The field of corporate sales, which targets large companies and multinationals, is regarded as one of the most challenging. However, for those who succeed, the rewards in terms of earnings and job satisfaction can be that much greater.
Patrick Wong, who is national corporate sales manager for Lyreco, a global office supplies company, says that corporate sales requires specific skills, which include starting with the right person at the top of the organisation. Once a good contact has been established there, it is possible to move on and talk to the key people at the operational level. He contrasts this with the usual approach taken with SMEs where the basic requirement for salespeople is often just to show that they are hardworking and willing to visit the customer on a regular basis.
Mr Wong stresses that the first step should always be relationship building and gaining the trust of the client. "Don't be pushy and start with selling the product," he advises. "Instead, think from the customer's perspective and find out what they want." It is important to be able to offer a tailor-made solution for each customer.
This makes communication skills essential, and the ability to get potential clients to spell out exactly what they need. In the case of major corporate customers, it can at times be a complex and detailed list. It can even happen that different departments have apparently contradictory requirements. Identifying these can be difficult, since it is not always possible to have direct contact with all the end-users. Therefore, it pays to be knowledgeable about the client's general company structure and operations, as well as about common industry practices.
Mr Wong says that knowing the organisational structure also helps in locating the right person early on and getting things done more easily. Ultimately, though, success still depends on the salesperson having the right skills, planning a thorough campaign, and understanding the time scales involved.
"A single deal may take as long as six months to conclude, so you need to work on other projects simultaneously to maintain a more stable customer base," he says.
All things considered, Mr Wong finds the most satisfactory part of corporate sales is gaining the trust of a customer. For him, that even beats securing a deal, or the financial rewards and status that come with excelling in the profession.
He started out about 10 years ago as a computer engineer, but realised in no more than six months that his natural communication and presentation skills made him better suited to a role in sales. After a period selling computer networks to SMEs, he moved on to handle large corporate accounts, following a fairly standard route.
Lyreco regularly has entry positions for corporate account executives. They are likely to start by supporting more senior colleagues in dealing with major clients. New recruits don't necessarily need a degree, but they must have a good command of English for drafting sales proposals, contacting multinational clients and cooperating with the head office. As for personal qualities, it helps if salespeople have a positive outlook and are aggressive when it comes to finding new business.
Look the part
In practical terms, Mr Wong says that appearance is important. "For corporate sales, you need to dress formally when meeting with the senior executives," he points out.
He also notes that the procurement process used by many large enterprises is getting more systematic and professional. Therefore, the sales process can be lengthy, and it takes real persistence to be sure of success.
While e-procurement is an emerging trend, Mr Wong thinks that, so far, it offers no clear advantage. He sees it as basically a mechanism for doing price comparisons and not appropriate for thoroughly evaluating different solutions.
In his role as a sales manager, Mr Wong monitors overall revenues and margins, oversees his team's sales activities, and plans the strategy to use for new target accounts. When time allows, he will also take part in customer visits in order to keep in touch with the needs of key accounts.
The career prospects for people in corporate sales are generally good. The business they handle tends to be more profitable, which opens the way to more senior sales roles and positions in management.
Essentials for corporate sales
- Good communication, presentation and relationship building
- Able to focus on customer needs and offer solutions
- Flexible in dealing with the various requirements of different
- Knowledgeable about business operations and industry practices
- A complete understanding of the sales cycle
- Good command of English and a neat appearance