Property / Construction

No better place to learn the property business

by Ella Lee

Thomas Lam, deputy general manager, sales department, Henderson Land Development Co Ltd

By starting in sales, it is possible to get an excellent overview of the industry

While salespeople in any field can be relied on to tell all and sundry about the weight of their workload and the pressures they face, they are also the first to admit that the role brings many advantages. It allows contact with a diverse client base, provides an in-depth understanding of the workings of the business, and entails extensive training in techniques, theory and the very latest product knowledge. All of this leads Thomas Lam, deputy general manager of Henderson Land Development Co Ltd's sales department, to suggest that there is no better area for fresh graduates interested in the property industry to start their career.

"Salespeople are in direct contact with customers and therefore well placed to learn about market demand and industry trends," says Mr Lam. Based on his own career progression, he believes that such experience helps to provide a solid foundation and is a key element in advancement to management level.

In addition to handling day-to-day transactions, Henderson's sales department is also responsible for market research, branding, customer service, marketing and promotion. Because of their understanding of customer needs, they may even be asked to give advice on land acquisition and project development. In view of this, Mr Lam says that an apprenticeship in sales not only develops interpersonal and customer service skills but can also give an excellent overview of the sector. "Working in a division that so influences the company's business success, salespeople are required to possess diverse knowledge and a great sense of responsibility," he stresses.

Unlike in property agencies which concentrate on residential and commercial sales and deal directly with end-users, salespeople with a property developer like Henderson are more involved with promotional activities and channel management. According to Mr Lam, over 50 per cent of company transactions are generated through contacts with agents, while the rest come from walk-in clients or targeted sales activities.

Therefore, in terms of professionalism, reliability and integrity, high standards are expected of any new recruit. "Our salespeople are theoretically responsible for all company properties, including residential, industrial and commercial, so what they say must be absolutely correct when they represent our brand," he explains

Specific skills

Currently, most sales executives hired by Henderson are degree holders and business-related qualifications are preferred. When specifying the required soft skills, Mr Lam highlights the need for a pleasant, outgoing personality, effective communications, plus the willingness to work hard and accept long and irregular hours. He emphasises that success with a property agency does not necessarily guarantee that someone will adapt to the culture and methods needed to do well when working for a developer.

The right attitude is regarded as a critical factor. "As salespeople, we need to be proactive and ambitious," he says. "In the real estate market, we have to be open and innovative in order to adapt to a fast-changing business environment."

Despite the inevitable ups and downs, Mr Lam says that Hong Kong's property market has remained generally strong and that professionals in the sector should be prepared to take a long-term view. He points to the high status enjoyed by those in senior positions and the potential for good material rewards as reason for continuing optimism. When recommending the opportunities for younger people, he directs attention to the chances for personal growth. "Dealing with the diversity of people and challenges, you mature quickly and become more sophisticated, resourceful and capable," he says.

Upward progress

Career advancement within Henderson's sales department involves moves from executive to supervisor, then manager and general manager. After two or three years, the option is available to remain in sales or shift to areas such as project management or marketing. There is likely to be consistent demand for new recruits and Henderson's staff numbers have now returned to the peak level of 1997.

Mr Lam says that the company's culture encourages promotion from within. This gives individuals a good foundation and prepares them for future moves which are determined by ability and the general state of the industry. "For example, in the early '90s it was possible to reach managerial grade within five years, since the sector was seeing exponential growth," he explains.

Although on-the-job training and hands-on experience count most in property sales, Mr Lam stresses that employees must also have the interest and initiative to acquire more extensive professional knowledge. This might even be in construction or land management - dubjects not directly related to property sales - but able to help in forming a fuller understanding of the business.

In Mr Lam's view, things have become more challenging, especially when compared to the '80s and '90s, when there was huge demand and customers were less demanding. Overall, the work is now more specialised and, as a result, better preparation is required to sell a new development. "We have to conduct detailed market studies before setting the price, launching promotional campaigns and selecting agent partners," he notes.

Off on the right foot

  • A sales position with a property development company gives a good start in the industry
  • The role involves research, marketing and promotional activities, as well as sales
  • High standards of professionalism and integrity are expected
  • Career advancement can be in the sales department or involve a switch to project management or marketing
  • The industry is becoming more challenging but still offers substantial opportunities for growth

Taken from Career Times 15 July 2005
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