When looking back on the early years of their career, most successful professionals can recall many struggles and a few key moments which fortuitously came to define their future direction. In the case of Robert Ip, director of sales and marketing for Konica Minolta Business Solutions (HK) Ltd, the most significant event was coming into contact with a senior colleague who was to become both a mentor and a friend. "He showed me how doing business can be practical and fun at the same time, and that confirmed my decision to do everything I could to become a good salesperson," Mr Ip recalls.
This mentor provided both guidance and inspiration. As an experienced salesman, he could sell thirty copiers a month, twice or even three times what others could achieve. Sharing his passion for the profession, he subsequently became friends with Mr Ip and the two worked closely together.
Already influenced by his family's business interests, Mr Ip had set his sights on a career in sales and marketing by the time he graduated from university. He therefore joined Minolta in 1990 and spent the next few years learning the profession and becoming recognised as one of the company's top salesmen.
Another decisive moment arrived with the chance to join a six-month leadership training programme in 1995. This focused on communication skills and creativity, and equipped participants with the mindset essential for being future leaders. "It taught me how to turn different suggestions into concrete solutions and about the importance of maintaining close relationships with my colleagues," Mr Ip says.
Each project requires new concepts and skills, so I am always receptive to ideas put forward by colleagues
Subsequent promotion to the position of team leader provided the chance to put this knowledge into practice. For three consecutive years, Mr Ip's team was ranked number one within the company and, in view of his growing management ability, corporate headquarters appointed him as sales manager for Minolta Hong Kong in 1998.
His dedication to meeting targets saw sales volume climb over the next few years but, seeking a new challenge, Mr Ip decided to move to Octopus Cards Ltd in 2001 to learn about a different kind of business and gain wider exposure. By 2003, though, he was back with Minolta as deputy marketing manager, with the immediate task of ensuring things went smoothly during the company's merger with Konica.
As director of sales and marketing since last year, Mr Ip is currently responsible, among other day-to-day duties, for business development, marketing, public relations and training. The various training programmes he oversees cover product knowledge, IT skills, customer service and team building. Each day Mr Ip will spend time in departmental meetings, coaching the sales team, and meeting with high-profile clients.
Since the company is an active phase of expansion, he must also oversee a number of projects to improve market penetration and sales coverage. "Each project requires new concepts and skills, so I am always receptive to ideas put forward by colleagues," he says. "I am also passionate about overcoming new challenges."
Anyone interested in getting into the imaging industry in a sales role will find that knowledge of engineering, IT and graphic design is a major advantage and that experience of selling in a corporate environment is preferred. A cheerful personality and an aggressive approach to sales are prerequisites, while good interpersonal and communication skills are expected.
Mr Ip notes that there are many opportunities for newcomers to the industry but points out the importance of making a long-term commitment. "Our business depends on building relationships with clients and securing repeat orders for new products," he explains. "Young people must also have the skills to expand their client base in order to achieve the substantial rewards on offer."
He adds that the local market is considered mature and that it is not always easy to acquire new customers. However, advances in technology mean it is now possible to offer a wide range of business solutions in printing, scanning and imaging software. "Client expectations are ever changing, so products and services must continue to evolve," Mr Ip notes. "Our sales and marketing team have to keep on top of market trends and make sure they continually add to their product knowledge and improve their selling techniques."
The imaging industry has been growing steadily in mainland China for the last 10 years and there is still plenty of scope for development. An increasing number of cities are benefiting from the economic boom and creating many additional job opportunities. Mr Ip notes, however, that most employers are planning to recruit local talent to fill any available vacancies. "Any opportunities for Hong Kong professionals are likely to be for senior managers with appropriate experience, but they can expect salaries to be on a par with what they would receive in Hong Kong," he says.