FORT LAUDERDALE -- As Joanie Ogg, co-founder of Ogg Marketing Group, put it, finding new customers is like travel advisors' holy grail.
Ogg was co-moderating the Mastermind Sales and Marketing Secrets of Success panel alongside Sullivan Marketing Advisors president Mary Pat Sullivan last week at CruiseWorld here. She asked the panel of cruise line sales executives for client-acquisition tips for the advisors in the audience.
Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity Cruises' senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, said advisors should let their clients know how connected they are to their vacations. She advised checking in on them before, during and after travel.
"That in and of itself is going to get you more customers than if you did something like send another email," Ritzenthaler said.
Once that level of service and connection has been established, she recommended asking for referrals. That enables an agency to grow its business without spending big marketing dollars.
John Chernesky, senior vice president of sales at Princess Curises and Cunard Line, agreed that referrals are the most effective way to build a business. He also encouraged advisors to use their existing clientele to gain new customers.
"Once you get a client, then your job is to keep them," he said.
Referrals were also a cornerstone of the advice imparted by Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service at Royal Caribbean International.
She urged advisors to tell their clients how excited they were to plan their trip for them when closing a sale.
Then, she said, ask a key question: "Is there anyone else that you can think of that might want to travel with you on this vacation?"
Freed estimated advisors will get a new client one out of every four times they pose that question.
Adolfo Perez, senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing at Carnival Cruise Line, encouraged advisors to look into affinity groups.
That type of group often pulls in a handful of first-time cruisers, a desirable audience to get hooked on cruising.
Corporate connections should also be considered, said Katina Athanasiou, chief sales officer, Norwegian Cruise Line.
"What's interesting is that one in 10 leisure customers often are tied to a corporation of some sort in which they have influence across that organization," she said. "That will attract and allow for corporate business."
The cruise industry itself is well-poised for advisors in that it has a lot of new inventory available or soon-to-be available.
"There have never been more ships on the order books than there are now," said Doug Seagle, Seabourn's vice president of sales.
He encouraged agents to sell the new hardware cruise lines are bringing online as well as sell cruises based on clients' passion points (for instance, talk to foodies about the Thomas Keller restaurants on Seabourn's ships before talking about cruising itself).