Keeping track of quote-to-close ratios, a practice that motorcoach operators are becoming increasingly mindful of, helps optimize customer data and increase sales. The ratios, as Autumn Dipert Brown, chief operating officer of Arlington, Texas-based Dan Dipert Tours & Coaches puts it, serve as a scorecard for your business.
“It’s really hard to coach or play in a game if you don’t know the score,” Brown says. “I’m the coach and have these players, and without all of us knowing the score, it’s really hard to push them in the right direction.”
Brown and other operators offer tips here to help operators score and increase their ratios.
1. Tracking, applying data
Dan Dipert Tours uses RBS Software Solutions to generate a “Supersales Summary” report every week, which breaks down quotes and sales by month and year-to-date (YTD), as well as shows sales booked for future months, Dipert Brown says. The operator has been using the report since the beginning of 2011 to track the average charter booking size and number of quotes and sales compared with the same time last year.
The report helped identify the cause of a recent dip in revenue. Dipert Brown recalls that at the end of January, the carrier had about the same number of quotes as last year, for slightly more money each, but booked significantly fewer trips for noticeably less revenue. Last year’s YTD showed several large tour bookings from a company that had since gone out of business.
“That was the big hit between last year and this year,” Dipert Brown says. “They normally booked seven tours throughout Europe in January. We can look at what was going on last year and use that data to know when we need to [make] calls.”
Similarly, Nashville, Tenn.’s Anchor Tours, formerly Anchor Trailways, uses weekly reports to track inquiries, quotes and face time with customers, including those that may be at the end of a contract, to increase its quote-to-close ratios.
Anchor uses Motorcoach Manager, a software program that automatically generates reports that signify when to call or email a customer and establish a relationship.
The operator has been able to easily track common dates and vehicle sizes customers are asking for, which aids in planning.
“When we started tracking monthly quote requests, we realized we went from almost zero to 27% of our requests for mid-sized buses. Requests for larger buses decreased,” Jared Stancil, executive VP, Anchor Tours, says. Anchor added three more vehicles to its fleet at the end of 2012, based on these numbers.
Additionally, once Anchor has a customer’s information, it always has another lead, and can keep them informed of its offerings and helpful travel tips. That data can be easily organized and sorted.
As it started to track quote-to-close data, Anchor reviewed the information it already had, Stancil says, starting with simple tracking and measuring methods, such as making notes in a spreadsheet or writing it down.
“What happened was, there were some things we ‘just knew’ but when we started writing and measuring, that wasn’t the case,” he explains. “There were other things that we learned that we had no idea [about]. It helped us to better understand what the demand [will] be for our vehicles, recast equipment needs and market pricing, and [see] where we fall. It helped [us] be a better and more competitive operator by making that second call. Nearly everyone already has the information. You don’t have to do anything elaborate.”
Tracking helps make staffing decisions, too. The first four weeks of this year, Dan Dipert Tours had low bookings and was getting concerned, but by week six, business started heating up, with about one quote every half hour. If this spike becomes a trend year-over-year in the fifth and sixth weeks, the operator will know they need all hands on deck during that time, Dipert Brown says.
“We know the phones are going to be ringing off the hook. If you don’t have the people there, you’re not going to be able to make those quotes.”
And, if you don’t get quotes out quickly, she adds, you’re not as likely to get them booked.[PAGEBREAK]
2. Timely response
Dan Dipert Tours tries to get quotes to new customers and/or online inquiries within one to two hours, because those customers are in a rush and contacting several other companies. People are also booking later than they have in the past, Dipert Brown says, which can increase the urgency.
“Whoever reaches the finish line first wins,” she adds. “A lot of times, the first one to get to [the inquiry] gets the business.”
When prioritizing, long-time customers can sometimes wait one or two days.
RJ Bast, director of operations of Milwaukee’s GO Riteway Transportation Group, agrees.
“We found out through sales shopping calls — fellow operators in other cities that shop us and we shop them — that the quicker you respond to a quote, the more likely you can close that deal,” he says. “Having a sense of urgency is important.”
