The Brancatelli File



November, 1993 -- How can you turn a gaggle of airline pilots, flight attendants and reservations agents into a small army of crack salespeople prepared to sell the gospel of Kiwi International Airlines?

You can't, says Kiwi regional sales manager Paul G. Clements. You just do the best you can because you've got no other choice. With a dedicated sales and marketing staff of just seven people, limited resources, and a prospect list of 7,000 travel agencies and 1,200 small businesses, Kiwi's survival depends on getting sales mileage out of its line employees

"We don't have the entertainment budget or the ad dollars of the big airlines," says Clements. "So you work with what you do have: a highly motivated group of employees willing to do anything to keep this airline alive. The sales aspect is all new to them, but they have the urgency to succeed because Kiwi is a second chance for them. They've all lost their jobs before when other airlines folded."

Every Kiwi employee is asked to devote four unpaid hours a month to sales activities. And since travel agents sell about 80 percent the nation's airline seats, most employees are being drafted into the carrier's new "Adopt-An-Agency" program.

Created by Maxine Krill, Kiwi's director of sales administration, the Adopt-An-Agency campaign assigns each employee a prospect list of ten travel agencies near their home. "Our business comes from the little guy on the corner," says Krill, "so we want our employees to become friends with their local agents and give them whatever help they can."

Before a pilot, flight attendant or reservations agent begins calling on their adopted travel agencies, however, they get a two-hour sales seminar from Clements, who spent parts of four decades selling and training sales executives at TWA. "I want to train these people on a professional basis," Clements says, "but you have to keep it simple."

Simple indeed. The first moments of the Clements seminar is devoted to an explanation of the basic workings of a travel agency. "Most Kiwi pilots and flight attendants have never met a travel agent even though they've worked in the airline business for 20 years," he notes. After the basics, Clements walks employees through the murky world of commission overrides.

Although the standard travel agent's commission is ten percent of the ticket price, most carriers offer a range of overrides on everything from ticket sales on a specific route to the agency's total volume with an airline. In the hardscrabble world of travel agencies--a typical agent working in a mom-and-pop shop may earn less than $20,000 a year--income from overrides often dictate which carrier travel agents promote to their clients.

But Kiwi doesn't offer overrides, so Clements tries to make employees "aware of what's going on so they don't get hit with a 2-by-4 when they walk through the door. It's hard even for an experienced salesperson to sell against an airline that's out there buying business."

Clements devotes most of the rest of his seminar to a rudimentary lesson in how to make a sales call. He breaks a Kiwi call into five broad areas:

GETTING THE TRAVEL AGENT'S ATTENTION Clements says there's no better attention-getter than arriving at a travel agency in uniform. "It's especially effective for pilots because most travel agents have never met a pilot and they are immediately impressed. Besides, the uniform helps divert attention from the technical aspects of selling that a pilot wouldn't know about."

CREATING INTEREST IN KIWI Clements suggests telling "the basic Kiwi story," which details the creation of the airline from the debris of several of the nation's storied, but now defunct, carriers; its owner-employee philosophy and the experience of the Kiwi workforce; and its interest in working with travel agencies. "Travel agents are well disposed to give us a hearing because they've had to explain [the recent chaos in commercial aviation] to their own clients."

EXPRESSING CONVICTION IN KIWI'S PRODUCT Clements urges Kiwi employees to sell "only what they can substantiate. A real hurdle is getting them over the misconception that good selling is having a touch of the blarney," says Clements, a native of Ireland who still speaks with a bit of a brogue after 33 years in the United States.

CREATING A DESIRE FOR KIWI'S PRODUCT Clements teaches Kiwi employees how to translate the airline's unique product features into tangible benefits a travel agent can sell to a prospective passenger. High on the list: Kiwi's simple, tasty in-flight food service and top-shelf liquors; its low fares that carry few or no restrictions; and the fact that Kiwi's seating configuration offers passengers substantially more legroom than competing airline.

ASKING FOR THE BUSINESS "The biggest problem is closing," says Clements. "They don't know what to ask for--but that's the problem with all salespeople, not just pilots and flight attendants."

After completing the Clements selling seminar, employees are given a two-page list of "Guidelines for Travel Agent Visits." Besides re-enforcing Clements' basic messages, the tip sheet suggests when to visit an agency (Tuesdays through Thursdays are best, but not during the lunch hour); what to include in the Kiwi leave-behind (brochures, schedule cards, ticket jackets, etc.); and how to handle questions (never guess, always call headquarters for help).

The guideline even include a reminder that employees should thank travel agents for their time.

This column appeared as a sidebar to a major feature in Selling magazine about Kiwi International.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.