For Virtuoso, other groups, real-time sales data proving a boon

By Kate Rice

Virtuoso CrowdLAS VEGAS — Consortia and co-ops have upended the old model that saw member agencies having to wait on suppliers, often for months, to get sales tallies.

Increasingly, they can measure production in near-real time, and the consequences for both member agents and preferred suppliers are significant.

In the past, said David Kolner, senior vice president, consumer, for Virtuoso, "You had to wait until the end of the year, and then you get what you get."

Today, consortia, co-ops and other agency marketing groups are consolidating transactional data, which they can then check against supplier sales data.

More importantly, real-time sales data enables them to modify their business strategies, and some are using it to provide their supplier partners with benchmarking data that the suppliers can then use to shift market share.

More than 80% of Virtuoso's member agencies are uploading their transactional data nightly, and it expects to have 90% doing so by year's end.

This means that Virtuoso can compare its member sales with supplier sales records and see if it needs to modify sales and marketing strategies to stay on target.

"We can take a network of 300-plus members and know if we're going to hit our goal," Kolner said.

It also means that Virtuoso has the ability to offer benchmarking to its suppliers to see how they're performing. Virtuoso is already doing that. For example, it looked at its database for the first half of 2013 and compared it with data from the same period a year ago.

It found that travel to both North America and Europe was up significantly: 20% and more. The U.K. was up even more — 37% — with the data showing that London is "off the charts" and Scotland up, as well. Bookings for Virtuoso's preferred hotels in London were up 46%, while nonpreferreds were up 20%.

That shows that Virtuoso members were supporting their preferreds by 2-to-1, information that the consortium shared with its suppliers here last week during Virtuoso Week.

Nor is Virtuoso unique.

Signature Travel Network has been gathering data on all agency sales for 10 years, according to COO Alex Sharpe. It can see transactional data on the customer level, add in preference data collected by consultants and identify customers who have opened and clicked through on marketing offers (showing what device the client was using) and add that to the client record.

It tracks preferred-supplier sales at the customer and agency levels as well as Signature's overall sales. It uses that information to work with preferred suppliers to design marketing initiatives that shift business to preferreds and to provide members with monthly reports comparing sales of preferred vs. nonpreferred suppliers. Members can then set sales goals and monitor their progress toward those goals.

Likewise, Travel Leaders Associates has 55% of its franchise members on ClientBase, a technology that enables the franchise to consolidate transactional data as well as client profiles.

Vacation.com's 2-year-old Engagement Select program tracks sales data for 65% of members, and Avoya collects sales data for 100% of its independent contractors, most of it posted in real time.

But beyond merely verifying suppliers' own numbers about a group's sales performance, capturing transactional data can help agencies improve their business.

"In a decade of having data, we have found that our preferred suppliers generally have accurate reports," said Van Anderson, co-president of Avoya. "The most important reason to have real-time sales data is to make better business decisions. Having sales data that is fast and accurate is critical to running any successful business."

Virtuoso, for example, is segmenting its customers. Right now it uses just two categories, general and black label, the latter being top-tier customers.

The data show that currently 10% of Virtuoso's customers generate 54% of its sales. It wants member agencies to be able to identify those clients so they can ensure they're devoting time to the right customers. Kolner said that almost all agents are surprised to find out who some of their best customers are and discover that they're not necessarily the customers the agents spend the most time on.

To help agents see what they're doing, Virtuoso has added capabilities to Composer Reports, its management reporting tool that synchronizes with members' back-office systems.

Virtuoso had already made it available as an app in the iTunes store. Owners and managers have been able to look at this information a variety of ways: sales by preferred supplier, sales by clients, sales by individual agents, marketing materials that clients have received and other categories.

Now, Virtuoso has extended Composer Reports to the individual agent level so that managers can give agents access to this data to get a clear picture of what's happening with their business.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 

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