“What we realized is technology [makes] it more than just eight to five,” Stancil adds. “People need to be able to give you information and you [need to] respond quickly. We may not ever speak to them. It’s just part of the ever-changing communication world that we live in.”
GO Riteway and Anchor Tours also added buttons on every page of their websites that customers can click on to fill out a form for a quote, making sure to respond within 24 hours.
However, even for online quote requests, GO Riteway staff always tries to follow up with a phone call.
“We don’t just respond with another email with a quote, because that won’t close the deal. We call, talk through what they’re looking for and hopefully close the sale right away. If not, we send them an email quote back,” Bast says.
GO Riteway also looked into adding a real-time chatting feature with a staff member in its office on its website, for immediate feedback, to accommodate mostly younger customers.
“Younger people are so used to texting and email that they [often] don’t want to talk to somebody, so the quicker they can get a response, the better,” Bast says.
Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Ambassatours’ Sean Buckland, sales manager, says his operation also uses Motorcoach Manager to help create a follow-up program. Staff enters data on incoming calls and leads and can view bookings on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s a good tool that converted a lot of quotes into sales because [customers] are busy,” he says. “They want to book their coach and move on, so [following up in] that 48-hour period is crucial. It usually results in a booking.”[PAGEBREAK]
In the last year, Anchor also centralized its sales office to provide more time and resources to better engage with customers and track quote-to-close ratios.
The sales office was segmented into one sales team with the responsibility of generating quotes and making sales, and another that is responsible for post-sale details and administrative functions, such as checking itineraries and making sure balances are paid.
Having two sales teams created an environment more conducive to focusing on customers’ needs, Stancil says.
“The team that’s focused on sales knows they have time built in to follow up on phone calls and emails because they know that their [goal] is to generate and close quotes,” he explains.
One result of this was that 2012 year-end charter sales revenue was Anchor’s highest ever. Measuring customer feedback indicated that the sales team got a 99% approval rating and that its sales process is helpful, easy and timely.
“We realized that we’re able to communicate [with] our customers so they know that we want their business,” Stancil says.
The new structure also gave the sales team the flexibility to visit with customers. One of the most successful visits was with school clients.
“We rented ice cream trucks during the week just before school starts when [only] the teachers and staff are there,” Stancil recalls. “We had so much fun showing up with an ice cream truck after lunch and talking with the teachers about places to go. We strengthened our solid business relationship for the entire school year over an ice cream cone.”
While school-based customers can be price-sensitive due to budgets, and easily swayed over a cheaper price, Stancil says, that resistance went away because “they knew we were spending our time there with them.”
“Getting customers engaged with us was our focus this past year, and we’ve seen an increase in sales,” Stancil says.
4. Sales process
The sales process is simple but critical, Dipert Brown says, yet most people don’t ask for the business.
“If at the end of the call, you don’t say, ‘Can I book that for you now?’ you’re losing a lot of sales,” Dipert Brown says. “It’s a [matter] of using the sales process, closing the deal, making sure you get as many leads as you can and then working those leads.”
GO Riteway is focusing on training operators on the sales process to raise quote-to-close ratios, Bast says. He admits that while GO Riteway’s sales staff is customer service-focused and friendly, asking for the order is the part of the call that can be challenging.
“We give them the amenities, but the most crucial thing we don’t ask for is the sale,” he says. While it may sound simple, he adds, asking ‘May I book that for you?’ makes some staff think they sound like a used car salesman.
“That’s one thing that we need to work on,” Bast says. “[Among] a lot of other motorcoach operators we know, that’s the part that everyone needs to work on.”
Feedback is also crucial to improving the sales process, Bast says. To supply this, Go Riteway uses a call recording system as a sales training and coaching tool. About twice a month, managers listen to employees’ calls with them and give them feedback.
“When they hear themselves sell to the customer, it made a big impression,” he adds. “You can hear improvement [after] reviewing the calls. They remember, ‘this is how I close a sale.’”