Selling Luxury Tours by Email: Is Drip the Answer?

Avatar on Jun 27, 2017. 12 min Read

If you’re in the business of selling travel experiences, there’s little doubt you send a LOT of email. Email is how business is done as far as considered purchases go.

And that makes sense, right?

It’s important to understand that spending $2,000, $3,000 or even $10,000+ on the trip of a lifetime has a much higher degree of financial and emotional risk than, say, the purchase of a new toaster or a pair of jeans.

As a result, the decision-making process is much more complex. With the travel companies we work with at 10x Travel, I’ve typically seen the sales cycle last well beyond two, three, or even six months.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know by now that it takes at least six ‘touch points’ to turn a suspect into a sales-ready lead (according to a study by Salesforce).

When you consider that, along with another reality I most recently shared in ‘How Tour Operators Can Use Content to Get More Bookings’, specifically:

At least 95% of your visitors won’t make an inquiry on their first visit to your website.

 

…the problem starts to become clear.

  1. How do I get inquiries from the 95% of website visitors that aren’t going to make an inquiry as soon as they arrive on my travel company’s website?
  2. How do I generate more touch points for all the inquiries I’m getting, so that they’re sales-ready and not just wasting my time?

If you’re thinking ‘hang on Max, we get plenty of inquiries — what are you talking about?’, let me explain in a little more detail.

Here’s what’s probably happening to you right now

Your website and digital marketing efforts are doing a decent job of generating visitors to your travel company’s website.

Maybe you have an SEO or PPC agency that’s bringing in thousands of visitors to your site each month for your target keywords.

Maybe you’ve got an awesome social media presence or kick-ass travel company blog that’s bringing in the sessions on Google Analytics.

Whatever you’re doing to bring people to your site, you’re no doubt getting a bunch of inquiries from all that traffic (i.e. the 5% that will make an inquiry on an initial visit).

But…

Not all inquiries are created equal

Your time is limited, and your sales team spends most of its time answering the same questions about the destinations you offer, the best time of year to travel, the service customers can expect, and so on.

And your team is answering the same questions over and over with people who have no real intention of booking with you.

Michael Schneider, who runs Australia-based Russian tour company 56th Parallel, described this problem to me perfectly last week. He said:

“The problem is, when we get an inquiry, our sales team is in the process of educating the client all the time. Sometimes there can be 100 emails back-and-forth over a period of months — and even then, there’s no guarantee that they’ll end up booking with us.

“We need to find a way to spend less time educating and more time selling, because if you take into account the man hours of nurturing it takes to convert an inquiry by email, you can be approaching a loss before they’ve even paid a deposit.”

 

…sound familiar yet?

Drip email campaigns are the answer to this problem

What if there was an easier way to:

  • Establish a relationship and build trust with a potential customer
  • Educate him or her about your product — like the destinations and activities you offer, and…
  • Answer the most frequently asked questions about what you offer.

AND do it all on autopilot, only manually handling emails from customers who are actually ready to book with you?

The good news is… there is!

And it’s called trigger-based, drip-fed email.

How often do you nurture a potential customer for a year or even more before they finally book with you? Too often, right?

Here’s what we know: triggered email is the best channel for moving the decision-making process along. Consider these stats from The DMA:

  • Triggered emails were responsible for 30% of all B2C revenue in 2015, up from 17% the year before.
  • Segmented, targeted, and triggered campaigns were responsible for over 70% of email marketing ROI.
  • The conversion rate for email subscribers is 6x higher than for social or direct mail.
  • 81% of online shoppers were more likely to make a purchase decision after receiving a targeted email.
  • Marketers see an average of 20% increase in sales after implementing a triggered email campaign.

Hey, are you a travel company owner or marketing director?

Then join How to Grow Your Travel Business With Content Marketing!

In this free 7-day email course, I’ll teach you how to improve sales for your company so that your focus remains where it’s needed most — delivering amazing vacations and holidays. Get my copy now.

