Today we live in world where we have to be found. How does that happen? Think about the searches we do ourselves when trying to do research when trying to make a purchase. We do searches, we “Google” it, and we go to others for recommendations, getting names of people and companies they use and more. The same holds true when trying to grow your business. Being found is even more critical because you don’t want to be the best kept secret as far as your expertise and what do you best. Yes, we need to be also be visible in ongoing ways and efforts.
My Experience Being a Best Kept Secret
Today the world is also about building your own personal brand, and being known for what you do. A travel business colleague, Dan Chappelle, the founder of The Wealthy Travel Agent Academy, wrote a terrific article, “What makes you Special.” He focused on the area of being special, and explained, “You want to be known for something so specific that prospects will seek out your services.” Dan then said you need to be clear on who you are and who you are not. Asking yourself, “What makes you special?” is critical. Then he mentioned “What do you want to been known for?” It “hit home with me” because I’m now making clear efforts to get my brand clear, what I do best, and my key areas of expertise as well as what makes me special.
Thinking back, I knew I was known for certain things. Business people and industry executives also had some assumptions about me, yet they didn’t know exactly the key specializations I have and my expertise.
When I first started working in the travel industry at a retail full service travel agency, I saw a growth in the cruise industry. So I specialized in selling cruises, and managed to increase our agency cruise sales over 700% in my first 4 years there, with no designated marketing budget. Later I started contributing guest columns to different travel agency publications, and got labeled as a writer. My ongoing diverse writing continues today but I am more than “just a writer.” I have developed new skills, with expertise as a diverse business and visual storyteller.
Now I’m completely focused on “what makes me special” and “what I want to be known for.” It will help me achieve my next goal and hit my target by my self-imposed deadline.
I will not be that best kept secret. Yes, I am working on conveying exactly what makes me special and what I want to be known for.
A Great Secret Weapon that Helped Promote a Team — Sister Jean and Loyola Ramblers
Having a positive impact is part of my management style, and often I’ve done the behind the scenes work to achieve this, not taking credit for it. Why? I’ve never been one to brag about myself and didn’t want others to view me as someone who had an ego. But after looking at successful people I have learned that sharing key things in a genuine way and having a positive “voice” is good. That’s what though leaders do.
A recent example that reiterates this was the recent 2018 NCAA tournament. Being a Loyola University Chicago alumni myself (I did my MBA there) I was so excited when the Loyola Ramblers basketball team moved from being one of the 16 basketball teams in the finals into the Final Four. They were considered the “underdogs,” but another fun, and inspirational part of their continual winning was Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt. This very active 98 year-old nun, known as Sister Jean, is Loyola Chicago’s team chaplain, and probably the biggest Loyola basketball fan. Sister Jean has been the basketball team’s chaplain since 1994. She was a basketball player in her youth, became a nun, and then taught at Mundelein College. When Mundelein College merged with Loyola University Chicago, she then became an academic advisor before moving into her current role as team chaplain.
Her energy didn’t stop when a hip injury disrupted her attending some of the games. She continued to send emails to coach Porter Moser after the basketball games, providing encouragement. And Sister Jean would leave individualized notes for the team players. When the Loyola Ramblers made it into the Final Four this spring, she became part of their inspirational story, all in a positive way. She was at the games, cheering the team members on, along with saying special prayers.
With the coverage of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, yes, Sister Jean became a positive national focus, with countless interviews.
She became not only an inspiration to the Loyola Ramblers, but also an inspiration to the world. The Loyola Ramblers were no longer the underdogs, nor that best kept secret.
Sister Jean has also become an inspiration to me as well, and her genuine positive impact and story are a terrific lesson.
Insights from Robert Huffman, Vice President Sales, USA for Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours, Scenic Eclipse and Emerald Waterways
Robert “Rob” Huffman became Vice President Sales, USA for Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours, Scenic Eclipse, and Emerald Waterways in fall of 2017, bringing with his diverse successful sales background. His background also includes working in a travel agency. We talked about things travel professionals can do so they’re not that best kept secret in the ever changing travel industry and he first shared more about his background.
I asked Rob to share more about his experience working in a travel agency, which was actually one his parents owned. Rob said, “I have so many terrific memories having been raised in a travel agency. Even in the early 1970’s my parents were very active in hosting travel shows and consumer events. I recall their annual travel show, using a prominent hotel in Memphis with many different vendors present. It certainly provided increased exposure for the agency and of course the objective was to drive sales, but it was such a fun event with many travel options and activities.”
Rob then continued, and said, “Another memory was their desire and commitment to continuously evolve, staying knowledgeable on current trends and travel options. Forty or so years ago they did not have the technology we are so lucky to have today, so the effort to obtain information and training was a bit more challenging. Even in the mid-1970’s, a time when the cruise industry was in its infancy and not even remotely as popular as it is today, I recall my father selling and escorting a group of over 200 guests aboard Carnival’s ship, Mardi Gras. This was a result of their commitment to expanding their knowledge of new products in the marketplace.”
While working at the agency, Rob explained, “The one core value, the one that most impacted me personally and remains with me today, was the commitment my parents had to both their clients and employees. They truly cherished and valued their clients, always providing that personal touch, and their employees were like family. Believe it or not, I still have former clients and employees approach me today sharing fond memories of their experiences with Huffman & Reiter Travel.”
