With today's customers more knowledgeable and demanding than ever before, it is vital that sales professionals keep up-to-date with market trends and consumer preferences. To help raise awareness, the Hong Kong Sales and Marketing Executives (SME) Club plays a leading role in promoting the understanding and recognition of sales and marketing as a profession, and its importance to the local economy.
'The contribution Hong Kong's salespeople make to the economy through the revenues they generate and their commitment to professionalism is acknowledged by the government and other professional bodies,' says Phoebe Chow, chairperson of the SME Club.
Chow says the last decade has seen many changes in the sales profession, including the impact that technology has had on the sector. 'Technology has helped salespeople broaden their knowledge of products and services and learn more about the wider markets they operate in,' she says. At the same time, she notes, tech-savvy customers also use technology to evaluate products and services.
According to Chow, salespeople face many challenges. 'They not only face competition in their own markets, they also work through tough economic cycles and need to have a wide scope of knowledge to engage customers with different needs and personalities,' she says.
She believes, however, that successful salespeople may find they have an advantage when the economy is sluggish. 'Companies that find the need to reduce their headcount are more likely to look at the back office before revenue-producing salespeople,' says Chow, while pointing out that underperforming salespeople are unlikely to enjoy the same protection.
Operating under the umbrella of the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA), the SME Club is proactive in providing sales and marketing executives with effective and continuing professional leadership skills.
The SME Club is an affiliate of the Sales and Marketing Executive International, a worldwide organisation that is dedicated to knowledge-sharing, high ethical standards and continuing professional development.
While Chow believes Hong Kong's sales professionals operate at international standards, there is no room for complacency. 'We need to keep a close watch on our competitors, be prepared to learn and upgrade sales techniques, and continually work hard to reach new levels,' says Chow.
'To help promote a high standard of professionalism in sales and marketing, we organise study tours, seminars and company visits for our members,' she adds.
Membership of the SME Club is open to members of the HKMA who are executives responsible for the planning of sales or marketing, the administration of policies, or are managers of salespeople. It is also open to instructors in marketing and salesmanship at educational institutions. The SME Club currently has about 400 members representing a wide range of industries.
The club also assists with organising the Distinguished Salesperson Award (DSA) programme. Launched in 1966, the same year the SME Club was formed, the DSA programme is, according to Chow, the industry's equivalent to the Oscars.
'The awards recognise individuals who have achieved outstanding results in sales, and give pride to them and their companies,' says Chow, adding that the DSA also provides sales professionals with a sense of importance, fulfilment and social recognition.
She says with each company only allowed to enter five candidates in the awards programme, it is an honour to be selected. 'Winners become role models for colleagues and the companies they represent,' says Chow, herself a former DSA winner. 'There is a great sense of achievement that motivates salespeople to continue improving their sales efforts.'
The award programme helps raise the importance of maintaining high standards in the sales profession and also the need for continuous improvement. 'It is encouraging to see the diversity of companies that join the awards programme each year, including the nine first-time entries that took part in this year's programme,' says Chow.
While technology plays an increasingly important role in many sales engagements, Chow still believes strongly in the need for the traditional skills and values associated with salespeople.
'To be an effective salesperson you need to be approachable and sincere. Customers these days are very discerning, which means that a salesperson has only one attempt at making a good first impression,' she says. 'Above all, you need to have confidence and belief in your product or service.'