Connie Moody has traveled to 103 countries and plans to add two more this year: Latvia and the Faroe Islands.
So it's fair to say that Moody loves to sell travel.
But often it's not her passion for travel that generates business as a travel consultant for Preferred Travel of Naples, it's her love of art and music. “I think the outside interests have been a real part of my success,” Moody says.
When she moved to Naples in 1989, Moody volunteered and hosted fundraisers for the United Arts Council of Collier County. She currently serves on the board of the Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art's fundraising arm and hosts fundraising cruises for the Naples Philharmonic League.
It's through such charity organizations that Moody has found her best customers, which she calls “pied pipers.” These are people who can corral dozens of friends and family to join them on trips that Moody organizes.
You might think of these folks as Moody's extended sales force, but they don't want to be paid. These are people who just love to travel in groups with all their friends. One email about a trip to a pied piper can result in 20 people booking the next day, Moody says.
“Pied pipers always want their friends to know they're not getting free travel,” Moody says. “They're viewed as the experts and the people who have connections.”
Moody says she sells “well over” $1 million in leisure travel a year, mostly to retired clients in Naples. “I have clients who spend a couple hundred thousand dollars a year,” she says.
A former business-development officer for Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, Moody knows her clientele. “I take a very soft-sell approach,” she says. “They don't want someone calling them and harassing them.”
Moody emails her clients with a trip she is selling, which allows them to consider it on their own time. To generate a sense of urgency, she limits the price and availability to seven days. Every other day, she'll remind clients via email about the offer, sending additional information such as a list of excursions. Her average sale is $10,000 and she estimates her response rate is 10%.
Her extensive travel experience gives her an edge, she says. For example, she knows exactly how far Istanbul's airport is from the city (seven miles), one of her favorite destinations. “They don't know that private guide in Istanbul,” she says.
Most of her work isn't glamorous travel, though. Moody says creating a trip takes hours of desk-bound work because every day has to be meticulously planned. “I've found they really like a level of personal service,” she says. Often, that includes navigating the bureaucratic hassles of obtaining passports and hard-to-get visas. For example, Brazil's consulate in Miami recently was approving just four tourist visas a day. “The Internet wouldn't do that for you,” she says.
Another source of customers has come from the publication of a monthly column Moody writes for e'Bella magazine, a lifestyle publication that targets wealthy women in Naples. The column helps Moody establish herself as the travel expert and one reader who contacted her as a result of a column has since spent $100,000 in travel.
•Work with your client's budget. “The one thing I've learned is what I think is expensive isn't necessarily expensive to others,” says Connie Moody.
•Network at charity functions. But do it because you're passionate about a cause. “You don't want to be in it just to get the contacts,” Moody says.
•Never overhype what you sell. The key to successful travel planning: “No bad surprises.” Communicate with customers so they know what to expect.
•Establish yourself as the expert. Writing a regular magazine column is one way to do that.
•Customers come in all sizes. Once a year, one of Moody's customers flies into Naples on his private jet, walks into her office in blue jeans and plaid shirt and buys thousands of dollars worth of travel. You wouldn't know he owned a private jet if you saw him on the street.
BEST SALES TOOL:
Connie Moody uses a software program called ClientBase that helps her keep track of her customers. It tells her what their preferences are, past travel, frequent-flier account numbers and passport expiration dates.
It also helps her manage her contacts with customers, reminding her to notify them about special deals or other important information. But technology is only part of it. “I'm really blessed with a great memory,” she says.