If I told you about a realtor who made one sale last month, you may not be overly impressed; in fact, if one sale is the extent of her success, you may question her competence as a sales professional. But, if you were then to learn that said sale was for a multi-million dollar property and her commission equalled more than $250,000, one sale doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
It’s a matter of perspective in the ever-popular conversation about quality versus quantity, and where value is best placed: on the size of a number, or its overall worth. Marketing experts and sales professionals alike insist that quality always trumps quantity, yet it seems to be easier said than done in an industry such as travel, where size seems to matter, even in the most illogical of situations. And you’ve seen it happen:
Take, for instance, industry events – often times, the focus is on achieving high attendance numbers, rather than the return on investment a host might see from each attendee. Would it not be more beneficial for suppliers, as an example, to host a small group of advisors from whom they see high sales (or at least potential for, as with one who might sell high volumes for their competitors) rather than a room packed with people who may or may not have any interest in the product being showcased?
And then there are consortiums and agency groups – many of which are frequently taking advantage of publicity opportunities to highlight their growth in agency or advisor numbers. To say Consortium X has welcomed 100 new members already in 2018 might sound like a major accomplishment; but would you be so impressed if the majority of these new members are poised to sell less than $10,000 a year?
The question trickles into the trade media space as well, as various platforms compete for the highest numbers in print or newsletter subscribership; realistically, though, the real value comes from how many of said subscribers are actually engaging with the content.
Though there’s no data to confirm that a tendency to value quantity over quality exists in Canada’s travel industry, one could argue this to be the case based on observation and critical analysis. It’s a detrimental path to be on, as addressed by numerous sales and marketing professionals over the years:
“Sales leaders who focus on short-term pay-off in a race to meet quotas can easily lose sight of the need for longevity and sustainable growth. This is often driven by a sales culture that fails to prioritize quality sales,” says Laurence Bret Stern, chief revenue officer of Pipedrive, in a post on the company’s blog. “The issues that arise from this behavior (sic) may not impact revenue right away, but you can be certain this approach is gradually eroding the value of your company. Focusing on quick wins or short-sighted deals will breed further challenges that ultimately stunt the growth of your business.”
Given the logic and proof behind the weight of quality over quantity, why, then, is value so often misplaced?
“I think the biggest reason [people tend to value quantity over quality] is because quantity is easy to measure, and quality is not,” says Art Markman, Ph.D, who is the program director in the Human Dimensions of Organizations at the University of Texas. “You can talk about the number of clients you have, but it’s harder to measure what constitutes quality.”
As such, for the sake of surface-level validation, quantity is an immediate and more direct way to demonstrate movement or success – high attendance, membership, readership, prospect lists, or whatever the case may be. Quality, on the other hand, is thought to be more subjective and moreover, often requires time for return on investment to be seen. And that might call for a leap of faith.
“Over the course of my career in the industry, I’ve lost track of the number of times where I’ve worked with suppliers on events or initiatives, and their focus is on the number of advisors or consumers involved, rather than on the margins of the event or the sales represented by groups in attendance,” says Tim Morgan of nigelkane, who spent more than a decade with TPI. “In the end, it comes down to the bottom line; all you can do as a partner is explain your logic and methodology and then, the proof is in the pudding. You rely on the ROI to prove the point that it’s more important to focus on quality over quantity.”
“The travel industry model is also one that rewards volume with benefits such as higher commissions which can create a focus on quantity,” adds Cheryl Nicholson, executive vice-president of leisure at Travel Edge. That said, she doesn’t necessarily agree that the travel industry favours quantity – “only that it is a key metric.”
“At Travel Edge, our advisor network continues to grow through the recruitment of new travel professionals (experienced and new to industry),” she says, as an example. “This growth might be measured by quantity, but the focus is absolutely on quality.” The same is true for top-performing advisors, “who might track the number of clients they have but concentrate on identifying and growing the high-quality clients,” as well as when it comes to promoting preferred partners.
“As an agency focused on the luxury category, high-quality products are essential to our discerning customers. This helps us ensure a high-quality experience, improving loyalty, repeat business and ultimately profitability.”
This thought process is echoed by Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso Travel Group (of which Travel Edge is a member), who spoke at a recent media event in Toronto about the organization’s focus on quality partnerships in the agency space, and with preferred partners. “We’re not actively out there knocking on doors,” he said, in regard to growth potential in Canada. The organization’s up-market supplier partners are looking to work with agents who have a certain client- and knowledge-base; “We really try to make sure that the quality of the membership is such and we have to maintain that…otherwise, the brand would be degraded,” he explained.
Still, Virtuoso is a multi-million dollar network with more than 11,400 luxury travel advisors who work for about 770 independent travel agency locations in 42 countries – proof that quality and quantity do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Lise Coghlan, manager at Merit Travel Kingston, perhaps says it best when she tells CT, “Quantity comes with quality.”
Coghlan has built her own book of business by investing time in clients in order to offer quality service, as well as specializing in lucrative areas such as luxury and group travel. The result? An ever-growing client list. “As you get busier, it becomes a balancing act – if you drop the quality, your quantity is going to drop. But for me, the quantity is a choice because I write my success; I write my pay cheque. So if I give the quality, I’ll get the quantity. That’s what motivates me…if I have a big book of business and a good repeat factor, I know I’ve done it well.”
So, how can we, as an industry, shift the existing mindset to one that will set the stage for long-term success?
“Each of us can look at the things we’re working on and figure out what is going to be the thing that will give us the best return, and to focus our efforts there. We have to be more forward-thinking,” Markman says, adding, “I think that people need to take a sobering, realistic assessment of the things that they’re working on and make sure they’re not devoting time and energy to things just because they have historically devoted time and energy to them, but rather, because these are things that will give them a benefit in the long run.”
“We’re wired to pay attention to things that are happening in the short-term, but in many businesses, you have to pursue a long-term strategy,” he continues. “This is one of the reasons why the shareholder value model in business has been so dangerous because it forces people to focus on short-term outcomes and has caused lots of companies to do things that create good short-term numbers at the expense of long-term profits.”
He suggests a shift back to a strategy where long-term returns are the end goal, “perhaps in conjunction with other things that pay-off a little more short-term so you average out the rewards.”
Ultimately, redirecting focus and re-evaluating priorities industrywide will set a new standard for success – and as the aphorism goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”