Updated: Mar 26
When we got into the tours and activities space seven years ago, our first client was a family-run bay cruise here in the San Francisco bay. They offer three different cruises. A basic bay cruise that goes under the Golden Gate Bridge, a mid-range cruise which is more leisurely and goes under both bridges, and a really fun sunset cruise complete with appetizers, drinks, and live music sailing into the golden light of a California evening and returning to the twinkling lights of downtown San Francisco. The sunset cruise goes from Fisherman’s Wharf right around Alcatraz, close enough to check out the forbidding prison walls, around beautiful Angel Island, gliding around sailboats and massive cargo ships, dips quickly into the Sausalito area, and then does a dramatic spin under the Golden Gate Bridge - perfect for Instagram moments.
Their previous service call center handled lots of different types of clients - motels with guests checking in late, doctor offices, oxygen provisioning for people getting on flights. Our client was the only one of their accounts that required sales. Before they came over, we benchmarked their sales performance, pouring over the data, and calculated their conversion rate (percentage of calls that resulted in a booking) at 3% -- for every hundred calls that came in, three resulted in a sale.
We knew we could do better using our savvy and graceful sales techniques. When we ran the numbers after six months of answering their phones, we had increased the conversion percentage to 27%, an 800% increase!
How did we do it?
Well, number one, we train our people to ask for the sale. We have a very special opportunity to book when we’re talking with a caller. How many times in an e-commerce sales situation do you actually have a live person talking with you? Not many! Most sales are done straight through a website with no human interaction. If someone is calling we know they’re probably on the fence about purchasing. It’s our chance to get them excited and motivated to book the experience!
But to do this, we have to gather information that helps in our effort. We focus on five fundamentals.
Create a connection (but don’t be slimy)
Ethically imply scarcity
Emphasize the ease of pre-booking
Almost always sell the most expensive option
Cross-sell or upsell for win-win experiences or to make things easier on the visitor
Create a connection (but don’t be slimy)
Most people calling to book do not get a great sales experience. Most people answering the phone aren’t trained in sales. And generally, if they’re on-site, they are managing fifty other tasks and the ringing of the phone can sometimes be a distraction from the other things they’re trying to get done. One of our specific advantages is that our team members are only doing sales and we spend time training the fundamentals that we’ve learned after seven years on the front lines.
One of the most effective ways to make a sale is to create a connection.
Well-trained sales agents always feel their way into this important groundwork. They don’t force it - they’re not fake - but they ask questions that help to create an understanding of the customer. Answers to these questions also provide information to be used later for upselling or cross-selling.
Some of these questions are pretty basic and easily trained.
“Where are you calling from today?”
“Where are you visiting from?”
“How long are you here for?”
“Are you here on business or for pleasure?”
“Are you traveling with your family?”
“Are you traveling with your parents or small kids?”
“What other activities are you doing?”
“Are you celebrating something special?”
Once you have some information, the savvy part is using what you’ve learned later on in the conversation. Some of it will be used in the sales process but some of it is simply to create a trusted connection - you’re not just a salesperson looking to take their money, you are deeply invested in them having a great time and setting them up for a successful visit.
Ethically suggest scarcity
We’ve all been on the other end of too many choices, right? How many of us have stopped shopping when presented with too many options? It’s a thing and it’s called the Paradox of Choice. It can stop a buyer in their tracks. With our bay cruise company, they run a bunch of cruise times and affiliate excursions each day but talking about all of those options is a boring telephone call at best and confusing at worst. Instead, we train our people to find out when in the day is a good time and give them ONE of those options.
“It looks like we still have availability on our 2 pm bay cruise.”
“Oh, 2 pm is too early? Okay - I think we can fit you on our 3:30, does that work?”
You can see that we also emphasize limited availability. In most cases, it’s true. Our operators run fabulous fun tours that everyone should experience and they are frequently fully booked. In the worst case, the person will get there and have a lightly booked tour which is also fabulous!
Regardless, people are motivated by FOMO (fear of missing out) or scarcity - we’re wired that way. Some people take this to the extreme and lie about availability and we’d never do that. Our business is creating win-win experiences so that our client and their customer meet in blissful experiential harmony.
