Insights | Sales

The Top Two Airline Sales Lessons

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Michael Brown | November 05, 2018

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In keeping with tradition, we returned last night to Columbia Business School to hear Johna Johnson, the Vice President of East Sales at American Airlines, offer her top two airline sales lessons. Johna has been active in the travel industry for over twenty-nine years and prior to running the east coast for the company, she managed American Airlines’ largest portfolio of global corporate accounts. Here are her top two airline sales lessons for sales reps and managers alike:


1. Be Willing To Adapt. After joining the airline industry, Johna had to keep pace with whatever was asked of her. She left LA, moving a total of eight times to cities including Minneapolis, Houston, New Orleans, Kansas City, Omaha, and Atlanta. Just like Ken Dixon, who’s held 23 positions at Verizon in the span of 26 years, Johna noted, “You have to be willing to relocate. We want [our sales reps and managers] to have other market experience.” Once positioned, equally important is catering to your market. “In New York, for example, people really expect their salesperson to be an expert. We have to make sure our people are very seasoned to the industry.” At the end of the day though, regardless of location, the number one thing Johna wants her salespeople to do is show individual companies “how much value we [can] bring them financially.”


2. Focus On Personalities. Something unique at American Airlines is that all members of management are required to take an Emergenetics test that characterizes their personalities into four traits: analytical, structural, social, and conceptual. Johna believes in the idea, explaining, “People show up whole… and as a leader you need to be paying attention to that.” As a result, the Emergenetics test profiles are both displayed on each executive’s desk and published in an app that any of the other executives can see. “A lot of sales are driven out of relationships and understanding peoples default decision making.” By designing teams that showcase a variety of personality strengths, Johna is able to make her sales organizations more effective as a whole.


American Airlines is the largest airline in the world measured by fleet size, revenue, profit, or passengers carried. Johna’s top two airline sales lessons offer some insight into how American has consistently out-performed its rivals to remain one of the world’s strongest companies and are ideas sales reps and managers from companies of all sizes should consider as they seek to grow.


If you liked “The Top Two Airline Sales Lessons” and want to read more content from the Bowery Capital Team, check out other relevant posts from the Bowery Capital Blog. Special thanks to Robbie Linck for his help with this post.

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