The B2C and B2B sales landscape in the travel industry has changed enormously since the 2000s.
Once a ubiquitous feature in any commercial center, the traditional, bricks-and-mortar travel agency is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Despite their unique offer of one-on-one customer support and counseling, travel agents struggle to compete with online channels. Large online aggregators such as Expedia and Kayak are undermining smaller, independent suppliers, propagating a format that posits price as the principal product differentiator.
However, many smaller-scale companies have responded to this pressure by making huge investments in their direct channels. For example, many hoteliers promote exclusive offers and added extras via email marketing, social media and online. By promoting direct bookings, individual suppliers are seeking to control demand, distinguish their offer and increase margins.
In this developing landscape, perhaps one thing that is certain is that the travel distribution will continue to evolve. Despite these significant advancements in how the industry operates, arguably there is one party that gets left behind – the customer. Even though online channels provide an incredible amount of choice, many customers still desire the one-stop-shop interaction offered by the traditional travel agent. The volume of options, platforms, and aggregators online can leave the customer feeling lost and frustrated, yet many are still determined to find the best value deal.
So how should the travel industry respond? How can suppliers keep up with technological advancements whilst catering to customer needs? Here, discover 3 imperatives which can help organizations to adapt their B2C and B2B sales strategy.
1. Focus on customers, not channels
Previously, the travel industry’s approach to distribution was to keep their offer uniform across channels. Consequently, their product would be the same across agents, aggregators, and their direct channels. More recently, travels companies have identified that different customer segments have different requirements. For instance, some customers will value price above all else. Others will value customer service, whilst others will look for value-added special offers. Therefore, if a customer base is not a homogenous group, then companies can no longer offer an identical booking journey.
Subsequently, businesses should shift from prioritizing a channel-centric approach. Instead, they should place the customer at the forefront of their sales strategy, whether it is in B2C or B2B sales. A channel-based mindset limits flexibility – instead of responding to customer needs, they prioritize market share targets for different channels. Contrastingly, a customer-oriented approach promotes a more agile, adaptable business strategy.
In light of these points, database segmentation is the first stage in creating a personalized customer journey. Travel companies must understand their different customer segments and identify which channel is appropriate to the corresponding segments. From here, the company needs to create a booking experience specially adapted to each groups behaviors, desires, and aims.
To illustrate, value-orientated leisure travelers are drawn to transparent and comparable booking experiences. On average, most price-driven customers will browse about 3 or 4 different websites before committing to a purchase. Considering these statistics, why do airlines, hotels, tour operators and car rental companies not include price comparisons on their own channels? Whilst arguably there is a risk of customer defection, a transparent approach earns trust and provides valuable insights into preferences and behavior.
2. Win in the battle in the era of ‘big data’
The travel industry has access to vast amounts of consumer data, which is gathered throughout the customer journey. Companies can identify everything from what the customer was looking for when they booked; their preferred airline seats; in-flight entertainment choices; credit card usage; to their basic personal information.
Data gives companies the means to assemble a detailed picture of their customers. As a result, businesses can devise marketing initiatives that engage with their customer base on a deeper level. However, despite the enormous amount of information most organizations have at their fingertips, many are not able to manage the data properly.
In a highly competitive market, it is crucial that companies learn how to manage their data correctly. Larger organizations such as Amazon and Google are already making moves within the travel sector, using their experience with big data as a key weapon in their arsenal. In fact, Google has recently acquired the airfare search provider ITA. This acquisition is already allowing Google to provide users with fully-formed vacation itineraries with associated purchase links.
In comparison, smaller-scale enterprises are moving much slower. But not all is lost; with the right strategy, products and partners, individual hotels and airlines can fight back. By asking themselves what existing data is not being mobilized, which data they could be harvesting, and what capabilities they can fortify, smaller organizations can compete on the big data battlefield.
3. Master the entire customer experience
The purchase is not the beginning of a company’s relationship with its customers; in fact, it is quite the contrary. The customer’s relationship with a company begins as soon as they become aware of the brand. Equally, the relationship does not end at the point of sale; every interaction from that point is an opportunity to build loyalty and secure future sales.
The main prerequisite for influencing the customer experience is a complete knowledge of their journey. In order to gain a comprehensive view of the process, a business must dissolve all barriers that may stymie the flow of information across the organization. Therefore, there must be a single customer data bank, as opposed to separate storage bases for different departments.
As such, data about loyalty, transactions, prices, and products should be stored centrally, allowing information to flow freely. To make this integrated, customer-centric approach a reality, a business must coordinate a cross-organizational effort to devise a tenable data sharing solution. Once data can move seamlessly across an organization, it will not only improve internal operations, but also radically improve customer experience in both B2C and B2B sales markets.
The road to B2C and B2B sales success lies ahead
Equipt with these 3 pillars, travel companies have the tools to adapt to the demands of an ever-changing landscape. By deploying a customer-centric attitude, an intelligent approach to data, and an integrated, frictionless data management strategy, companies can create an unparalleled customer experience which will lead to B2C and B2B sales success.