Quality continues to rise
Members of the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) have long recognised the importance of sales skills in building a successful business and, through their annual awards, have given a lead in raising standards and promoting excellence in the profession.
This year's awards, the 43rd, organised by the association's Sales and Marketing Executives' Club (SME), once again proved a big hit.
The level of interest and involvement, with 178 individual participants representing 62 different companies, was higher than ever. And, just as significantly, the overall quality seen in the written submissions, presentations and interaction with the judges offered an impressive display of all-round sales skills and professional expertise.
As a result, a total of 143 entrants won awards. Divided into two main categories, 107 received the prestigious Distinguished Salesperson Award (DSA), while 36 were recognised with the outstanding Young Salesperson Award (OYSA), which is reserved for contestants younger than 25 years of age.
'All these people can regard themselves as winners,' says Phoebe Chow, chairwoman of the SME Club, who was especially pleased to see 18 new companies from a range of industries nominating staff for the first time this year. 'The awards bring recognition and benefits for the salespeople, but also for employers by setting high standards, inspiring improvement and boosting morale.'
Chow explains that the main rules of the competition allow companies - of any size and in any sector - to nominate a maximum of five employees. Those individuals then submit their written entries, outlining their professional responsibilities and reasons for taking part, plus setting out their ideas and opinions on a set theme.
This time the given topic was 'thriving on fundamentals'. The aim was to encourage nominees to review what it takes to succeed in sales and, from the judges' perspective, to discover each person's professional ambitions and the ways they hope to achieve them.
For stage two, which counts for the bulk of the marks, contestants do a presentation based on their industry, product or service and answer any questions the judges raise. And to round things off, they are asked to give an improvised two-minute sales pitch for a 'random draw' item - perhaps an iPhone, memo pad or jar of hand cream - in an exercise designed to test their skills in effective selling.
'Each part is important so, for people to stand out, the crucial thing is to prepare well,' Chow says. 'The judges expect to see good writing skills, smooth presentations and will test participants' level of product knowledge whether they work in finance, insurance, telecoms, health care or some other field.'
As someone with close links to the awards for more than a decade, Chow is always impressed by the participants' enthusiasm, commitment and composure under pressure.
'I can feel their passion and see the eagerness to win these awards,' she says, pointing in particular to the creativity of many presentations and the 'props' used to hold attention or amplify a main message.
She is also quick to note that the format and process of the competition gives everyone a fair chance to excel. Bigger companies may, of course, be able to give their nominees more support in terms of preparation and advice. But in the end, it comes down to individual ability, something evident from the breadth and diversity of each year's prize winners.
Sydney Wong, chairwoman of the DSA organising committee and an award winner herself five years ago, is in no doubt that the experience of taking part gave her career a significant boost.
'Through the competition, I personally learned the importance of time management and definitely gained in self-confidence,' says Wong, who is a customer relationship manager with Hang Seng Bank. 'You have only a few minutes to demonstrate your presentation skills and need to face at least three judges. They may be from different industries, so it is essential to be clear and informative and not waste time.'
Her duties as chairwoman initially focused on increasing the number of participating companies. The intention was to ensure sales management teams understood how the competition would help their business, by sharpening individual skills and winning wider recognition. Participation in the event is also recognition of a salesperson's ability and standing in his or her company, contestants were told.
Those efforts obviously paid off since 57 of all the companies taking part have one or more award winners, indicating an appreciation of the judging criteria and dedication to achieving them.
'There is no fixed equation for what it takes to win,' Wong says. 'But clearly, salespeople have to know the strengths and weaknesses of their products, understand the client's needs and wants, and have the EQ [emotional quotient] to build trust and a good relationship.'
For many contestants, she notes, the two-minute effective selling test was a real challenge. It takes people a step or two outside their normal comfort zone, obliging them to think on their feet and apply first principles.
'It is not easy to build a relationship, sell the product and close a deal in the time allowed,' Wong says. 'I can tell you, this part is quite challenging for the awardees - and the judges.'