Judges find an overall improvement in the quality of candidates but identify the need for more creativity and to build long-term relationships with customers Selling a product to an unlikely customer was the challenge facing participants in an annual competition that identifies the most effective salespeople in Hong Kong. Salespeople who excel at selling financial products, insurance, real estate, mobile phones or cars were asked to think on their feet and sell a product from a random selection of 10 in the effective selling challenge for the 38th HKMA Distinguished Salesperson Award. The challenge tested the wit and imagination of the participants, who were asked to sell items such as cufflinks to a security guard, a steamer to a windsurfer and a set square to a gardener. Their on-the-spot performance was judged together with their product presentation, and a written submission about themselves and their views on the theme of this year's competition. The competition, now in its 38th year, is jointly organised by the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) and the Sales and Marketing Executives Club of Hong Kong. A total of 158 winners from 51 firms were named. Presentation of trophies for the Distinguished Salesperson Award (DSA) and the Outstanding Young Salesperson Award will be held today. The effective selling challenge was previously called creative selling. 'There was feedback from the judges that the candidates were previously far too creative. What they were supposed to sell became something else totally. So we changed it to effective selling to ensure candidates came up with practical and convincing pitches,' said Chapman Wong, chairman of the organising committee of this year's DSA. The purpose of the exercise, he said, was to test their wit and see how they responded to different situations when put on the spot. He said the performance of the candidates in recent years had been improving. 'They now express themselves better. It is a reflection that there is more training being offered by the participating companies. More and more of these companies have participated in the past and they are enjoying the benefits of past experience,' he said. The judges were impressed by the sincerity and the product knowledge of this year's candidates. 'One judge who has been on the panel for several years felt that the quality in general was higher than last year,' Mr Wong said. However, there was still room for more creativity, he said. 'Many candidates took a bit of time to get into the theme when doing their sales pitch. It would have helped if they were provided training to broaden their knowledge and enhance their interaction with the judges and customers,' he said. 'DSA is the Oscar for the sales and marketing sector. It is well recognised in many industries, and therefore the number of companies and people taking part has been increasing. 'The award winners not only serve as a benchmark for their colleagues but also for the whole sector,' Mr Wong said. Sales and Marketing Executives Club chairman Titus Yu said awards like the DSA helped improve the skills of salespeople as participating companies usually held high-standard contests to select the DSA candidates. 'DSA creates the professional image of sales which attracts higher quality people to become salespeople,' Mr Yu said. He said the general skills of salespeople have been getting better with the introduction of more training. 'Customer service officers are now better trained to create sales opportunities. The compensation is more sales performance driven. Salespeople know they must improve their skills to get better compensation.' An effective salesman or saleswoman should have 'a caring heart, understand the needs of clients, provide good service, add value and create customer satisfaction'. 'Local salespeople are developing more of these attributes as they regard sales as a long-term career and employers are helping to develop these attributes in their sales staff,' Mr Yu said. While Hong Kong salespeople were hard working, good at following up and meeting customer needs, they were still found wanting in building long-term relationships with customers. They also changed jobs and firms very often. Apart from having the DSA to help lift industry standards, Mr Yu believed they could be further improved with more training in personal growth, team building and company culture. More professional qualifications, stricter compliance codes and higher penalties for malpractice would also help lift standards.