Who Should Buy Travel? (Part Two)

In Part One I gave my view as to who should buy travel within a corporation. To recap, I pointed out that no one person should do it. Instead an alliance of procurement and operational management was required pulled together by the influence and gravitas of a hands-on board sponsor.  [more]

In the mix of travel there is no way to success if the person buying is not linked seamlessly with those who will manage the contract and they can both give up unless there is someone on the board who fully contributes and ensures top down buy-in to the programme. Surely with the complexity, emotional factors and likelihood for misunderstanding this extra effort is worthwhile?

Here in this follow-up I will submit my view on whom in suppliers should negotiate with corporations and how, as I can say from the outset that from what I saw this process is often flawed. If you put the wrong person in front of a professional buyer you deserve everything you get. By wrong person I mean anybody that is not researched, not empowered and lacks crucial client understanding. If a buyer does not know his own volumes or traveller behaviour they too will become unstuck. Obvious really but it is a starting point as so often these ‘givens’ are not evident.

Sales are the lifeblood of any supplier especially during times of diminished and uncertain market conditions yet you would be hard pressed to see much evidence of this. To survive and thrive you would need to be decisive, flexible and have the right attitude towards prospective customers yet I think I would find very few buyers who have observed these necessary traits in their negotiations.

Many travel suppliers (especially major airlines) still seem to think there is their way or no way. The old style still thrives where a supplier will create their strategy and programmes, drive it into their sales teams and say this is the only way people can buy from us. The sales folk then have to go out with minimal flexibility or authority and try to tell the customer why they will have to fit in with what the seller wants. Some of these sales folk are little more than front line ‘cannon fodder’.

I cannot see why a far more productive approach cannot be taken. If you are selling to a high volume senior corporation then you should send out someone of a comparable level with a full mandate to close the deal. That person should not have one type of programme but a range tailored for the differing types of customer out there. It is not rocket science but prospect customers should be researched to discover what their philosophies and missions are, what their previous issues have been and what their capability to deliver is. Elementary I know but it actually happens very rarely.

If I was a buyer the first thing I would do is examine my own company well. Granted the numbers are important but equally so are the levels of internal support, mandate and cross company delivery any negotiated programme is likely to get. If you do not do this any deal could end up compromised or possibly an unpopular, unproductive financial and political liability. As I have said before you may be thinking you are buying a commodity but it quickly becomes a service as soon as the contract ink dries.

I mentioned earlier that there should be a range of potential deals and services to choose from which should deliver increased volume to suppliers and lower prices to buyers. There are plenty of ideas out there but few seem to make it past the internal discussion phase. For example I cannot understand why there cannot be different day and time pricing on individual airline routes. If you looked at airlines flying between London and New York you would find some flights at specific times and dates are always full whilst others go half empty. Why not give your best price on the slack flights?

Airlines could also give bigger rewards to corporations who save them money. By this I mean better deals for corporations who book early and whose travellers always turn up. Why not give bonuses to corporations and travellers who do such things which enable suppliers to maximise their loads and reduce costs. It still puzzles the hell out of me that suppliers still seem to allow people to not turn up without penalty as it must cost them a fortune. What other industry would allow that?

So there you have some simplistic but hopefully logical thoughts and recommendations. Suppliers should be flexible and recognise the individuality of corporations whilst buyers should spend more time ensuring they can deliver their part of the bargain.
This post was syndicated from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.