If your company is involved in providing any kind of product or service, then you can be sure that selling is an essential part of the process.
It may take many different forms, concentrating on retail or corporate clients, long-term contracts or high-volume turnover, but all successful salespeople share one key characteristic.
According to Benjamin Tong, who has almost 30 years' experience in corporate sales of office equipment, it all comes down to having a commitment to the sales profession.
"You must have a real interest in the work and the company you represent," says Mr Tong, who is assistant director of Canon Hongkong's Business Imaging Solution sales division. While he acknowledges that, as in any job, money plays a part, this should never be the sole source of motivation. Otherwise, a salesperson will never really enjoy the work or the opportunities it presents to meet diverse individuals, satisfy different customer requirements, and secure deals which can have a direct impact on the company's bottom line.
In corporate sales, the steps required to fix an agreement can be much longer and more complicated than in the retail sector. "You need to talk to management decision-makers as well as end-users who operate the product," says Mr Tong. "They may have different concerns when considering if the solution on offer is cost-effective and user-friendly. You have to address their questions one by one."
He says that's why it is important for a salesperson to have excellent interpersonal skills and to be able to explain things convincingly.
Anyone in corporate sales must also be proactive in order to initiate customer visits, follow up leads and identify potential new clients. Mr Tong emphasises, though, that the fundamental techniques are similar in any sales role. "Executives have to approach customers, find out what they need and recommend the right solutions," he explains.
However, since corporate salespeople will have to get out and about more to meet customers, they have to be comparatively fit and ready to face whatever the weather throws at them.
Mr Tong started out as a salesman for a Singapore-based office supply company and was even stationed there for nine months. "It's not at all easy to sell in an unfamiliar environment using another language," he recalls. However, he was ready to accept the challenge, realising that the experience would broaden his perspective and give him greater self-confidence. "If you never try, you never learn," he says, mentioning his usual guiding principle.
Since then, Mr Tong has worked for a number of big-name companies, including Jardine and Xerox. He has found that each has its own style. One may be more marketing-driven, with the sales team expected to execute instructions; another may closely involve their sales executives in strategic planning, setting targets and plotting campaigns.
In his current role, Mr Tong is in charge of the sales team and takes part in marketing and business development activities. The standard advice he gives his team is that there is no golden rule for sales, or a list to memorise which guarantees success. Instead, he points out that candidates must be hardworking and willing to learn. They should also be persistent, put wholehearted effort into the job, and be sincere and honest in their dealings with customers.
"The role of the salesperson is to focus on the advantages of a product and persuade customers to buy by pointing out all the best features," he explains.
Every year, Canon takes on up to 20 new sales recruits. A degree is an advantage but not a requirement. Good performance and a commitment to pursuing continuous professional development will determine how fast someone can move up to management level or beyond.
Mr Tong notes that it is more difficult than before for people who are new to the field. In the current digital era, they must master technical details which include information about network links, general computing and colouring options, in order to sell the latest generation of office equipment.