peter marshIn my previous article I looked at personal attitude. Equally important, however, is your attitude to your business and your readiness to "think outside the box" so that you may not only survive but also thrive.

People in general, and more specifically your customers, make decisions on how to spend their money and what to buy. This might be a new car, a new house or perhaps even a holiday. Then they make the decision where to buy it. Competition for consumer spend has never been tighter so how do you make sure, as a travel retailer or homeworker, that you get your hands on this spend? How do you make sure that the door that the customer walks through is yours and not someone else's?

Whilst agencies and homeworkers may be in different locations and may have vastly different working practices one thing is common to any travel operation and that is marketing. Marketing is a business philosophy; a way of looking at business, if you like. Leading marketer, Theodore Levitt, once said: "Marketing is where the customer is, and it is the customer who in the end decides the fate of the business."

First and foremost, marketing is about making sure that the business is adequately equipped to deal with the current and future needs of its customers. Next marketing management seeks to offer the customer something tailored so closely to their needs that it makes no sense to go anywhere else.

A successful travel agency is one that differentiates itself from its competitors in a positive way both to retain existing customers and to entice potential customers away from the competition. There can be no sounder way to create and maintain a successful business and there is no sounder way of achieving this than focusing on the needs of existing and future customers and organising the business around meeting those needs.

What this does mean, however, is paying particular attention to the current needs of the customer and even anticipating what those needs may become in the future so as to deliver continuous customer satisfaction.

Marketing actions for travel agents: stand back and look critically at your current operation:

· What is your catchment area? Or what is your specialism?

· How many customers come in, phone or email? When? Where from?

· In how many cases do your staff get a really clear understanding of what these potential customers want?

· In how many of these cases do they make a sale?

· How often was the full range of services offered?

· How often was some extra service actually sold?

· How do these figures vary from consultant to consultant?

These enquiries will highlight some areas that would benefit from closer attention

Consider how to get more people into the agency or contacting you:

· Diversification into new areas, what plans do you have?.

· What do you do to obtain new types of business (tailor making, groups, niche areas etc.)?

· What potential groups, just for example, exist in your area?

· How many have you contacted?

What new business should you look at as a result of changes in the travel industry or even local developments or demographics?

Advertising

· What advertising do you do?

· What results are you aiming for?

· How will you check the effectiveness of your advertising?

· How attractive is your website? How often is it updated?

· How well do you use your client list for email campaigns?

Publicity and Promotion

· How often do you get publicity for any of your services?

· How deliberately do you plan to get publicity?

· Who are your local media contacts?

· What stories or information can you provide them with?

· How are you using social networking?

· In what other ways can you promote the agency name?

This is only an indication of the areas worth considering and analysing. Focusing on them will provide you with the information of the areas that need attention to gain you more business.

Know what the competition is doing and try to make critical comparisons.

· Where are you more successful than your competitors? Why?

· In what ways are your competitors more successful than you? Why?

· If a competitor were to acquire your business what would they do to make it more effective?

When you do plan to do something, first pick those areas where the pay-off is reasonably certain.

Next choose areas where the pay-off is not so certain but even with a modest effort the return is worthwhile.

Remember that time is usually the most difficult thing to find. You will usually be most successful in the areas with which you are reasonably familiar, so always give more time to the unfamiliar areas and expect to have to think and plan more carefully to achieve the results you desire.

By considering your marketplace and viewing your business through your customer's eyes you will start to make that vital difference which puts you ahead of the competition.

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