Illustrate the ease and peace of mind of prebooking and commitment
Another way to encourage the sale is to illustrate the ease of prebooking while they’re on the phone. No one likes waiting in lines. Remember that question we asked earlier about who they’re traveling with? We can use this now to create connection and empathy. We know it’s difficult traveling with cranky kids and waiting in the hot sun or cold wind is not enjoyable for anyone. Most often if someone pays in advance, there’s a high likelihood they can avoid venue lines. We emphasize the ease of walking directly to the boat, bus, historic house without having to wait in any lines or taking any other time-consuming steps.
If people are waiting to transact at the venue, possibly thinking that something better will come along or uncertain of their schedule, they will likely have to wait in line and it’s also highly likely that the tour they want to go on will be sold out. We know they’re interested, or they wouldn’t have called. If there’s always a ton of space then we can focus on making the reservation so that plans can be made around the activity.
“Do you want to book now with me so that you can make lunch plans right after? I have some great outdoor dining spots I can recommend within walking distance.”
If there’s a chance of limited space or the guest missing out, then we will push them to commit.
“Fridays and Saturdays are hands down our busiest nights of the week. I know you want to check with your group but if you’re serious about going, I’d recommend calling us back tonight. We’re here until 8 pm but we will probably book out before then.”
We want customers to have these amazing experiences and we know rushing around at the last minute can lead to family and group grumpiness before they even get to the venue. We are helping visitors have an entirely enjoyable experience.
Almost always sell the most expensive item
This one is key and is so easy. Given the choice of selling different items, focus on the most expensive. Yes, this is ethical because that offering is generally the most fun and, as I said, we are in the business of win-win experience matching. When I get someone on the phone asking for what a client offers, I always emphasize the best offering.
Customer: “Can you tell me a little about your cruises?”
Me: “Sure! We run bay cruises around the San Francisco bay. You can choose a one-hour cruise that goes under the Golden Gate Bridge, a 90-minute cruise that goes under both bridges or my favorite cruise is the Sunset Cruise - it’s two hours and features live music, a celebratory cocktail, and an appetizer buffet. It’s so much fun and it’s what we’re known for. We still have a few more spots tonight if you’d like me to book you.”
You can adjust this slightly if you’ve learned they have small children (“good for all ages”) or are out on a first date (“perfect for a fun evening”) or are out with girlfriends (“the crew loves to take great group photos under the bridge”).
For a historic house tour that features a basic tour, and then some in-depth longer tours, I sound like this:
“Sure! We have a basic one-hour tour of the house or we have our Fire & Light tour that goes behind the green ropes. It’s led by the curator who has great stories about the house’s history and it ends with a cheese and wine gathering on the back patio. He’s an amazing storyteller and you get to see areas of the house off-limits to the regular tours. I see we still have space on this Saturday’s Fire and Light tour if you’ll be in the area?”
A savvy agent will know when this isn’t a good idea. For example, a family with small children calling for a nice day out on the water will likely not be appropriate for the eight-hour shark fishing trip on the open sea.
Once you have the sale, use what you know to make a cross-sell
If you’ve done your job and made a connection, you can use the trust you’ve gained to push for win-win cross-sells or upsells. Again, not to be slimy, but to enhance the experience of the visitor.
“You said you’re in town all week. Might you also want to do our Sausalito/Wine Country bus trip? It’s a really fun and safe way to visit some of the top winemakers and finishes with an early dinner overlooking the bay in Sausalito. My favorite part is the champagne tasting at the Moët winery overlooking the Napa Valley. We have space on the Sunday 10 am bus if that might be of interest to you and your parents.”
“Great! I have you booked. Do you want me to add the stainless steel engraved drink cups as a souvenir? They come with our specialty cocktail or draft beer to be enjoyed on board.”
“Do you want me to add a couple of Bull Marine rashguards for the kids? They can wear them if it gets too sunny. We have them in blue and red. If you tell me their sizes, I can ask the captain to have them waiting onboard.”
“Do you want to add the professional photo too? They do a great job of capturing you right at the exciting part and they send you the digital image for social media.”
Sure, sometimes people aren’t into it and we are understanding and send them on their way with the information they need. We never try to upsell or cross-sell an experience or product that doesn’t make sense. It ruins all the trust we’ve built up and it’s slimy.
Warm, engaging, and efficient phone sales are an important part of your marketing strategy. Smart operators know that a professional, friendly and knowledgeable person can serve a dual purpose. Yes, they can solve problems and answer questions, but also - if properly trained, coached, and mentored - they can serve as a potent sales force to convert interested callers at the moment when they have the time and interest to book their outing.
HigherRing, a proud B Corp, specializes in tours and activities service and sales.