Private aviation charters are, by nature, sales-driven organizations. Sales is key, as the founders and brokers working in private aviation usually tend to come from sales or customer-facing aviation backgrounds themselves. It is only natural that most owners in this industry rely completely on the prospecting ability and preexisting networks of their brokers to drive new leads and close business. But is that still a viable and efficient approach in 2020?
The Status Quo
“We need to grow the business guys, that’s why I brought in Jim from Jet Company ABC, he will be reaching out to his old contacts and help us grow our sales pipeline by factor X in the next 6 months. Welcome, Jim!” The scenario I just described is quite common in most small to medium-sized private aviation charters. Sales are stagnating, the leads are wood and new business is desperately needed. Enter the new sales guy! I think by now it is common knowledge that the “let’s hire a new salesperson or bring in a new partner to grow the company” approach is not infinitely scalable or even feasible in most cases and can lead to a multitude of problems if over-used.
Bringing in a new person, on-boarding them and building a pipeline takes months and a lot of money. Not only that but in a lot of cases, internal friction due to cultural or personal differences can often delay that process by several weeks or months. Depending on the compensation packages given to brokers, this way of growing the business can even lead to profit margins that are so razor-thin, that the company itself becomes endangered if a new sales hire doesn’t turn out to be performing after the initial training period. Not a nice place to be in as a business owner or sales leader, that’s for sure.
Low Quality Leads
Another part of the recurring stagnation problem in most private jet charters is the fact that lead generation or prospecting is highly unprofessional and often left up to the individual brokers. Slowly grinding away at cold calling, cold emailing and social media outreach does yield some results, but the quality of the leads in terms of business fit, affluence and urgency can be hit and miss at best. The result of that process is a lot of wasted sales rep time and a pipeline which tends to be quite unreliable.
In some cases, business owners and sales leaders will buy leads and data for their brokers in bulk from data vendors that offer lists with selectors like industry, net-worth, age, country and so on. While this approach is better than nothing, due to data degradation and the fact that these leads are often as cold as Antarctica, only an abysmally small percentage of these outreach initiatives will usually result in closed business even if the brokers are on-point with their b2c luxury sales skill set.
Generating Your Own Warm Leads
So how can owners and managers stop this wasteful grind? Instead of constantly investing in new sales people or buying cheap cold leads at bulk, how about you start generating your own warm leads? A warm lead is a person that opted-in on your website (for example filled out a contact or request form, downloaded a piece of content or straight up called the sales number listed in your contact section). A good warm lead that is qualified also has done some basic research on your offering and has the means to afford private travel in the first place. Closing this type of lead is often significantly easier than reaching out to somebody who has never heard about you, might not even be in the market for private aviation and generally just feels annoyed by your sales pitch or cold call.
Most owners are extremely surprised once they switch their lead generation approach to an inbound or hybrid methodology. All of a sudden the existing sales force is way more efficient, closes more deals, in less time too and the profit margins start to rise. All without increasing the size of the team or buying millions of contacts. But how can you start this transition to warm lead generation if your sales force is traditional and entrenched?
It is simple, start doing direct aviation marketing. In direct marketing, you built online marketing funnels (comparable to sales cycles in traditional sales). A good funnel consists of targeted traffic or media buying in the front, great content and web design in the middle and intelligent marketing automation and lead nurturing / sales support in the back-end. This style of data-driven marketing can be used to drive high-net-worth leads, qualify them and warm them up for your sales team to close them over the phone or in-person if necessary. The downside of this approach is that in the beginning, it can seem like a big investment to create a strategy, build out personas, buy targeted affluent traffic and design a lot of the parts of the funnel yourself. But once the machine works, it produces a steady flow of warm private aviation leads based on the amount of resources you put in. The dream of every business owner – no more hit and miss but instead a steady flow of solid leads.
Getting Your Team On-Board
Generating the warm leads is important but getting your brokers to call and follow up with those leads in due time can be a challenge in itself as well. One way to go about this is role specialization: splitting sales/prospecting and business development (inside sales) into two different teams. The sales reps qualify the warm leads and then hand over to the biz devs for closing.
Making sure that your precious warm leads are not wasted, setting up some form of service level agreement might also make sense. This way you can craft an internal agreement between marketing and sales that everybody agrees to beforehand. Marketing generates the warm leads, sales follows up and tries to close within a fixed amount of time and maintains a minimum of touchpoints before moving on to the next lead. Healthy levels of communication and built-in feedback cycles between departments are crucial to transform a traditional private jet charter company into a well oiled direct marketing machine that converts profitable warm leads into large, high-ticket charter bookings.