Hope is often applied to managed travel – the other kind of hope. We hope that travelers will comply with our policies, we hope our CFO understands why rates go up, and we hope that we’ll have the best sales people, account managers and consultants assigned to us. Travel Management is notoriously lax at holding people accountable. For most airlines it’s nearly impossible to identify and measure sales teams against a metric they control that flows to profitability. All too often they’re not held accountable. Consultants are often treated the same way – many people act as if one is as good as the next. Experience proves otherwise. In the hotel and airline business awards are often given to the sales person responsible for customers in an industry or location that’s growing while scorn is offered to the person living and working in a declining market. This is where Travel Managers come in. Great account managers can be found anywhere (even declining markets) and you’re just as likely to find mediocre performance in growing markets. You must provide feedback to enhance your program and to serve your customers better and you do that by being part of the assignment process. This is where assertiveness is important.
Successful programs rely on great partners. Those partners develop and contribute outstanding account managers. Those managers share three qualities that you should focus on: 1. Competence; 2. Initiative; 3. Fit. All three are necessary for a best-in-class program.
Competence: combines a thorough understanding of the market, customer, products, policies, and procedures. Competent Sales people listen and ask questions before making sound recommendations. This can be improved with training and experience.
Initiative: take the appropriate action to solve or prevent a problem. These people are responsive – they’re on top of issues and have a sense of urgency commensurate with the situation. Improvements in this area often requires an attitude change – it’s more difficult to improve than competence, but good customers shouldn’t bear too many mistakes that thorough talent selection could solve.
Fit: Often overlooked, but personality characteristics and nuances are important to develop respectful, trusting relationships. Your account manager or consultant should be someone you enjoy working with and you should be comfortable around them. Too often Travel Managers tolerate bad behavior from account managers – they don’t return calls, they’re dressed inappropriately for meetings, they are slow to respond to problems, they have a sense of humor that is offensive to others. The list goes on, but sometimes what works with a few customers doesn’t work well with others and you shouldn’t tolerate it. Great account managers should hold customers accountable for their performance too – but sometimes everything else being equal, the fit just isn’t there and when it isn’t you should take action.
You get what you reward – if you make it a priority to gain one excellent airline sales person and two or more outstanding Hotel sales managers each year on your terms, you would very quickly build a network that will delight your travelers and make your job easier. You can even make freedom of choice part of your RFP process to tie it to something positive for the vendor.
Asking for sales people by name is very easy. But how do you get their name in the first place? I’ve discussed this problem with a few friends in the medical field and their example is instructive. How do you pick a great surgeon?
A great surgeon isn’t someone with good bedside manners (they might score well in this category, but it’s insufficient) – its the person who is calm under pressure when things don’t go right; a person who makes good choices about how to handle this never-seen-before situation. These are surgeons who are quick to ask a medical device representative standing next to the operating table – “how have other surgeon’s handled this successfully?”
You don’t find the best one by asking another doctor – they’re rarely in surgery together. Anesthesiologists and surgical nurses have a small consideration set. That brings us back to medical device sales people. They see many surgeons as they operate and they have more evidence and better experience to give you an educated referral.
Great consultants, sales people, and account managers can be identified through your network – ask your peers and your suppliers’ sales leaders which sales person or consultant they admire or they have heard frequent compliments about from shared customers. travel industry sales leaders generally have a larger customer network since they manage teams and are exposed to most of the largest, high touch customers in their area. It’s also helpful to understand that sales and consulting leaders maintain balanced territories – so if you don’t ask for someone by name, you’ll often be assigned the person who is available, and good people rarely have a light load. Consultants will have a larger impact on your program; it’s acceptable and I recommend that you ask about your consultant’s training and experience before a project or contract is implemented. Suppliers don’t offer different price points based on the team they assign to support you and you have a right to make requests related to this part of their offer.
Due diligence about your vendor’s personnel is your responsibility, and the management leaders who do this well will achieve championship results.