Salespeople in every business are used to competition. Their professional lives are based upon meeting goals, exceeding targets and bringing in new clients for their employers. Each year, the bar is set a little higher. The pressure to perform can be intense and nowhere more so than in the financial services sector where an individual's income is often closely tied to revenue generated.
The trade-off, though, is that hard work and dedication pay off. The best performers can quickly establish themselves, build remunerative careers and will gain recognition from their peers and superiors.
Jackie Chow clearly falls into this category. In 2003, he achieved a notable first by taking home his company's two main awards for sales excellence. No one in the 12-year history of Convoy Financial Services had previously managed to win the awards for both the highest number of client cases and for highest turnover on the same occasion.
But Mr Chow did not stop there! By logging 72 new client cases worth a total of over HK$50 million, he also claimed the best practice consultant and "millionaire" prizes.
In a financial consultancy with around 300 staff, there must surely be some secret that enables a person in his 20's, with only two years' industry experience, to achieve such success.
"Integrity and professional knowledge are essential," explains Mr Chow. "At the end of the day, it is about gaining the trust of your client. If you can show you are the best person to make his wealth grow, he will entrust you with the task of managing his money."
For this, there are two key elements: thinking for your clients and learning from them.
"First of all, you need to put yourself in your client's shoes to consider their expectations and concerns," Mr Chow advises. "As your relationship develops, you will find that every person has a unique wealth of knowledge that you can tap into. Experience will teach you to become increasingly sensitive to differing need and demands."
This process starts for a new joiner with two or three weeks' in-house training. Then, for the next month, a supervisor accompanies the trainee to see prospective clients. "The classroom training teaches product knowledge and client service skills but there are also professional qualifications to consider," says Mr Chow. The basic one is the government-backed Insurance Intermediaries Quality Assurance Scheme (IIQAS) which qualifies someone as a "technical representative". The second step is to become a "licensed representative" under the Securities and Futures Commission and, in most financial consultancies, both qualifications are now prerequisites for future promotion.
"Besides that, there are others available like the Certified Financial PlannerCM (CFPCM) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualifications," Mr Chow adds. "The former has greater relevance for financial consultants but both are desirable credentials."
In organising his daily work, Mr Chow finds that it helps to divide his clients into four basic types - controllers, debaters, analysers and supporters - and then to discuss things with them in the most appropriate way.
"Controllers are usually people in senior management who know exactly what they want and make sure they control everything," he explains. "Debaters are similar. They like to dominate the conversation and are inherently more stubborn but, if you can beat them in any argument, they will trust you for the rest of their lives."
You need to put yourself in your client's shoes to consider their expectations and concerns
Typically, analysers work as accountants, lawyers and programmers. They listen but always want more information and do their own calculations to help them make decisions. Supporters, on the other hand, more readily agree with what you tell them. "Once you gain their trust, they follow advice and ask fewer questions," notes Mr Chow.
Still, though, a financial consultant's greatest challenge with any type of client is responding to unexpected questions with intelligent answers and not just quoting facts and figures. It is, therefore, important to be up-to-date with market trends and a regular interchange of information and views with colleagues definitely helps.
"In my team, different members monitor different markets," says Mr Chow. "Some are experts in the Asian region while others specialise in European or American markets. At weekly meetings, each person makes a presentation on his area so that the whole team benefits."
The career ladder at Convoy leads a consultant, after three months' probation, to senior and then principal consultant within a few years. The next step, as associate, involves managing a team and success at this level can lead to an associate directorship in another three to four years.
The current outlook for the market is bright and is seen to have great growth potential since statistics show that under 10 percent of Hong Kong's working population has regular contact with financial consultancies. "Our aim is to continue to guide clients to choose quality funds, the right markets, and the best fund managers based on past performance," adds Mr Chow. With a philosophy like that, it looks as if he will be picking up more awards in 2004!