What, exactly, is a drip email campaign?

At 10x Travel, we help travel companies get more bookings. That’s our sole focus.

We start off helping all travel companies with the same two-step approach:

  1. We write well-researched, useful, engaging articles that solve a real problem your customers have and we promote it properly to make sure it’s seen by your target audience (and people who have never interacted with your brand before).
  2. We create a six-part, trigger-based, educational email course that answers questions and builds relationships with your target audience over six emails which are drip-fed to them over several days.

Why is that important? Especially if you’re getting good traffic to your website?

Just to reiterate — website visitors alone do not create bookings. And they often don’t even create inquiries. On their own, they’re just numbers on your analytics dashboard.

Remember, it takes at least 6 to 8 touches to turn a suspect into a sales-ready lead. Let that sink in for a minute.

That’s 6 to 8 problem-solving, pain-point-overcoming, relationship-building touches before your target is ready to make a decision about considering your company for their next vacation.

So how are you going to create those touch points?

Email. Trigger-based, drip-fed email campaigns.

Here’s the beauty of an educational drip email campaign:

  1. It leads a prospective customer — who’s interested in the travel services that you offer — through a process where they learn about what you offer. This helps them understand the tradeoffs involved in travelling with you, and determine if you’re a good fit for their needs. This minimizes future questions, because the most common queries that would usually be answered by your sales team manually are covered in these emails.
  2. Because it’s drip-fed, this information is communicated over several emails over several days. Each of these emails is another relationship-building touch point with you and your travel company. Six smaller interactions will deepen a relationship more than one larger interaction.
  3. Because it’s trigger-based, that correspondence begins when the prospective customer decides, which means the email have high-relevance to them. If I get an email about something I’ve asked for, 30 seconds after I’ve asked for it, I’m much more likely to engage with it compared to yet another promotional email blast that I didn’t ask for.
  4. It’s 100% automated. Which means it takes up precisely none of your sales team’s time.

If you can convert a visitor to your website into an subscriber to one of these drip email campaigns — well, you’ve got a direct line to that customer and permission to use it!

Which means all those email conversations…all those repetitive back-and-forth messages with a potential customer whose intent you don’t even know are now a completely automatic, hands-off process.

I’m sure you can already see the enormous benefits here.

Which leads us to the next question — how, exactly, do you convert a website visitor into an email subscriber?

A compelling opt-in solves that problem

‘Opt-in?’ Let me explain…

You may be familiar with what a ‘lead magnet’ is. A glossy brochure, an e-book, a whitepaper, a how-to guide — these are the go-to forms for lead magnets. You’re offering your website visitor something of value in exchange for his or her email address and a direct line of communication.

Traditional lead magnets have their place and many of our customers have slick, well-produced guides and brochures that they’ve used with varying levels of success.

What we’ve found at 10x Travel, though, is that an email course is far more effective at nurturing leads and moving them along the path to purchase.

Why does an email course do a better job?

Because when you offer a bribe like an ebook, that’s all your suspect is signing up for. Open rates on that first email (the one that delivers the ebook) will be great, but you don’t get buy-in for the next email.

Or the next.

Or the next.

There’s no incentive to continue opening your emails and reading your content.

We’re trying to build trust and a genuine one-to-one relationship, remember?

So… touch points.

Think of it like dating. You don’t ask for marriage on the first date and you also don’t offer up everything you have — if you do, where’s the incentive for a second date?

An email course solves so many problems all at once:

  • You provide educational content so your sales staff isn’t answering the same questions over and over,
  • You are consistently interacting with your prospect and keeping his eyes on your brand, and
  • You have measurable behaviours you can track to determine his intent (i.e. a warm lead).

Beautiful, isn’t it?

What does an email course opt-in look like and how does it work?

Here’s an example from a customer of ours — Tour of Sicily. As you can see, the opt-in is an unobtrusive pop-up we place on the travel company’s website.

