Now in its 44th year, the Distinguished Salesperson Award (DSA) organised by the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) once again puts to the test the old cliche that a good salesperson can sell sand in the desert.
'The DSA does more than give recognition to successful salespersons for their achievements - it helps salespeople enhance their careers and reputations,' says Rayson Chan, chairman of the HKMA DSA Organising Committee.
He says the award also helps improve the quality of salesmanship in Hong Kong, and builds up the image of selling and marketing as a prestigious profession.
In addition to recognising the individual achievements of salespersons, Chan says the high standard of entrants indicates the level of importance companies place on sales training.
'We see this reflected through the quality of the candidates. It shows that companies understand the need to invest in quality sales training,' says Chan. 'This can only be achieved when management, human resources and training departments work together to build a strong team spirit and a robust sales culture,' he adds.
Chan believes that by supporting DSA candidates and celebrating their success, firms demonstrate their commitment to employees, which can help retain top talent. 'Salary increases and bonuses are some of the ways of recognising successes, but public recognition of achievement is also very important to strengthen the bond between companies and their employees,' says Chan, who is also an investment consultant with Citibank (Hong Kong).
He says that during the judging process, participants are tested on their product knowledge and required to make a sales presentation to a panel of expert judges. They are also asked to make a short sales presentation to a target audience, based on a random product selected by the panel.
'Because entrants are unfamiliar with the product, the judges are looking for the creativity and interpersonal skills it requires to make a sale,' says Chan, who notes the DSA is judged independently by a panel of experts and industry personalities spanning different industry and market sectors.
As part of the competition, participants also face an in-depth question-and-answer session where they are presented with probing queries. 'Entrants need to be well-prepared because standards are high and participants face some tough questioning,' says Chan, who notes the panel of judges was impressed with the standard of mainland entrants representing companies there with outlets in Hong Kong.
Drawing attention to other benefits the award programme offers, Chan says contestants have the opportunity to learn from each other. 'The award programme provides a platform for sales professionals from different industries to interact and share insights,' he says. 'There is a great opportunity for participants to gather 'outside-the-box thinking' from different markets and apply them to their own industries.'
Chan says while the standards in this year's competition were high, in a few cases the judges voiced a minor criticism. 'Where companies had more than one entrant, the judges noted some of the presentations used the same style and seemed a little bit formulaic or scripted. They didn't feel the participants' true personalities came through as well as it could have,' says Chan, who stresses that the Hong Kong sales industry sets a benchmark for the region.
Like other sales experts, Chan says technology is having a major impact on the sales profession. 'Salespeople have been quick to use technology tools such as iPads to make the presentation of products more interesting,' he says.
Meanwhile, as consumers also use the internet to research product prices and performance, Chan says it is vital salespeople completely know and understand their market and who their competitors are.
Offering advice to anyone interested in joining or further developing their career in the sales industry, Chan says it is important that individuals are resilient. 'Salespeople need to be tough and proactive, and whatever the economic environment, they need to drive sales revenues,' he says.
Chan says while it is important to be knowledgeable about products, another hallmark of a good salesperson is the ability to listen to customers and find creative ways to increase business. It is also vital for Hong Kong sales professionals to improve their Putonghua and learn more about mainland culture.
'Learning more about mainland preferences, market news and trends, which can vary slightly from the local market, can help facilitate sales,' says Chan, who believes a sales career offers a sense of accomplishment and pride with each new sale.