The primary objective for any business is to market and sell its products or services at a profit. In smaller firms, the owner or CEO often assumes responsibility for everything related to advertising, promotions, sales strategy, marketing and public relations.
In larger organisations, though, whose reach is international or global, these duties usually fall to directors or senior vice presidents and can involve whole departments, as well as a selection of external advisers.
"Whatever the circumstances, it's a tough job," says Titus Yu, chairman of the Hong Kong Management Association's sales and marketing executives club. "The market in Hong Kong is very competitive, so companies need professionals who are highly adaptable and really know what it takes to present their products and services to target customers."
Mr Yu cites the local retail industry as a sector where the need for flexibility is immediately obvious. He notes that, with more mainland tourists now visiting, the stores which train frontline staff to speak fluent Mandarin will do better.
Mr Yu also believes that the idea that "anyone can sell" is a misconception. "I have been working in the sales and marketing industry for over 20 years and have always regarded it as a profession, like being a lawyer or an engineer," he says. "Doing the job well creates confidence among customers and directly affects the company's business performance."
He notes that most industries now realise the importance of regularly updating their marketing strategies and are boosting sales by focusing more on customer service. This entails research, responding to competition, and a good sense of anticipation about how specific markets will evolve.
"In Hong Kong, the consumption patterns of middle-aged people dominate general business trends because of their comparatively high disposable incomes," says Mr Yu. "The health care, food and finance industries all tend to concentrate their marketing activities on that group."
He stresses, though, that there are numerous opportunities for anyone going into sales and marketing. Generally, candidates should have good communication skills and be prepared to go out of their way to help customers. They should also be self-motivated, outgoing and creative.
As the mainland's economy continues to develop, Mr Yu believes there will be strong demand for Hong Kong professionals with diverse sales and marketing experience. "The key is to identify the areas with most potential," he says. "Every start-up or expanding business needs this kind of expertise."
Mr Yu helps to organise an annual distinguished salesperson award (DSA), which is now in its 38th year. One of its purposes is to win public recognition for outstanding sales personnel, build up the image of the profession, and promote standards of excellence.
"The programme has been very successful over the years," says Chapman Wong, chairperson of the DSA organising committee. "This year, 54 companies took part and there were 158 award winners." Past winners now help to run the event. Since 1985, the committee has also organised an outstanding young salesperson award for people under the age of 25.
"For both awards, the selection criteria involve essay writing, presentation and interview skills, and the ability to promote and publicise particular products or services," Mr Wong says.
Key points for sales and marketing professionals
- Keen competition should be expected for entry-level positions
- Candidates with relevant degrees, computing and communication
skills, plus a creative approach, will have the best opportunities
- Salary levels are attractive, but long hours are the norm