Sales / Marketing

What about a beer?

by Mabel Sieh

Louis Chow, Carlsberg Hong Kong Limited

Success in sales often depends on having the right personality for the job

When we think about what makes a good salesperson, we probably have in mind someone who is communicative, outgoing and has good business sense. Louis Chow has all this and more, but he puts his own success in the sales field down to a somewhat different attribute. "I am fun-loving," he says, "and that is a characteristic I try to bring to my daily work."

Like many others who had to readjust after the dotcom boom, Mr Chow was looking for a new career direction when a rather unusual job advertisement caught his eye. Besides listing the requirements and qualifications expected of applicants, the company also stated they wanted someone fun-loving and who liked having a good night out. As a firm believer in Hong Kong's "work hard, play hard" ethic, Mr Chow immediately applied and has now been with Carlsberg Hong Kong Limited for close to three years. Not too surprisingly, he is loving every minute of it!

"The advertisement described me exactly," he says. "I definitely like going out at night and prefer to have a few laughs during work hours." This approach obviously convinced the interviewers that the Australian-educated executive was the right man for the job, even though he had no previous experience in the food and beverage industry.

Personality is an important factor in any sales role, as well as liking the environment you work in, according to Connie Lam, human resources manager for Carlsberg Hong Kong. "You need to love the nightlife and hanging out in clubs and bars because that is part of the job," she says. "You also need to be mature and tough enough to deal with that environment." This partly explains why the team is predominantly male, though there is nothing to stop a female salesperson achieving outstanding results.

Listening is the key to good sales

Different markets

In terms of academic qualifications, Ms Lam notes that a university degree is expected of anyone working in the company's "entertainment division" because the client base and social environment are mainly western. Also, applicants with an outgoing personality and innovative approach are usually preferred for this market sector. In contrast, for those dealing with Chinese-run businesses, including restaurants and food stalls, secondary-level qualifications are required and salespeople with a more conservative personality and a traditional outlook are found to get on best with the customers.

As the sales supervisor in his division, Mr Chow's job is, of course, not just about having fun. He and his team work hard to promote Carlsberg as an exclusive draft beer in western-style clubs and bars, as well as in the hotels on Hong Kong Island. His daily routine includes making sales proposals to targeted outlets, following up on deals, and constantly checking to make sure clients are happy with the product and the service. To meet these challenges, Mr Chow believes in building long-term relationships with customers and checking their needs through regular visits.

"A lot of effort goes into keeping in close touch with all the customers," he confirms. "It is very important to work at building strong relationships and not forget people once you have closed a deal." This comes down to good communication which, for Mr Chow, means good listening. When he visits customers, his deliberate technique is to talk less and listen more in order to understand the client's precise needs and opinions. This approach is certainly paying off as he has just been able to renew a major sales contract with one of his largest corporate accounts.

Creative ideas

To improve the quality and extent of sales support, Mr Chow likes to be creative in suggesting new marketing activities and unique promotional items. One example is the "beer tower" display for holding beer bottles, which has been well received by outlets. It is all part of a philosophy of trying to provide something that goes beyond the standard levels of service and adds value for his customers. "Some salespeople still stick to the old way of doing things which emphasises the 'hard sell'. However, I believe we need to be creative and flexible, and to change our strategies as the market and society in general change around us," Mr Chow explains.

It is this ability to understand change and adapt as necessary that has made Mr Chow one of Carlsberg's star salesmen. To return that title, his team needs to achieve and maintain high monthly sales volumes over a set period of time. At present, they are performing at an outstanding level and reaching 110% of their monthly sales target, but fully expect to do even better.

Among other things, Mr Chow feels the real thrill of being a salesman lies in the ability to make something happen. He has the freedom to plan, prepare and execute new sales campaigns plus the challenge of establishing trusting relationships and delivering a high-quality service. "There is also the chance to measure your achievements," he adds, "and, in a company like this, you are building a career not just doing a job."

The road ahead is not necessarily trouble-free. After all, competition between suppliers is only likely to intensify and there will always be pressure on profit margins. In these circumstances, Mr Chow's strategy is to stay focused on what he does best: work hard and remember to relax at the end of the day. And how does he do that? "Isn't it obvious?" he laughs. "I hang out with my friends and have a beer!"

Different types

  • Emphasis during recruitment on finding the right personality for the job
  • Good sales communication based on listening more than talking
  • Creativity and flexibility the hallmark of a modern approach to sales
  • Recognition that certain personalities work best in different market sectors

Taken from Career Times 15 October 2004
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