Major changes in communication modes, travel agency models and its own product have spurred Holland America Line to execute a complete revamp of its sales structure.
There have been so many substantive changes to HAL’s product in the past three-plus years under the leadership of Orlando Ashford, that the line felt it was a top priority to improve the how those changes are communicated to and interpreted by travel agents.
"Our focus is to educate the trade about who Holland America Line is today,” says Vice President of Sales Eva Jenner. “There are misperceptions about the brand and the type of guests that would be perfect for Holland America Line."
To get there, HAL execs decided a new approach to its sales force was necessary – taking into account today’s diverse retail models and the rise of social media and other communication vehicles.
Jenner says the process of redesigning HAL’s sales structure has been ongoing for more than a year: "We worked with an outside consultant, an internal design team -- folks at different levels within the sales department. Ten of them met every six weeks to put together the new design, trying to work through the gaps that we need to fill on working better with accounts and creating better strategies.
The new structure soft-launched in August, with the old teams introducing agents to the new teams taking over the accounts. "It's officially in place now, but it took a bit of time to make sure all the introductions were done," explains Jenner.
"Throughout this whole process, our trade partners remain a critical element of how we get connected to guests," says President Orlando Ashford. "The majority of our business comes through the agent channel."
Ashford notes that the changes are partially in recognition that communication modes have changed dramatically: "Things move faster, so we have changed how we share those changes with the travel agents."
New Communications Group
Given Ashford’s priority, it's no surprise that as part of the new sales structure, there's a new trade engagement and communications team to help agents understand the evolving product, get the word out, and ensure that the messaging about today's HAL is being pushed out in the right ways, whether it's email blasts, seminars, fams, or Holland America Line Academy.
Heading that team is Denella Ri'chard, Senior Director of Trade, Communications, and Engagement. This group touches all of the other changes being implemented by HAL's sales restructuring.
Specialists For Distinct Channels
Another priority is to ensure that travel agents with varied business models are provided with the right kind of support.
That means more specialization. Of the BDMs working with the traditional storefronts, Jenner says: "The field sales team has more specific duties now. For example, a BDM will predominantly work with standard brick and mortar-type accounts, and they will also have agencies that belong to some type of home-based membership, like a Nexion or Cruise Planners."
"We also have a new strategic accounts team to support those accounts that work a little differently," continues Jenner. "Within the strategic accounts team, we have people focused on home-based agencies. We have a team that's focused on technology-based accounts. And a team that works specifically with national accounts (membership-based consortia)."
Members of the new strategic accounts team divvy up the accounts based on unique business models, as opposed to allocating by geographic territories.
On top of that, Holland America Line now has a sales planning group providing in-depth reporting to and about accounts. "It's so agencies know how they're performing with us, along with detailed data that they never had from us before regarding their numbers," says Jenner.
Jenner says the structure is unique to Holland America Line. "I've talked to my counterparts at Carnival and Princess about the new design that we have, and they are definitely interested to see how it all works out."
Agents were also consulted before HAL ran with the plan. HAL presented the idea in person to the Holland America Line Advisory Board, made up of 20 travel agent partners. Jenner notes: "They liked that everything is so well structured, it sounds like, in terms of knowing who to deal with for what, the fact that they have a better understanding of what the team is ... who they go to for what.
"They also have a better sense of, 'Okay, the team that I'm working with understands how my particular channel works and is able to know what I'm capable of, and their focus is on this particular way of doing this. So, they understand it frontwards and backwards.'"
Specific Examples: Storefront Scenario
Cruise Week asked for specific examples of how the new structure works in action. The publication gave Jenner a for-instance: say I'm a store front agent, leisure-oriented. I do my Holland America Alaska groups, sometimes one a year, sometimes two a year. I do some Europe, some Alaska, and some Caribbean. How would the new sales team structure change the way I deal with Holland America Line?
Jenner responds that my BDM will have more time to focus on my account than in the past.
"Before, some of the unique channels, like home-based or the technology-based accounts, may have required more time out of the BDM. Now the BDM has the ability to focus and work more closely with the account to help business even more."
Specialized Support: National Sales Model
And what if I'm a large national seller, already selling a lot of Holland America?
"A lot of national sellers do rely on technology a lot," she notes, "and so having a team that understands how that particular model works is valued."
For example, because there may be a heavy reliance on the Internet, much of their business is price- or deal-driven. "So, their assigned team knows how to navigate through the company to put together a deal for that particular account," she says. "Or be nimble enough to move quickly, because they're able to go to market faster than some of the traditional type of accounts."
How does the new business model specifically help a home-based seller? Jenner says working with home-based agents has changed as before a network headquarters would have been supported by the assigned geographical BDM because their headquarters happened to be in their area.
"Now the strategic accounts team works at the headquarters level of the home-based accounts. That team disseminates the information to the field sales team. The field sales team is then able to work closely with the home-based agent in his/her territory."
The agency business environment is more complicated than ever, and for many accounts multiple levels of support provides a more thorough and robust understanding of the agent’s business. There has always been specialized support from sales teams, but Holland America Line is taking it to a new level.