Use Facebook as a sales channel
(Published in TTG 25.09.13)
Using Facebook as a sales channel – as opposed to just ‘keeping in touch’ with customers – is the holy grail of social media. Sandals business development manager Gary Atwell tells Matthew Parsons how he has been able to do just that
In a recent Facebook update, Sandals’ Gary Atwell asks: “What shall I have for breakfast?”, the question accompanying a picture of his room’s minibar. vodka, gin, whisky…
Luckily it’s doubtful his legion of friends – numbering 1,200 – will be concerned by the business development manager’s morning drinking habits. It’s just an example of the kind of “banter” he enjoys, mixed perfectly with genuine sales and promotions that have so far led to tens of thousands of pounds of sales.
Since March, Atwell has been using his Facebook page as a highly effective sales tool. He says the idea came a few years ago, as friends often asked him about holidays, but only earlier this year he received the go-ahead from Sandals HQ to use his personal page as an official sales tool.
“I’ve been really impressed with it so far,” he says. “I’ve been out on the road for a few years now, so I’ve got relationships with a lot of travel agents.”
Atwell is responsible for Scotland, Cumbria, Tyne & Wear, Northumberland, Cleveland and Durham, and spends a lot of time visiting agencies – with face-to-face meetings still crucial in travel.
His fellow business development managers – Donna Brooks, Lorraine Adams, Faye Shepherd and Neil Read – also now officially use Facebook to complement their sales activities.
“I encourage people I meet to ‘friend’ me – the URL address isfacebook.com/gary.atwell.92 and I’m happy to receive requests from any agents interested in selling Sandals.
“But on the road still counts for a lot. Travel may be constantly moving forward when it comes to technology, but the principles are still there,” Atwell argues.
The offers can be booked by anyone – and not special deals, he adds. “We believe in price equity, so you don’t get caught in a political nightmare.”
Fortunately, agents wanting to apply the same principle to their business do not have to worry about building up thousands of friends. Atwell claims you can see the “return on investment” immediately, as long as the offer is good.
“There’s no average time on Facebook. I recently posted an offer – a butler suite and return BA flat-bed flights – and it was booked within one day via Facebook. It can be instant if the offer is right.”
As well as winning sales, Atwell believes his picture posts are also good PR and marketing, as he’s constantly putting the brand in front of people’s eyes.
As a result, Sandals is now looking at Facebook more closely – as part of a wider exploration of social media as a whole. Last week, the company unveiled a new online video channel (videos.sandals.com).
“We know agents want to communicate with their clients in the freshest, most relevant ways and currently video is that tool,” says Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, an affiliate of the worldwide representatives of Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts.
These “webisodes” will feature topics such as sneak peeks of destination wedding planning and the best places to dive in the Caribbean, as well as butlers and the work the Sandals Foundation does with Caribbean citizens – all useful fodder for agents to share and potentially pique the interest of their friends.
So while Atwell suggests agents use Facebook to complement other methods of selling, just remember to keep the hotel mini-bar stocked for those quirky posts.