We also create opportunities to sign up on social media, particularly Facebook, for people who are potentially interested in what you offer but are nowhere near ready to have a conversation with your sales team about booking.

At least not yet.

Social media gives you an opportunity to get fresh eyes — people whose interests align with your product but may not know you exist — on your content.

You’ve convinced me to write an email course, now what?

This is where we use our secret weapon, Drip. I could tell you how it works, what it’s best for, and how to put it to work for you…

…or you could just read this, which does a much better job than I could.

Instead, let me tell you how it will work for your travel company.

Drip is far and away my favourite marketing automation tool and email platform. Head to head with Infusionsoft or Hubspot or MailChimp, Drip is the outright winner in my book.

The visual timeline for each subscriber makes it extraordinarily easy to track how your leads are engaging with you. Every interaction they have with your brand is laid out in chronological history:

It’s set up so simply that even a novice can use it effectively right out of the box without a steep learning curve.

This is tied to Drip’s lead-scoring system, which allows you to assign points to each interaction for that lead (more on this in a moment).

This is all completely customisable, and can be connected to built-in email triggers and actions.

How useful would it be to send a targeted email to everyone on your list that visited a particular page on your website — like your pricing page?

So right now you may be thinking, “but Max, do I really need another marketing tool to deal with when I already have all these other programs and packages that don’t even work together?”

Yes. Yes, you do.

Because Drip pulls all those tools together and works with everything you’re already using. If you’re like most marketers, you’re familiar with LeadPages — the landing page tool that helps you collect subscribers.

Well, LeadPages acquired Drip last summer. And it’s a partnership that’s delivering amazing results for marketers — even marketers for smaller travel businesses — because it’s efficient, easy-to-use and available at a price point that anyone can afford (yes, even you).

Maybe you’ve considered other, similar marketing automation tools like Infusionsoft, which was the gold standard for many years. But they don’t call it “Confusionsoft” for nothing:





And that’s before you take into account their $199 starting price point.

And then there’s Hubspot — which is great if you’re ready to shell out $3k for onboarding and another $800 a month to get a similar suite of marketing automation features that compares to Drip.

MailChimp is trying to get into the automation game (but that’s not the tool they originally built so you can guess how that’s turning out).

Drip is the perfect tool. It’s straightforward, user-friendly, and affordable for a travel company that is likely to have a little trial-and-error before it becomes profitable.

OK, I’m sold on Drip. Now what?

Here’s how your Drip-powered educational email course will work for you…

Let’s say someone new visits your travel company’s website — we’ll call her Mary.

Ideally Mary looks like your ideal customer. This means:

  • She’s in the same age range as your existing customers,
  • Comes from a similar country or has a similar profession,
  • Has interests that relate to what your company offers

…and so on.

And so Mary arrives on your site, looks around a bit… but she’s not even close to making an inquiry. Yet.

Mary is part of that 95% of website visitors I mentioned earlier, remember?

In short, she’s researching. And she’s probably looking at around 37 other travel sites whilst she does it, according to a study conducted by Expedia.

So it’s fair to say that whilst Mary has good potential to eventually become a customer of your travel business, right now she doesn’t really know what she wants or even exactly what you offer.

And so she won’t go to the contact page or fill in a form because she isn’t ready.

Then your email course opt-in shows up.

This represents a low commitment. Mary doesn’t have to give up any personal information except a name and an email address. She’s intrigued because the email course promises to answer questions about something she’s already interested in.

Most importantly, it doesn’t signal: “Hey, I’m ready to book a tour — call me.”

So Mary signs up. And you’ve got a new subscriber.

As soon as she sign ups, Mary gets the first of six tightly-focused emails that introduces her to the course, introduces you as an authority and reliable guide, and sets the stage for an ongoing relationship.

