In the feature I wrote for Travel Bulletin at the beginning of this year, under the ITT heading, I spoke of my experience with Inga (and if you didn’t read the article let me reassure you – as you will learn it was a totally innocent experience). I spoke about the way that Inga bustled about behind her bar, cleaning and sorting, even though she needn’t have done so – simply to create a good impression for her customers. 

And, having had another, somewhat different, experience in a bar more recently, it occurred to me that, as there must be many Travel Bulletin readers who haven’t read some of my earlier articles, I felt it would do no harm to look again at some of the basics of selling.


Rapport: The key that unlocks the sale We all buy things, whether we like it or not. And there are many ways that we can do it – more now than at any time in history. But many people still choose to use shops and similar places, rather than buy online or by telephone, even though it is often less convenient and more expensive to do so.

Why do many people still go to their local butchers to buy their meat, their local pub to buy their beer – or their local travel agent to book their holidays? What is the “extra” that shops can offer that many people are still prepared to pay for? I suggest that it is the extra that only people can bring – the pleasure of dealing with other people who are happy to deal with you. Of course, being in the travel business I don’t suppose that many of you ever go into pubs and bars (we are all such a sober lot) – but just for a moment imagine you might. Why would you pay £3 for a glass of wine in a pub when you could get a whole bottle for that kind of money in a supermarket? Trust me, it is the atmosphere and ambience that you are willing to pay extra for. And if the pub is staffed by a miserable landlord who makes it quite clear that your presence is an inconvenient interruption to his way of life – you only go there the once.

Rapport starts before your customer enters your office To continue the pub analogy – if you spotted a pub where the lights weren’t on, the door was closed and covered with notices advertising last week’s events, and with no indication of its opening hours – would you want to walk in or simply walk by? And if you decided, because you really wanted that drink, to go in and, behind the bar was a barman or barmaid wearing a scruffy top that was obviously a freebie and a pair of jeans that looked as though they came from a jumble sale – would you bother to order?

Of course, I am not suggesting that any one of your offices is as bad as that – but have you looked to see how welcoming they actually are? Are the windows clean and uncluttered and, if you use special offer cards, are they all clearly visible and up to date? How about the door? Are your opening hours clearly indicated and is an out of hours emergency contact shown – assuming you have such a thing? How about your brochure racks? Are they kept full and tidy and is the layout system you use clear and unambiguous? How about your counter or desks? Are they clear and uncluttered with all your working materials kept out of sight of the customers? Apart from the tidiness aspect, there is a security risk if customers can see others’ files. Don’t just assume that everything’s fine, after all, familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes. As you walk into and around your offices, you are so familiar with them that you probably don’t even notice how things are. So here’s a little exercise for you the next time you are in a strange place. Go to a travel agency where you are not known. Look at their doors and windows and see how welcoming they are.

If you have time, walk in and see how comfortable you feel. Then compare the way that they do things with the way that you do them, and make some judgements. And how about you? No matter how smart your office might be, in the end it all comes down to you. You have but one chance to create an impression – and you can so easily make that first impression a negative one. And you won’t get another chance to make that first impression. Indeed, you might never get a chance even to make a second impression since the customer whose impression of you was negative might walk out – and never walk back in. Just think how many times you have done just that – and the pub, restaurant or clothes shop that you walked out of never even knew that they’d lost your business for all time.

Some simple techniques: I was in another pub recently (actually, I do spend a bit of time in other places – but pubs are a good example of a place where customers have a lot of choice and bad sales techniques mean that customers exercise that choice and go elsewhere) and, to be fair, the place was pretty good – a nice range of good beers and helpful staff. But I did notice one thing that was not as it might have been. A man walked in with his partner and it was clear from their attitude that they were strangers to the area. The pub was busy and they had to wait – and they very nearly walked out. And why was this?

It was one of the simplest errors and one which I fear we are all guilty of. They were not acknowledged. What do I mean by that? Simple, in any business there are times when you have things to do – in a pub it might be passing an order to the kitchen, washing some glasses or collecting used plates. In your own offices you might be refilling the brochure racks, waiting on the telephone or serving another customer. And this was the kind of thing that was happening in the pub. And the staff were bustling around, clearly busy – and not one of them looked at the poor couple standing there.

OK, the staff might not have been able to deal with them right away – but one or other of staff could easily have looked at the couple and, by no more than a smile and a nod of the head, have acknowledged them so they knew they were “in the queue”.

Have you been guilty of this? When a customer comes in you avoid immediate eye contact as you want to get on with something else? Think about it – all the time that customer is waiting, unacknowledged, he or she is fretting and wondering how long the wait will be. As you yourselves will know, providing you know that someone will soon be dealing with you, the wait doesn’t matter anywhere near so much.

Of course, there are many other techniques that we use in order to create rapport and I’ll be looking at some of them in later articles. But for the moment, just bear this thought in mind: You will never sell anything to someone you don’t get on with – they might buy from you if there’s no other choice – but that’s not the same thing at all. And as we discussed at the beginning of this article – these days customers have more choice than ever before.

For more information about this, or any other aspect of training, contact Richard English at Dormers, Church Road, Partridge Green, West Sussex, RH13 8JS. Telephone 01403 710371 or email

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