that have the same qualities).
- What were the highlights and lowlights of your last vacation?
- If budget weren’t an issue, what kind of trip would you take?
- What about a vacation makes you feel relaxed? Feel revitalized? What qualities are you looking to experience from this vacation in particular?
- What kind of activities would you like to do on your trip? What makes these activities important to you? (If you know the root of why they enjoy certain activities, it will help you use your expertise to offer additional/comparable activities)
- Listen to your clients (and prove it): Beyond the Travel Interest Survey, when you are asking them the open-ended questions, take notes and send them a recap of your conversation when it’s complete.
- This is a practice that is common of consultants and adds a professional touch. But it also provides them an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings before you begin researching tips. Not only that, but you will show that you’re invested in their trip and that will entice them to book with you.
- Inform them of next steps (and your enthusiasm to move forward): When you’re completing qualifying your client, let them know what they can expect from you and what the next steps are. It may seem obvious to you, but it’s not to your client (especially new ones!)
If You Charge Consultation Fees
During your initial contact with a potential client, you’ll want to let them know IF you have any consultation/ planning/ booking service fees. You can either communicate this through your conversation with them or by directing them to a page on your site that outlines your fees. The important thing is that they actually read and understand it.
If you use an appointment-scheduling or form-building program, they may have the ability to accept payments (such as Acuity or JotForm). But even if you choose not to accept any initial payment at this time, this is when you’ll need to inform clients of any fees that don’t pertain directly to their travel.
If you have fees let clients know:
1. What is your fee structure and payment schedule (how much do they need to pay to retain your planning services?)
2. How many trip options/price points you are able/willing to research for them?
3. If you have any waivers/ fee agreements they need to sign. (Psst: If you have fees, this is a really good idea)
How to Qualify Clients, Live Audio!
Okay, this all sounds really good in theory right? But wouldn't it be nice if you could actually eavesdrop on an expert agent qualifying a client? Well you're in luck, because HAR has a very brave volunteer who is letting us do just that. Let me introduce to you, DeJuan Shorter, owner of The Timely Travel.
DeJuan recorded a chat with one of his clients, Sarah, who is planning a honeymoon to Maui. Just for a little context, DeJuan was chatting with Sarah after she filled out the travel form and before the planning fee was submitted. Here's a few things I love about DeJuan's audio (don't worry, I won't give away any major spoilers!):
- He expresses thanks for Sarah's business and time
- He values her time (accommodates to the fact that she is on her way to work)
- He confirms the larger details he needs to get planning like a boss: destination priorities, budget, duration
- He gets familiar with what resort style she wants
- He shows that he paid attention to her travel form and is listening by echoing and affirming some of the activities that are important to her and offer recommendations on other activities she may like based on what she filled out in the form.
- He gets a sense of what Sarah's transport preferences are, and gauges what level of adventure she wants and how much balance she seeks between activity and relaxation.
- He mentions that he will offer restaurant recommendations and a map with recommended sights based on her interests
- He is very clear and concise about next steps, let's Sarah know what she can expect from him in terms of itinerary ideas and timeline and irons out expectations with budget to make sure they're on the same page
- He offers ideas for tours (without getting too specific in terms of operator so a client couldn't turn around and book it)
- He does this all in 8min!!!
Don't take my word for it. Give it a listen!
Phew. That was a ton of info to take in. Here it is condensed into a tiny little article vitamin (just like you’ll be recapping convo’s with your client!)
- Have the potential client fill out a travel interest survey to make sure they’re a good fit for your agency model/ niche. From this form, you should understand the basic logistics of the trip they’d like to take.
- If you need to turn away the potential client, do it as soon as you can! Try to refer to them to an agent that will better suit their needs.
- Schedule a time to have an initial consultation with the prospective client over the phone, Skype, or in person to go into more depth about what kind of experience they’d like to have on their vacation.
- If you have fees for your initial consultation, ensure that your client is abundantly aware of this before you chat. If they submitted payment for the initial consultation, you’re amazing customer service will make them forget they paid you! If your consult is free, but you charge for planning itineraries, you can tell them during your phone call.
- After you speak with your client, send them a recap of your conversation (from the great notes you took while chatting).
- Send potential clients a thank you and Inform them of next steps!
- Follow up a few days after you spoke with them if you haven’t heard from them.
- If you see interesting articles or blog about their potential destination or type of travel, send it to them and to let them know their trip is on your mind.
More Site Resources
- Here’s What Suppliers Want you to Know About Booking Groups (includes a resource for qualifying groups specifically)
- Converting Leads to Happy Clients (a Las Vegas Travel Agent Forum panel synopsis)
- Working Smarter (Not Harder) with Technology (a Las Vegas Travel Agent Forum panel synopsis)
- Free Travel Agent Forms
Go Forth and Qualify
I don't know if you're feeling the tingles of confidence, but if you're not, I assure that I am feeling them on your behalf. Let's face it, if you made it this far, you're über prepared. Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Videos of you practicing qualifying clients with your office mascot? Drop a note in the comments!