Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Wrap Up

Everyone is tired and ready for a break. After a quick wrap up and a discussion of logistics, we'll call it a day! The word of wisdom from Sheri:
"The first bus arrives 15 minutes before the second bus. The bar opens when the first bus arrives. Need I say more?"
Goodbye and goodnight.

Individual Sessions: Innovative Websites

A quick overview of websites that you should know about:

Seat Guru (
Great resource to help you find the best seat for your client.
Comparison of pitch, etc. at

theAirDB (
Great resource about airlines and destinations, news and updates.
Allows search by country or search by airline

Kayak (
Great resource for research airfare particularly for agents who don't book air themselves.
"Chart View" lets you look at pricing trends on a timeline.
Somewhat similar to SideStep (

Weissmann Reports (
Select by Country then "Add Destinations" to add in specific cities or areas
To customize: bring it into word, take things out that you don't want, add in your own header
"Agents choice" (button) has some good information
Also "Tools" (button) has some great resources

Star Service (
Search can be tricky. Don't choose too many options. Start really general and then start adding more criteria to narrow it down. Completely independent reviewer. You can create a report and send directly to your client. Same as Weissmann, you can download and edit before sending.

Vacations-to-Go (
Great information about cruises. Includes pricing for your information. It shows quickly who is selling where and when and general pricing. for a nice grid about family cruises is an alternative for similar info about tours

Maps (
You can get custom walking maps, you can drag the route around, you can show "street level" view. Drag the "little man" around to see the view from where you walk. Can also see satellite view and do a "search nearby" to find restaurants, attractions, etc. You can save maps to send to clients and share them with others.

Virtuoso Life (
You can view the magazine, bookmark a page, add notes to pages.

Yapta (
Find and track prices for airline tickets. You can set up alerts so you know when prices change.

The "After Party": Karaoke Anyone?

Photo Source: Patrick William Studio (PWP)

Here's what they are looking at!!!

Photo Source: Patrick William Studio (PWP)

What are they looking at?

Photo Source: Patrick William Studio (PWP)

The Prize Winners....

A few photos from the winners from last night

Photo Source (All Photos): Patrick William Studio (PWP)

Individual Sessions: Say What with Tom LaVacarre

Tom LaVacarre with kicks off the afternoon sessions.

Quick review from last year. How have we done?

Response Time: Response time is better than last year
Accuracy of Response: Accuracy and detail is tremendous
Understanding the Problem: Room for improvement

Always seek to understand before you offer up a solution. Rework is the kiss of death for productivity. Stop. Slow down. Find the need.

7 Core Values of a supporting team (recap from presentation from last year):
  • Urgency
  • Loyalty
  • Duty
  • Respect
  • Selfless Service
  • Honor
  • Personal Courage
Mirror the words, match the tone and rate of speech. "I'm in a rush. This is important!" In response say "Got it. I'll rush to get this important thing done."

Be aware of learning styles. Visual vs. Auditory vs. Kinesthetic. Also paper vs. computer. As an example, for a visual learner (show, show, show). For auditory" listen, listen, listen. They love the phone. Might even close their eyes to listen more carefully.

Be aware of "luxury language". Might bring back fond memories. Examples are "certainly', "it is my pleasure", "pardon me".

Be aware of being too quick to respond before understanding the problem. "Eat the sandwich one bite at a time". Use the words "please allow me to recap..." Listen. Start writing a few words as you think of solutions but don't speak. Keep listening.

Ritz uses W+S (warm & sincere greeting) then P (pain) and then Q (questions) and finally R (response/solution)

Set expectations! The "trial close" gives you the opportunity to discuss or negotiate response time. Do your best to beat the time -- even beating it slightly can make an impression.

It is OK to say "I don't know". If you know who CAN get the answer, that's just as good as knowing the answer yourself.

Communicate in the same "mode". If email is their first choice, use email. If it is face-to-face, go see them in person. Think about the mode before responding.

"Relevant stories" sell everything in life.

It's okay (as a last resort) to provide a partial solution. Address those things you can and postpone those that you can't. It's better to address 3 out of 4 things than to not address any.
The final word(s):
  • Be Proactive.
  • Communicate Clearly.
  • Use "Trial Close" liberally -- it allows you to avoid rework.

