A software engineer for an e-commerce company thought that maybe, just maybe, customers would buy more if they were shown other products they might be interested in based on what was in their shopping cart.
The engineer’s boss, a senior vice president, disagreed. Strongly. He believed it would distract customers and actually prevent sales rather than grow them. The senior vice president didn’t know this for sure, but he let his beliefs dictate. In fact, he was so afraid of being wrong that he forbid the engineer from working on the feature or even bringing it up again in conversation.
The engineer didn’t listen. He ran a controlled experiment to see if making product recommendations based on a customer’s shopping cart contents really would produce more sales or not. He had a hunch, a hypothesis, but he didn’t know for sure. He wanted to find out and was willing to be wrong.
Turns out, the engineer was right, the senior vice president was wrong, and it wasn’t even close. The controlled test revealed that the average customer purchased much more and it didn’t increase abandoned carts (that’s when someone leaves a website without completing their purchase).
Last year, Amazon generated $469 billion in sales (that’s billion with a “B”) and they ran more than 12,000 such controlled experiments to help them do it.
The boss isn’t always right, even if the boss is you.
To innovate in your business and drive continuous improvements to the service value proposition you deliver to your clients you need to experiment. You need to challenge conventional wisdom and currently held beliefs. Not all of them and not all at once, but selectively and specifically with a hypothesis that you can test.
The great news is that structuring a controlled experiment in your travel business can be quite easy, yet the results can be extraordinary.
We talk a lot about your Sales Plan. In your Sales Plan, there are several KPIs (key performance indicators) that drive how successful your travel business will be. Things like your Average Sale, Proposal Close Rate, and Proposal Request Rate.
These Sales Plan KPIs are a perfect place for you to experiment with small changes that can produce BIG results.
Here are three simple experiments you can run in your travel business that can produce extraordinary results.
1. Test a New Version of Your Proposal Request Response.
Whether you’ve established an auto-responder or you respond to each new prospect manually, you are likely to respond as quickly as possible with an email confirmation that you’ve received their inquiry. A best practice is to go beyond a system-generated confirmation that you received their inquiry and move straight into moving them to the next step in your sales process. For most, that is scheduling a consultation (side note: you can accelerate your results by calling them on the phone as soon as the lead comes in, like within minutes. It is likely they’ve sent requests to multiple advisors and the early bird gets the worm).
How many of your lead inquiries lead to a consultation?
Dust off your inquiry confirmation email and read it with fresh eyes. Start with the subject. Does it make you want to talk to the travel professional who sent it (that’s you) to plan an amazing vacation? If not, stop right there. You’ve found your first experiment. If you like the subject line, keep reading and find something that you think you can improve, and follow the process below.
See if you can come up with a subject line that will increase your open rate (that’s the percentage of people that open the email).
Send the new version to half your inbound leads and the old version to the other half. This is a classic A/B test (learn more about A/B testing). Continue this until you get a big enough sample (most agree this is at least 30) to draw a conclusion if your new version leads to more consultation conversations. If your travel business is new, it may take a while to generate 30 leads, but stick with it and don’t draw a conclusion too early. This is about establishing a testing process that you can use on an ongoing basis with steady incremental improvements.
The number of tests you can structure on your sales emails is almost endless, just don’t test more than one change at a time or you won’t know what is driving the results.
2. Test Your Travel Agency Website CTA: Call to Action
You need to drive visitors to your website to a CTA (Call to Action). This is usually a button like “Schedule a Consultation” or “Subscribe to Mailing List.” Each page should have a desired CTA, an action you are driving the user to.
As you look at your website, or a specific page on your website, is the CTA prominently placed? Is it clear to the user what will happen when they click it?
If your website is driving traffic, but not enough leads, your CTA is the first place to look and you’ve found another experiment. See if there is a way to make your CTA more prominent and more clear. Even things like adjusting the button color to a high contrast color may increase conversion.
If your website has the ability to conduct A/B tests, this will be much easier, but even if it doesn’t you can still create a test if you know what your historical conversion rate is (e.g. the number of leads you’ve received out of the total number of unique visits to your page). Ideally, you can run an A/B test to show half of your visitors the old version and the other half your new and improved CTA version.
Get enough data, measure the results and see which performs better.
3. Test Your Proposal Inclusions
Your standard proposal likely includes options that your prospective client has asked for. What about things they haven’t necessarily asked for, but believe they may benefit from or be interested in.
You likely already include third-party travel insurance as a standard element in your proposal (whether they asked for it or not), but what about an upgrade option for every trip? It never ceases to surprise me when travelers spend what they’ve said they can’t afford. Like any other product, upselling to a better product or even a different product entirely can produce extraordinary results, both for the success of your travel agency and the satisfaction of your client. You can’t make someone buy something, so don’t feel bad about showing them an option that is outside of their stated budget or interests.
For example, you may structure a test to include a premium cruise option (Celebrity, Princess, Viking, Oceania, etc.) on every contemporary cruise (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, etc.) proposal. This falls in the category of “you may also like…”
The key here is to measure your proposal close rate and average sale amount before the test and after. You can also employ A/B testing here as well.
The main point is not these three specific test strategies, but the idea that you can test small variations to produce BIG outcomes for your travel agency. This testing process should be ingrained into your business DNA. Test, learn, repeat.
Jason Block, CEO, Travel Quest Network/WorldVia