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How a senior Sales professional tackles the COVID-19 challenge

​Given how the market has changed over the past year, sales professionals have to be creative as they weather the winds of change. So, when life gives you lemons, how do you make lemonade?

Anki Lau, Sales & Marketing Divisional Manager, spoke to a Senior Customer Experience professional at a multinational FMCG company here in Hong Kong to get their insights on weathering the current market conditions. Read on for their conversation.

1. With shifting consumer behaviour and new normals in place, what advice would you give to fellow sales professionals?

In the FMCG sector, there’s a noticeable change in consumption behaviour. Nowadays, we talk a lot about the changes revolving around staying home and home consumption, both the brand and retailers are facing the same challenges with these changes.

I would take this as an opportunity to partner with retailers closely, start the conversation, and look into issues which may have been overlooked. When the business was doing well, no one had the time to fix these underlying issues, and now is an excellent time to explore solutions together.

Given how the market is changing, it gives us the chance to try new tactics and tap into new avenues and partner with retailers to find viable solutions together.

2. A popular trend amongst some sales professionals is moving towards online services, e-Commerce, SaaS, and startup sales roles right now. Do you think younger sales professionals should hop on this bandwagon, or are there other paths they could also explore?

E-commerce and digital functions are areas where there is a high demand for talent, given the current market situation. That being said, Hong Kong is an open market and talent can come from all over the world. Young local talent should think about their competitive edge when comparing themselves with professionals from other regions. In terms of e-commerce capability, the US and China are known for being digital powerhouses. Therefore, professionals are competing with a broader talent pool even if there are many digital-related opportunities out there.

Meanwhile, for the non-digital/traditional sales function, there are many core competencies young sales professionals should focus on and develop further. Given that companies are building their e-commerce and digital functions internally, young talent should do their part well and explore opportunities within the business. Equip yourself with core competencies, get yourself involved, and learn how things work within your current company before jumping to your next external opportunity.

3. How did you get to your current position? How can other sales professionals achieve the same success you have?

Whenever I capture a horizontal or vertical opportunity, I focus a lot on building my core competency. I would always think one step ahead in terms of what I’ll need to learn next. For example, I’d say “terms negotiation” for a Key Account Manager is considered a hard skill, while engaging with key customers and managing the relationship are soft skills that one should work on for the next level in their career.

As you become more senior, you will realise that your manager will not have the time to look into every detail. When you’re presenting to the management team, you’ll need to know what they are looking for and how to simplify your presentation accordingly. This is not considered as functional expertise, and you have to learn it on your own.

Lastly, you should treat your personal brand with care - within your current company and industry. It is a two-way opportunity. You may not always get what you want all the time, but an opportunity you never thought about before might come to you.

4. Sales has always been a function that requires a personal touch. With social distancing, remote working measures and travel limitations in place, what are some of the challenges you have faced in the past few months?

We need to consider if our field sales staff are going to high-risk areas and how to take care of their safety. We might have to ask them not to visit specific areas and arrange their schedules accordingly. Some of our sales staff faced challenges with this arrangement as they do not want to be taking a back seat and doing limited sales.

While this challenging time is impacting our business, we are taking this as an opportunity to provide training courses for our team to build their functional capabilities and also enhance staff engagement levels. We may not have had the time to arrange these training courses earlier, and it’s good that we can utilise this chance when online courses are easily accessible.

For functions that can work from home, efficiency has not been impacted at all. As there is no more commute time, you just start working once you switch on your laptop. It may even be more productive for some.

I believe the challenge is maintaining teamwork and staff engagement while working from home. More one-on-ones and team meetings are needed to have consistent internal communication. In my opinion, it’s also easy to burn out since it’s harder to switch off from work while working from home.

5. How has Ambition helped you in your journey?

I have been to networking and market trend events hosted by Ambition. I’m aware that Ambition recently hosted a DISC profiling webinar for sales professionals. It is great that Ambition is hosting different events and providing a networking platform for us.

Ambition placed me at my current company, and it wouldn’t have happened if Anki just went with the flow and made decisions based on salary range or experience level. She has a great understanding of my background and career aspirations, she thinks out of the box, and she is bold enough in handling the recruitment process and connecting me with this opportunity. It was a very unique and specific matching experience, and my role has evolved after completing my first assignment here.

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