Individual Sessions: Value Statement Workshop

Using online collaboration software called "thinktank" from GroupSystems (

Three questions posed to the group:
  1. What is the significance of developing a trusted advisor relationship with clients?
  2. What steps can you take to become more of a trusted advisor?
  3. What do you currently do that gets in the way of becoming more of a trusted advisor?
Value = "I am the cheapest therapy they could hope for with a fantastic experience at the end"

My job description reads " hassle remover"

From a buyers perspective (subset of original list of 10):
  1. Working with someone who has the ability to discover, understand, and care about my needs.
  2. Working with someone who has expertise, experience, and knowledge beyond the basics
  3. Working with someone I trust who is dedicated to finding me the best value
  4. Working with someone who anticipates needs that I did not know I had
  5. Working with someone who "lives" the trip with me
  6. Working with someone who gets the details right
4 core elements
  1. Establish excitement (in Troy's talk called intimacy): artwork in your office, passion for travel, you've been there & done that (you've been there), be yourself & have your own style, tell a personal story, "delighted to hear from someone interested in Ireland as it is my favorite place", you get excited and they get excited
  2. Establish credibility for yourself and the company (in Troy's talk also called credibility): need to internalize this and really believe it, there are so many amazing resources within our org so you can be confident about any and every destination and property, source of pride which makes it easy to give a sense of "wow", use traveltribe and talk about it openly (cannot know everything), it's all about confidence that you can say "i don't know" but you can get the information, talk about our partners "on the ground" and promote them heavily, nothing says credibility like a satisfied client who will give you a testimonial on your website, use the website!, promote Brownell's longevity
  3. "It's all in the details..." (in Troy's talk called reliability). Outline what you will do for them. Paint them a picture. Don't over-promise. Give them very unique and specific insights into the experience, use the phrase "can you imagine?", help them understand how you will work with them, even with an email lead get them to a conversation
  4. The close. Position fees & call to action. Think through "at what point to you present your fees?" Don't want to appear to bait & switch. Go through 1 to 3 in 15 minutes and then close them. Matthew adds "there really is power in creating an (individualized) process and giving it a name. You aren't just giving them a fee schedule but you call it something else like a blueprint for success."
Your homework: What is your value statement?

Morning Session #2: Troy

Time to get serious. We have lots of work to do with this new "Trusted Advisor" initiative.

Entering a golden age of travel. All the indicators are still there. 2x as many people in our target demographic as there currently is. Wealth transfer is still significant.

It just might be that the destruction of the fixation on materialism puts us in a great position -- to deliver a meaningful, authentic, memorable experience. This can only happen if the client trusts you.
How do you build this trust? (With clients, with co-workers, with suppliers.)

Answer: Trust Advisor: Making the Transition from Agent to Advisor
Can we change? Absolutely. How do we change ourselves to make this shift?
  1. Stage One: Vendor/Agent
  2. Stage Two: Expert
  3. Stage Three: Value Resource
  4. Stage Four: Trusted Advisor
There are four components to building trust.
  • Credibility. Most commonly achieved. Our comfort zone.
  • Reliability. About dependability and consistency. Words = deeds.
  • Intimacy. Most common failure. Does not mean sharing private lives. Means sharing personal things related to issues at hand. Being emotionally close. Examples: recognize the "good" (anniversaries, birthdays) and the "bad" (anniversary of a death, etc.)
  • Low Self Orientation. Greatest killer of trust. Being selfish. Appearing to be in it for the money. Focus on ourselves instead of the client. We are all "wired" this way. Have to break the natural cycle.
You need to develop a plan. What's your "Trusted Advisor Action Plan?" Create it now. List each characteristic. What do you do well with respect to that characteristic? What can you do to improve?

Credibility: Don't tell lies or exaggerate -- ever. Be passionate. When you don't know it, say you don't know it. Relax. Prepare. Slow down. Love your product & show it!

Reliability: Make (and keep) your commitments. Send meeting materials in advance. Review the agenda with the client and, most importantly, confirm the agenda with the client before getting started (things may have changed.) Reconfirm events before they happen. Think about what to do in the gap between an invoice & a trip. Keep the "touch" level high. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

Intimacy: Don't be afraid. Find the fun & fascination. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Think about the words you use. One of you has to make the first move -- and it's you! Eliminate distractions. Be truly with the client. Have a system for keeping track of things since you can't remember everything. Take notes every time you speak with a client. For suppliers -- getting outside the office is where the real relationship building happens. Recognize that different people respond to different "styles" -- understand your client. There is always something you can find in common with your client to build intimacy. It is so important to say "hi, here is who I am" and "tell me about you". We're in a world where there is no relationship building and people are craving it. Make that personal call -- now.

Low Self-Interest: Pause. Open ended questions. Let the client fill the empty spaces in the conversation. Best open ended question "When you have taken this trip, what would have to have happened for you to think it was a fabulous trip?"

Being a trusted advisor will set us apart. We are making the transition. Hold ourselves accountable. Be aware. Take the risks. Pick up the phone. Think about how to build the trust and do it now.