You’ll notice a few things about the email in the Tour of Sicily example above:

  • It’s from a real person, Vincenzo, instead of a brand name. The same with the email address — it’s from a real person.
  • It’s plain text (no big company logos or massive images) and is personalised with Mary’s name, so it feels like a normal email.
  • As a result, the end user treats it like a real email, and they will give it more attention and often just hit reply.

What’s more, it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship by laying out the syllabus of the email course.

So Mary is going to learn about why Sicily is a great destination, the best dishes and wines to try whilst she’s there, how to prepare for her trip…

…everything she needs to know and understand if she wants to visit Sicily, in other words.

And that experience is going to happen over the course of six emails sent over several days.

So that’s six, problem-solving interactions between Mary and Vincenzo (the owner of Tour of Sicily and the sender of the emails in this example).

Feeling skeptical that this works?

Would it surprise you to know that our travel company customers get open rates of 50%, 60%, even approaching 70%?

Because they do.

Subscribers to your email course are already interested in what you have to say — so they are anxious to hear from you.

I said I’d come back to lead-scoring earlier. Well, here’s where it really gets good.

With Drip, we can score every single interaction a reader has with the email course. So:

Let’s say Mary opened the first email — that’s two points.

Then let’s imagine that she clicked through to the website — that’s four points.

Imagine she visits five or six pages and comes back to your site again the next day — more points.

See what I mean?

As a result, after the first six emails we can now identify if Mary is an engaged subscriber (i.e. a hot lead), or whether she’s lost interest. In other words, we know pretty well who is ready to buy and who is just gathering information.

So if Mary gets a high score, then after email six she’ll receive a sequence of three more emails designed to move her further along the decision-making process.

These emails are more sales-focused and present your product as the next step on this educational journey she’s on. Along the lines of:

“In the last 6 emails you’ve learnt all about planning a tour to Sicily and some of the things you can do there. Now here’s how [Your Travel Company] can help you turn that into reality.”

 

So that’s what creates enquiries and creates ‘sales conversations’ for your travel business.

Either these will be replies to the emails, which begin a sales conversation.

Or they will be inquiries that come through the intake survey.

What’s an ‘intake survey’?

 

In short, it’s kind of like an inquiry or booking request form. But it doesn’t look at all like the usual form you’re probably using on your website right now.

It’s a narrative, conversational style of form we’ve developed for inquiry-based travel companies which is designed to minimize drop-offs.

And once your suspect has completed it, you’ve got a highly-qualified prospect ready for the sales conversation.

But that’s a story for my next blog post, so be sure to check back to see exactly what Typeform is and how we are using it to help our clients get highly qualified prospects — and more bookings

Food for thought…

What have we learnt about how travel companies use email to generate and manage inquiries?

And what can you put into practice today to start getting more bookings for your travel business?

  • In any complex decision-making process (like booking travel), your prospect needs at least 6 to 8 personalized interactions or touchpoints to convert them into a sales-ready lead. You can spend hundreds of staff hours manually creating those interactions — or you can automate the process. Seems like a pretty easy choice, right?
  • Traditional lead magnets work up to a point — you get buy-in for your initial email delivering the goods and then…not much. You need something that creates a permission-based environment for multiple ongoing communications. An email course creates that environment and solves the problem of educating your potential customers about your brand and your product. A double win.
  • Trigger-based email drip campaigns work. There’s a mountain of data proving their effectiveness. That’s because you’re delivering the exact information your customer is looking for at the exact time she’s most likely to act on it.
  • Drip is a travel company’s best friend when it comes to email marketing automation — you can use it right out of the box and the price is right. And by recording and scoring every interaction your subscribers have with your brand, Drip delivers hot leads ripe for conversion. Why waste your sales team’s time on customers who aren’t ready to book?

If you’d like to turn your ho-hum email marketing efforts into a tightly focused and extremely effective email campaign, I and the 10x team are here to help you get started.

Ready to get more bookings with email today? Then let’s have a chat.

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