Overcoming the Challenges of the Travel Industry’s Long Sales Cycles
The travel industry has longer-than-average sales cycles. Learn how Corporate Traveller used social selling to overcome that challenge.
January 10, 2017
In some industries, a sales cycle can conclude as quickly as it begins. If you’re selling inexpensive, impulsive products, the customer might decide to buy on the fly. Not so in the travel industry, and especially not in my line of work at a boutique business travel management company.
In extreme cases, we’ve had clients take as many as five years to progress through the sales funnel. What’s the cause of these lengthy sales cycles? Relationships. Businesses will only buy from travel managers who they know, like, and trust—and that trust takes time to build.
Surprisingly, committing to these strong relationships is also the best solution to the challenges created by long sales cycles.
Why Lengthy Sales Cycles Take More Than Time
At Corporate Traveller, our business model rests on building strong, enduring relationships—and that’s no easy feat. Authentic relationships are absolutely vital in the B2B travel sector: you need to completely understand a company’s culture before you can understand how they’ll procure travel. It’s not just the decision makers at the top you need to talk with—it’s also the travelers themselves.
That means connecting and communicating with people at nearly every level of a target organization. It can takes years to establish that familiarity, but it’s time well spent. When we get a client, we rarely lose them, precisely because we’ve invested in these strong, durable relationships.
Of course, while they pay dividends over time, these long-term relationships and long-term cycles also present certain challenges.
The client loyalty we’ve earned is irreplaceable, but it also means a bigger upfront investment before we start seeing returns. That means we really need to be productive with our time. Keeping track of people and staying in contact with them over long periods can also be difficult—especially if we’re working with a contractor who tends to move around.
Finally, the long sales process leaves us vulnerable if an employee leaves mid-sale, whether it’s a sales rep on our side who has built valuable relationships or our point-of-contact on the prospect’s side. Fortunately, we’ve recently discovered social selling—using social media to interact with prospects—and it’s made a major impact in helping us overcome each of these challenges.
Expanding Our Sales Approach Beyond Cold Calling
For years, cold calling was the number one way we approached new clients. Then, a couple years ago, we started exploring ways to improve our productivity and output; technology has disrupted our industry, since it’s easier than ever for small companies to book travel packages online.
We realized that to be more productive, we needed more varied ways to approach and communicate with prospects—that’s when we discovered social selling and LinkedIn Sales Navigator. We’ve found that the technology enables us to lessen the challenges of a long sales cycle, sometimes in surprising ways.
Most obviously, tracking individuals and staying in touch is far easier online than it is over the phone. We’ll save our prospects as leads, see any important updates, and find new opportunities to reach out and touch base. It has enabled us to reconnect with older partners and keep ourselves top of mind with current prospects.
Social selling has also made it easier to connect with multiple people at the same company, which is incredibly important—if one employee leaves, all your ties won’t get severed with one cut. Aside from reducing the risk of churn, making multiple connections is part and parcel of our sales strategy, getting to know a company from top to bottom.
Our sales team also simply loves the tool—and that’s more critical than it might seem at first blush. We want to support our sales reps with the best tools, and we want them to enjoy their work. We always ensure that all our customers have more than one point-of-contact with our company, but we still suffer setbacks if a salesperson leaves. Equipping them with the best tools means they’re more likely to stay with us, and that protects the valuable relationships we’ve invested in.
Picking up the phone is still a major part of our sales process, but it’s not the only way anymore. About half of our revenue is now influenced by Sales Navigator. Cultivating long-term relationships isn’t easy, but social selling strategies do make it easier for us in the travel industry. Once we’ve secured those relationships, it’s just a matter of keeping clients happy—and that’s our favorite part of the job.