Final thought: who is your accountability partner? You can't do it alone.

Morning Session #1: Matthew Upchurch

It all started when Meg North (then as Destinations, Inc.) joined API. After the merger with Brownell, there was a major challenge. Brownell was a member of the AMEX consortium. Meg threw down the gauntlet -- "come to Birmingham and convince Troy to join API". It felt like Matthew was wearing a target on his back. Luckily, the partnership was formed.
"The most important trip you make is the one from agent to advisor"
This is a new Virtuoso initiative is led by Troy and it is the "final frontier". How do we avoid becoming a commodity? This is it...

Steps on this journey start with this question "what are you selling?" The answer? "YOU!" You are the product. YOU create unique experiences in the way clients interact with you. A unique experience is the opposite of a commodity experience. Every industry struggles to avoid becoming a commodity. We must avoid become a victim of commoditization.

The current model: I will do all these things for you -- and get paid at the end. Even if you don't charge up front (and you should), you must understand how much service you are providing all along the way. When you charge for planning, there is a huge (positive) psychological impact. Even if you don't charge, your clarity about your unique process will demonstrate your value.

Create your own unique process. Think about the uniqueness you bring to working with your clients and bring it into the process as you build their experience. Our challenge is to change the conversation with our clients from mostly reactive to actively and consistently proactive. One way to think about this is "What if this volatility becomes the norm?" Being a commodity in a deflationary time is not a good place to be. Be advisors providing customers with direction, confidence, and capability.

"What's your return on life?" campaign in response to current financial situation. Studies show that the affluent are prioritizing experiences over "stuff".

On Wed Matthew was asked by MSNBC. "When it comes to travel this year, I am especially thankful for...". His response (paraphrase) When it comes to travel this year, I am especially thankful for how travel has impacted who I am as well as my family. I barely remember xmas presents but marvel at the detail and emotions of amazing trips we've taken together...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Afternoon Session: Open Microphone Networking Discussion

Rebecca and Sheri take the reins for the "open mic" session on Networking.

Since we ran out of time in the morning, they kicked off with a short discussion of blogging. David Ourisman talks about his "Travel Horizons" blog ( This generated lots of discussion:
How often do you have to update? Answer: At least once a week

How do you know the person is legit? Answer: How do they know you are legit?

Do you need a professional to help you? Answer: No! It is soooo easy.

Really? I don't need help? Answer: If you can get through 1 hour of CB+ training, you can do this.
Now, time for the afternoon session to REALLY start.

Kicking it off -- the most important business lesson(s):
  • Never put anything on your credit card assuming your client will pay you back!
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up on every booking (example was "I didn't follow up and they booked it online.)
  • Avoid letting "shoppers" take advantage of you. How to know? When they ask, "What is your price?" Solutions: Ask for a fee, always require a credit card number to take them as a client and charge a cancellation fee, after conversation follow up with letter proposal and an invoice for consulting fee with credit card authorization form, call their bluff (have a good time!)
  • Stay on top of accounting and tax issues
  • The power of an online presence (even Facebook!)
  • Developing relationships and networking with key partners (including hotel reps) is invaluable
  • Be very clear about your fees up front
  • Have a tough cancellation fee. (Or at least have a cancellation fee!) Question: Is there a standard fee in Brownell? Answer: 15% on bottom of invoice? No conclusion.
  • Put everything in writing and be sure to have clients accept (or decline) insurance in writing. Strongly encourage them to call a claims agent to ensure they fully understand what is and what is not covered.
20 minutes left in this session. Provided a list of suggested topics for discussion:

  • Best practices for client events & success stories
  • Successful tips for building business niches
  • When to outsource admin work (i.e. when to get an assistant)
  • Examples of time saving tips
  • Sharing of marketing tips, ways to encourage referrals, wow-ing clients
  • How do other IC's handle fees? When are they charged, how much, tips for communicating
  • How to effectively close a sale
  • How to know when the Virtuoso hotel rate your are booking does, or does not, include Virtuoso amenities
Group selected "when to outsource admin work" as the topic for discussion. Gay Gillen Stone talked about her experience with the wrong admin. Advised that you should think about what the person should be and what they should do so you can hire the right person. David Ourisman hired someone when he was still in the mentoring program. Rebecca's advice was "get an assistant before you need one" and David took it to heart. It's an investment in your business.

Next topic "how to encourage referrals". Concensus: give them an incentive! One person used a flyer to give a cruise to nowhere for 8 referrals. Another suggestion was to send letter saying "if you enjoyed this trip, who can you refer to me?" Suzette Mack sends a thank you card (Starbucks) for any referral.

