Sales / Marketing

Superior skills needed to sustain beer sales

by Wing Kei

Samson Wong, general sales manager, San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong Limited

Brewing opportunities in the sales profession

Many people would agree that there's nothing better than having a cold beer with friends or colleagues at the end of a tough day at work. It allows you to chat, unwind, exchange opinions, and to get things in perspective.

"Having a beer is also a great way to get to know people and that can lead on to many memorable moments," says Samson Wong, general sales manager of San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong Limited, which has been a key part of the local scene since 1948. "Therefore, the important thing as far as we are concerned is to offer a range of products to suit different preferences and to establish a positive image for the brand."

Mr Wong explains that making sure the right products reach the public depends firstly on the work of experts in the development team. They co-ordinate closely with the well-informed sales team whose input helps to improve the overall line of products and to satisfy the needs of different types of customer. Within the company, the sales team is seen as responsible for "below the line" tasks, such as organising trade promotions at supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, pubs and other retailers, and to ensure that those outlets are never out of stock. Meanwhile, the marketing department mainly deals with "above the line" aspects like handling media promotions, which include TV and print ads.

"There are many social activities relating to the industry and we are responsible for helping the whole process. The work can be fun and we have to know how to get on with people from all kinds of backgrounds," Mr Wong says. "We believe customers can learn more about our products and brand through social events, so we aim to organise a variety of activities at which people can have a good time and learn something as well." He adds that the company's products can also help to create a good atmosphere at meetings, banquets, parties and every kind of get-together.

Proper training

San Miguel offers comprehensive training programmes for all new recruits in the belief that well-briefed and properly trained employees will be able to fit into the work environment more quickly and will be more effective in communicating with the trade. It is essential for them to understand how the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market operates and to keep up with the trends and changing tastes which affect buying patterns in Hong Kong. Salespeople must also know everything about the range of products and the target consumer market for each one.

"High-calibre salespeople have to be passionate about the job and committed to the work," Mr Wong says. "When we are recruiting, fresh graduates have the same opportunities as more experienced candidates, as long as they can demonstrate the ability to do the job well. We encourage graduates to join us since they normally have ideas and new perspectives plus the sort of flexibility we like to see," he notes.

Graduate trainees can expect to start as account executives and, depending on performance, will then move up to more senior sales roles and management positions. "We look for real commitment and expect consistently good results from our sales team," says Mr Wong. "They must also recognise that we have discerning customers who are used to receiving value-added services."

Expansion plans

At present, the company has about 110 people under the sales team and plans to increase headcount by around 8 per cent before the end of the year.

In terms of personality traits, applicants should have a positive mindset, be detail-oriented, and always be striving to improve themselves and achieve more.

"Self-motivation is one of the essentials for working in the industry since a salesperson works alone in the field most of the time. It is also important to remember that, even though most salespeople prefer to talk, the real skill is to listen to what customers need," Mr Wong adds. He emphasises, though, that the company likes the sales team to get together at the end of the day to share their experiences and reinforce team spirit.

Besides having their own brands, the company also has exclusive rights to import overseas brands including Samuel Adams, Stella Artois, Beck's and Valor Beer. "It's a very competitive market out there and we have to ensure our range of products provides something for every market niche," he says.

According to Mr Wong, the industry is dynamic and provides a lot of fun. At the same time, it can be demanding and involve long hours of work. "In our sales department, we say that you have to be prepared to work hard but that you will enjoy doing it," Mr Wong says. "Otherwise, you are probably working for the wrong organisation."

Social service

  • Sales team works with retail customers to ensure outlets stock the company's range of own brand and licensed beers
  • Social events are arranged to promote products and keep customers informed
  • Employees must understand the FMCG business and fit into the work environment
  • Fresh graduates are valued for the new perspectives they can bring
  • Staff must be self-motivated, committed to the work and good communicators

Taken from Career Times 09 September 2005
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