Socrates was a teacher that lived sometime between 470 BC and 399 BC. His methods of communicating, teaching and sharing information were so effective that they formed the foundation of modern western philosophy.
What set Socrates apart from his contemporaries was his ability to influence and persuade. Instead of just hosting lectures and telling people how to think, Socrates employed a fresh approach to education. It is his process that the most effective sales experts have adopted today – because it works.
Interestingly, Socrates came before the stoics and definitely long before John Henry Patterson or David Ogilvy – two men considered to be the titans of modern-day sales and advertising. Yet Socrates was the original influencer.
If you recognize yourself as an above-average closer, you’re probably already instinctively using his tactics.
And if you are not, I can almost guarantee that simply making a few small adjustments to your consultation style will increase your close rates anywhere from 10 to 40%. That’s a huge percentage for any travel business.
Despite the fact that the role of travel advisor has the word “advise” baked into the title, Socrates knew that nobody really wants advice. Even when people say they are looking for advice, they aren’t, really.
They want someone to listen to them and confirm what they already believe to be true. Are you any different? When was the last time you asked for advice and actually took it? 🤔
Create a collaborative environment
Socrates recognized that when people arrived at a resolution that they felt they had a hand in formulating, they were more apt to accept the outcome of a decision. Therefore, step one of the Socrates’ selling process is to bring the horse to water…but then allow them to take the drink themselves.
This runs contrary to sales stratagems that extol the virtues of listing features and benefits. Instead, a much better approach would be to work alongside the client…asking a series of questions that will ultimately lead them to make the most informed choice.
To start the Socratic selling process, a travel advisor may phrase the first meeting like this:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. From our initial phone conversation, I understand that you are both looking to do a walking tour of Tuscany. I specialize in travel within Italy, so I’m sure I’ll be able to help guide you in finding the perfect holiday.
But before we get started, do you mind if I ask you some questions. I’d love to record this so I can focus on your responses. Would that be okay?
- Tell me, what made you consider Italy? And more specifically, Tuscany?
- Have you been before?
- Have you done walking tours in other places?
- What did you enjoy most about those travels?
- Was there anything that took you by surprise in a good way? Tell me more about that.
- In a less than ideal way? Tell me more about that?
- When you think of Italy and Tuscany, what thoughts come to mind?
- Are you drawn to the food and wine?
- The culture?
- The history?
- Complete this sentence…A walking tour of Tuscany must include (blank). Only then would you consider it to have been a success.
- IF you could picture the perfect hotel in Tuscany, what would it look like to you? Do you like the remoteness of a farm home, or would you like a spot where you could walk to restaurants at night?
- Have you known people who have travelled to Tuscany before? What did they most love?
- Describe what you might consider your perfect holiday? What makes it so? Could you elaborate on that?
- If budget was of no consequence, what would that holiday look like?
- Tell me about the best trip you ever took. What made it so?
- Is there anything else I should know that would better help me understand your preferences?
- What haven’t I asked that maybe I should have?
These questions may seem a bit overkill, but they are necessary and all part of the Socratic selling process. And I’m sure I missed a few, but I think you get the idea.
Be like Yoda, rather than Luke Skywalker.
Your role as a travel consultant is not to play the hero. Which sounds simple but surprisingly isn’t. After all, we are taught to portray ourselves as experts in our travel niches. And when you are the expert, it’s hard not to jump in and save the day.
The best consultants understand the fine line between their role and that of their clients. They understand the value of empowering the client to arrive at their own conclusions and answers. And let’s face it, whether we are conscious of it or not, we all want to play the role of the hero.
This method also cuts back on the potential of buyers’ remorse. When a client feels like they are in charge of making the choice rather than feeling manipulated, they are less likely to second guess their purchasing decision.
Question all assumptions
The magic of the Socrates selling process lies in the questions asked of the client and never taking the answers at face value. Sometimes we get trapped into thinking we know the answer or pre-populating the answer with our own thoughts. Simply adding…”Tell me more about that.” Can allow your client to open up and share insights that will better help you meet their needs.
The biggest mistake we can make is jumping to conclusions and not having the patience to really listen. Have you ever felt to finish a client’s thought because you felt like you just knew what they were trying to say? Step back. Bite your tongue if you have to, and just be patient.
An ancient Chinese belief passed down through the ages says…” Empty your cup.”
In other words, approach sales conversations as clean slates. We need to be open and allow ourselves to really hear the words of our clients.
One of the biggest mistakes I have found most travel consultants make is jumping in way too soon and trying to create the perfect holiday itinerary without fully understanding the needs of their clients.
After all, you’ve been selling travel for probably years at this stage. You may even think you’ve heard it all. But you haven’t, and even if you have, no two clients are the same.
Trust me, turn off the stopwatch. Take your time and ask, ask, ask. Dig as deeply as you dare, and don’t jump in until you feel you’ve fully exhausted every question. Yes, your initial consultation will take much longer, but you will save yourself countless revisions later down the road.
Propose alternate perspectives
And even when you do get to the point where you feel it’s time to take the stage and show your stuff…
Selling like Socrates requires you to hold back and phrase solutions in such a way that, again, the client feels like they’ve stumbled across the answers themselves.
Sometimes, clients come to us with their own preconceived notions and expectations of a particular holiday experience. Maybe their friends gave them travel advice that you feel is questionable.
Using the above example of the walking tour of Tuscany, what if a client came to you adamant that renting a car and driving the coastline to visit Cinque Terre was on their bucket list? Instead of launching into reasons that idea is more suited for a death-wish list, ask more probing questions.
“Tell me more about that? What attracts you to the idea of renting a car?” After speaking with your client, maybe you’ll uncover that they simply don’t want to be tied down to somebody else’s schedule. Offer alternate solutions for them to consider and ultimately choose from – leaving them as the ones in control of planning the holiday.
Give up the floor 80% of the time.
It can sometimes feel unnatural to sit back and let someone else do all the talking. You may find you have this uncontrollable urge to interject to get the conversation moving along. That would be a mistake. Allow your client full use of the stage.
The one thing that people often said about Socrates was that he was a very likable guy. He was considered a likable guy because he asked a lot of questions. He seemed genuinely interested in the point of view of others, and they felt that. He would repeat back what was said to show understanding and empathy. People loved him. He was humble. And in fact, one of his most notable quotes was:
It helped build his reputation as one of the world’s most naturally gifted debaters and world-renowned thought leaders.
Why not give the Socrates method of selling on your next consultation a try and see if it changes how open your clients become and with that, more willing to work with you?
If you are interested in learning more, book an appointment with me. Helping travel advisors uplevel their game is my jam.