On to "successful tips for building business niches". Go where they are. If it's family, go where the families are. Make donations for prizes at school, etc. Same for adventure groups: kayak club, canoe club, etc.

Next up "when are V amenities included?" If using wholesaler or booking some other way, be sure to confirm if V amenities are included. Example of hotel listed as "best available rate" on but room type didn't qualify for V amenities. Is there a better way? Otherwise we have to always follow up with hotel.

That's it for now. Time for vendor presentations & small group meetings.

Next Session: Blogging Demonstration

We're running really late so Sheri is making this fast!

What's a blog?

How to start your own blog?

Note: It's confusing, but Google owns Blogger. You can create a Google account using *any* email account (including your work email, your yahoo email, etc.) Your Google login for blogger will be the email you choose. You do not need to have a gmail account.

Third Session: Outstanding Commissions

Several announcements from Sheri:
  1. Outstanding report now sent out at the beginning of the month (real time = real time). Weekly sales does NOT include commissions that came in -- unless the amount is different from invoiced amount.
  2. If you need help with collections, give as much detail as possible (dates of stay, confirmation number, name of client, etc.) Use partner contacts to track down missing commissions. includes contact info for commission collections.
  3. Work items that are 90+ days and/or $100+ first.
  4. When you contact Europe hotels and some other suppliers, they will request an invoice. A form is available that Sheri will send to everyone.
  5. What method of payment should you request?

    • Check in US Dollars (no fees & fast)
    • Wire transfer (fee involved & fast)
    • Charge vendor's credit card (3% fee & fast)
    • Last resort = put on Brownell credit card (slow, slow, slow)
  6. If they say they have already paid, ask them for a check #, date of payment, which company (sometimes it is a parent company), processing company.
  7. Typical problems with missing commissions = Pegasus (awful, mainly big hotels and car companies) or missing information on invoice (missing passenger names, etc.)
  8. Tips from "The Pros"
    • If possible, translate the invoice to local language (Marion)
    • Commission tracking begins when you sell the product. Get all the information up front (when, how, etc.) Keep track of when you are expecting commissions. (John)
    • It does start with the sale. You can choose who to sell through when you are selling the product (e.g. Classic, etc.) Don't just think about the commission amount but think about how easy it is going to be to get paid. (Gayle)
THE FINAL WORD: Have a system. Any system. Make it yours and do it! (Sheri)

Second Session: Economy & Sales Strategy

Confront the Brutal Facts

Troy kicks off this "open microphone" discussion by telling us "don't watch the market!" His point is that we can't control it so don't fixate on it. Business is better since the election -- the uncertainly is gone. But there is still lots of "noise" in the market.

Tips from Troy:
  • Be empathetic
  • Control what you can control
  • Do the best we can
Tips from the crowd:
  • It's a great time to leave the country. Get away from the barrage of negative news. Relax. Be with family.
  • It's really not that bad. For some people, travel is the priority. They'll give up things but they won't give up travel.
  • Be aware that the dollar has strengthened against the Euro and the Pound (finally). Be aware of that. Lot's of values out there that you should raise to your clients.
  • Take advantage of the time. Spend the time working on internet marketing (your website, blogging, etc.)
  • Get in touch with "drivable" Virtuoso resorts and ask them about specials to promote to your clients.
  • Send out a mass email after the meeting giving your clients an update to generate interest and promote savings.
Short session since we are running behind. Generally a "low point" as the mood is more somber. Hopefully the next session will pick up back up.

First Session: Introductions

We started a little after 9am with the announcement of a new process for introductions -- each person must spend 90 seconds talking about themselves. While you'd think 90 seconds would go fast, it's a long time!

As you can imagine, the energy level was very high. Lot's of laughter. Lot's of hugs. It's so great for all of us to get together in person.

I won't repeat the introductions here as that would be impossible. But I will note a few key points:
  • Traveltribe is still a great resource. Tons of IC's mentioned it.
  • The new 2008 Company Directory includes photos, names, addresses, specialties, and short bios. A great resource for everyone.
  • People are happy and really love Brownell/Sterling. Lot's of enthusiasm for what we do.
  • Such a diverse group. Wildly different backgrounds. The depth of expertise, experience, and interests is phenomenal.
  • The mentoring program continues to go strong. The "original 3" are still with us.
Great introduction session. What a great way to start!

Live Blogging @ 4th Annual Brownell Company Meeting

I'm trying an experiment today -- I'm attending the annual meeting and plan to "live blog" throughout the day. I'm also going to be on Twitter (micro-blogging) at I hope you'll follow along!