How to Stay on Top in today’s Competitive and Fast Paced World
Having worked on the other side of the business (in past roles at other cruise lines) and now in his current role as Vice President Sales USA, Rob and I then discussed more of what travel professionals can do to bring in new clients along with successfully taking care of existing ones, so they grow their businesses.
Rob first said, “Let’s face it, we live in an extremely fast paced and competitive world. Staying ‘top of mind’ with existing and potential clients can be a challenge, especially with all the information we have at our fingertips. It has never been more important to have a meaningful marketing plan and sales strategy to ensure we remain relevant in today’s travel marketplace. A marketing plan does not have to be an overwhelming, exhaustive task, rather a vehicle that provides a clear and concise path to ensure your agency is on track to exceed your goals. When creating a marketing plan, we need to ask ourselves, ‘what truly differentiates me from my competition?’ Maybe it’s as easy as picking up the phone to call and thank a client for their past business or to let them know you saw a terrific offer and it made you think of them. Perhaps it is sending a hand written note with a similar message.”
Rob then continued on and mentioned, “Yes, technology is certainly powerful and here to stay, but imagine the lasting impression this effort and personal touch leaves on a client. Both the challenge and opportunity is to create customer loyalty. Another effective option is to leverage social media. The opportunity to actively engage with clients by sharing exciting photos and videos of specific products, and even your own personal travel experience, is quite powerful. Seeing friends post comments and sharing their travel experience with others – especially as it happens - opens opportunities that might not have existed previously while lending credibility to you as the booking agent or agency. Just make sure to ask your clients to tag your agency!”
How to Deal with the Visibility Challenge
Rob and I then talked more about the transition of travel professionals being home based rather than having a retail office. Not having that visibility can be a challenge, and I asked Rob, “How can travel agents best market themselves? Any suggestions and ideas you can share about the travel agent professionals you know who have successfully dealt with that?”
Rob said, “In my humble opinion, a savvy and dedicated travel professional is a savvy and dedicated travel professional, regardless of where their office may be. As our industry continuously evolves, and technology becomes more innovative, the physical location of a travel professional’s office becomes less important. Regardless of office location, true travel professionals share the same commitment to their clients and craft. Some of the most impressive and successful agents I’ve had the pleasure of working with have been home based. They use many tactics to create visibility in their markets, including staying committed to their marketing plan, looking for opportunities to engage with local associations and organizations in an effort to promote both their business and perhaps a specific product, consistently hosting consumer events every 4-6 weeks and always staying in touch with past clients while asking for referrals.
How Rob is Focusing on the Challenge of Brand Awareness in the US Market
I then mentioned to Rob that in his relatively new role, he’s very focused on growing Scenic’s relationship with travel agent partners so they don’t forget about the Scenic Group. I asked him, “How are you doing that and ‘getting the word out,’ so to speak? What efforts are you doing?”
Rob said, “We are without question unequivocally committed to our travel partners. There simply is nothing more important to our success than the support we receive from the trade. As an Australian based company, quite bluntly our number one challenge in the US Market is brand recognition. While true we are still somewhat new to the US, many of our partners view us as a ‘new’ or ‘start-up’ business, not realizing we have been providing our guests with phenomenal travel experiences across the globe for over 30 years.”
Rob continued, explaining, “Our primary focus and opportunity, quite simply, is increased visibility and training, allowing us to share ‘The Scenic Group story’ ensuring that our travel partners are aware of our brands while understanding the incredible value and experience we provide their clients. Our team of Business Development Managers are dedicated to working closely with our travel partners in providing product training, assisting with the creation and implementation of marketing plans, planning and hosting consumer events and anything else we can do to earn their trust and confidence. We undeniably want the business and are willing to do all we can to cultivate a meaningful, mutually beneficial and lasting relationship with our partners.”
Rob’s Suggestions on What Travel Professionals Should do so they’re NOT the Best Kept Secret
Finally Rob and I talked more about what suggestions he had for travel professionals today, so they are NOT the best kept secret. I asked Rob, “What have you’ve seen that works? How are these travel professionals visually out there in a positive way?”
Rob provided some great insights, and said, “There are so many things that travel professionals can do that would positively impact their business. First and foremost, always look to engage with your local Business Development Managers to leverage their knowledge, expertise and experience – in short, use them as much as you need to because your success is their success. Inquire as to what they are seeing work with other accounts across the territory and look for opportunities to implement those that make sense in your market.’
Rob then went on and suggested, “Don’t be afraid to try new things or take calculated risks. Whether it’s looking for a unique marketing opportunity, learning about a product that you’re not familiar with or having the confidence to reach out to a fellow travel professional whom you respect for advice and direction. Success is a result of good judgement. Good judgment is a result of experience. Experience is a result of learning from past decisions. The reality is when we take calculated risks, we learn from our decisions and ultimately carve a path to greater success.”
Don’t be the Best Kept Secret
Building your brand awareness and showing your expertise is something we all need to do today. It really goes back to knowing what makes you special, and what you want to be known for. That will help us really carve out that path to success, and something I’ve been learning myself, thanks to Dan Chappelle, Rob Huffman, and Sister Jean. Once again, it’s about keeping visible so we’re not the best kept secret.