When Damon Lam completed his studies in England at the equivalent to Form 7, he could not afford a university education. With little previous work experience and no tertiary education, Mr Lam entered the sales industry. Today, less than four years later and at the age of 23, he is sales manager at OneCard (HK) Ltd, a mid-sized professional sales company responsible for the sales of the multiple merchant benefit card, OneCard. And, although Mr Lam confesses that he never envisioned himself working in sales, he could not be happier.
It does not take long to learn that Mr Lam is an energetic and motivated go-getter. In a few years, he advanced from sales executive to programme supervisor at a hotel membership company, responsible for forming and monitoring his own team of eight to 10 salespeople.
Approached by the managing director of OneCard to join as a telesales employee in the newly-created company in February 2003, he jumped at the opportunity to be a part of a new business. "I was the first employee for telesales at OneCard," he recounts, "so I had to handle everything: from creating sales scripts and materials to developing the best way to sell the product."
In two short months, Mr Lam was promoted to sales manager and is now responsible for the entire telesales department. His days are spent meeting with the managing director to discuss targets and objectives, regularly monitoring his sales staff's progress, providing briefing and training sessions to staff, developing sales strategies and recruiting new employees.
Neither tertiary education nor previous work experience is a requirement for new recruits. "Telesales is perfect for fresh graduates, part-time students and people making a career change," he says. "What is most crucial is that prospective staff are ambitious, driven and career-oriented ... and able to learn skills quickly."
"Telesales is perfect for fresh graduates, part-time students and people making a career change"
Since telesales staff spend practically the entire day selling products over the phone, making upwards of 100 calls daily, they must be talkative and aggressive. As opposed to direct sales, there is the added challenge of being unable to see clients, which requires boundless energy and excellent communication skills. "You need to convince clients without being able to see their facial expressions [and] be able to understand a client's needs over the phone."
Finally, telesales personnel deal daily - even hourly - with rejection. To help staff handle this constant challenge, Mr Lam provides "attitude training". Drawing on his own sales experience and training, he teaches staff how to remain positive.
The challenges associated with telesales do not, however, come without rewards. Making a successful sale, says Mr Lam, always provides a thrill. Whereas closing a corporate sale - to a large company or bank - may take weeks or months of negotiation, Mr Lam explains that telesales is immediate. "You can make one call and the deal is closed," he enthuses. At OneCard, salespeople ring a bell on their desks when they make a sale, amplifying the excitement in the office.
Mr Lam also appreciates the incentives rooted in telesales. "Sales is a numbers game," he says. "The more people you talk to, the more presentations you make and the more sales you will make ... How much you earn is in direct proportion to your ability."
Telesales personnel receive a base salary, but the bulk of their earnings comes from commissions. Company bonuses and cash bonuses are also offered as rewards for reaching sales targets. Mr Lam hands out cash bonuses to increase motivation and boost morale. He, too, is paid a commission, based on how well his department performs.
For energetic, results-oriented people, a telesales career offers challenges and instant gratification. Mr Lam also considers himself lucky to work at a newer, mid-sized company, where he is able to learn quickly from his superiors and climb the ranks faster than at a larger, more hierarchical company. "For me, OneCard is my express train," he says - and he sees no signs of hopping off: "I'm looking to be senior sales manager by next year and then the general manager by the end of 2004."
Although, according to Mr Lam, telesales is not yet a popular industry in China, he predicts that it will soon take off. The prospect of employment in telesales in China is even more certain since OneCard, for example, will soon be expanding into China. This, combined with other companies also moving into the mainland market, will generate upcoming telesales jobs - although such positions will more likely go to mainland people thanks to their native Putonghua skills. However, it is likely that Hong Kong managers will be in demand to provide training, expertise and support.