It certainly helps to be a good communicator if you work in sales, but it takes more than just words to succeed in this challenging field.
Honesty and hard work are crucial to a salesperson's professional growth, says Raymond Fung, vice president, business imaging solution group, Canon Hongkong Co Ltd. With more than 20 years' experience, Mr Fung advises newcomers to put clients first when promoting their products.
"Sales staff should always treat customers in an honest and sincere way. Any breach in trust can have a negative impact on their careers. A customer has the absolute rights to know what they are paying for," Mr Fung notes, advising salespeople to focus on their products' good points and how these can benefit their clients.
While sales professionals across the board need similar selling skills, the fast-changing technology sector, in particular, requires people to keep themselves up to date and well informed.
Attracted by the dynamic nature of the profession, Mr Fung entered the highly charged sales industry in the early 1980s, bringing with him a wealth of experience from his previous job in auditing. He found that his career shift suited his outgoing personality, gave him more opportunities to interact with people and greatly increased his job satisfaction.
Over the past two decades, Mr Fung has witnessed many changes in the field. "Document management developed rapidly. The microfilm era ended with the emergence of digital document management, which, in turn, gave way to today's integrated document and workflow management environment. It has been a steep learning curve," he reflects.
In the past, office equipment was single-function oriented and the sales requirements in terms of product knowledge were not as high as they are today. As technology evolves, office equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated and integrated. "A good salesperson must keep up with new product knowledge and understand customers' changing needs," he points out.
For people wanting to learn, there are opportunities everywhere. "I went to mainland China on assignment in the mid-80s. While it may have been a less developed market, I learnt a lot from my colleagues there. This knowledge turned out to be a valuable asset when I returned to Hong Kong," says Mr Fung.
Although the company prefers sales staff with a tertiary education and information technology background, a keen sense of commitment is even more important.
"Newcomers that are serious about developing in this field should be patient and invest a lot of effort into their work. It takes at least six months for a new salesperson to pick up the essential knowledge and techniques to really get started, and another two to three years to build a stable foundation," says Mr Fung, suggesting fresh graduates to spend at least a year in a new job before making a decision to move on.
Canon provides training for all new staff. Graduates usually receive three months of classroom and field training on product knowledge and sales skills.
Salespeople usually work independently, and this can also mean that they should be equipped with the capacity for frustration and stress. For this reason, Mr Fung believes that resilience and an optimistic attitude are important attributes to make it in sales.
He adds, "I encourage salespeople to build a strong rapport with their colleagues, so that they can provide each other with mutual emotional support."
The secret to dealing with customers is a positive mindset, Mr Fung says. "Salespeople should not be out to win arguments, but rather to serve customers to the best of their ability."
System integration has been a growing focus for Canon over the past two years and common applications are being built into multi-functional machines that can, for instance, scan paper documents, compress them, save them as PDF files and then send them through the internet — all without connecting to a computer.
"Quality and a high level of user-friendliness set us apart from competitors," Mr Fung says. "As our technology becomes more sophisticated, we make sure that it is simple to operate. We also increase cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency in the long run by supporting our clients with document management and workflow system integration."
Canon will continue to invest in both hardware and software development to meet ongoing and changing customer demand, Mr Fung remarks. One such move is an open platform to support multifunctional peripheral devices. This allows customers to add their in-house applications onto Canon's products, so that they can fully integrate and utilise their document management systems and internal workflow processes.