One of the biggest challenges every Western companies faces in China is finding and retaining qualified local sales force. Highly efficient salespeople are in constant demand in the Middle Kingdom and are hard to come by. Here I examine the four types of a typical Chinese salesperson, which are based on my own experience and observation.
The Big Shot
By far, the most common type 10-12 years ago in China, the “big shot” is typically a male in his 40-50s, characterized by a typical demeanor of an all-knowing VIP who expects universal respect and admiration. He is all about appearances and authority, however the best thing he excels at is selling himself.
“The big shot” type will give you an impression that he knows everyone in the industry, every customer is his personal close friend and all he needs to do to sell is to dial a phone number. He assures you that there is nothing more important in China than guanxi and his network of connections is his primary asset, the source of his incredible efficiency.
“The big shot” sales type also commands premium salary and will, perhaps very quickly, become one of the most expensive of your employees. Every meal he eats, every karaoke bar he visits ends up on his expense report and, just in case you are foolish enough to ask, he will assure you this is the only way to do business in China.
He knows practically nothing about what he is selling and feels that going into technical details of the product or the intricacies of a business deal is beneath him. He got others to worry about those things while he is busy entertaining his clients.
This type tends to thrive in corrupt industries where deals are done under table and people expect expensive gifts and lavish entertainment. Fortunately, as Chinese business environment matures and companies become more profit and efficiency oriented, the area of application of “big shot”‘s skills is quickly shrinking.
Once examined carefully, after the first year when they still can sell to their few connections, their contribution to your company slips to the negative. They quickly become a major financial drain and corrupting influence to the others. By all means, avoid this type of a salesperson in your organization. If you got them – get rid of them quickly as they are nothing but parasites.
“The junior” type is usually a young and ambitious individual but the one who lacks initiative and creativity. He (or she) starts as an entry level salesperson and may stay in your organization for years without changing much of his style and upgrading his abilities. He is a follower by nature and quickly gets “hijacked” by the “big shot” who becomes his mentor and the role model.
“The junior” aspires to become a “big shot” himself one day but lacks the authoritative style and, generally, commands little respect from customers. Eventually, he becomes a personal slave of a “big shot” who expects him to do all the dirty work – preparing quotations, contracts, reports and visiting customers.
Even without the corrupting attitude of a “big shot”, the “junior” is a very inefficient employee. His lack of creativity and mediocre intelligence are the major obstacles in his advancing professionally. He tries to learn the products at the beginning but quickly gives up, feeling that it would do nothing to help him achieving the “big shot” status anyway.
If you have people who fit this description in your organization, first thing you must do is isolate them from the “big shots” and see if there is hope of them progressing to a higher level. If this doesn’t happen, let them go. They’d probably leave anyway once their mentor is not around anymore.
“The loner” is another typical salesperson that is common in large number of organizations. He/she is intelligent, reasonably creative but entirely devoid of ambition. His primary objective is to be left alone and let him do his job. He makes everything in his power to become invisible, despises authority and teamwork.
He becomes frustrated at any attempts to control or manage him and truly believes that he is most efficient when he is not bothered by bosses.
Typically, he has his limited but trusted network of connections but his efficiency varies and usually just follows the market trends. His lack of ambition makes him inefficient in building and growing his network but, when the market is up, he can stay a reasonably contributing salesperson.
A “loner” type could be problematic in your organization but, in certain situations, he fits in a niche. He may even thrive when he is given an account allowing a reasonable freedom to choose the sales approach. I would advise to give him a chance but, by all means, he must be monitored and managed despite him resisting your attempts. He must prepare reports and visit the office regularly but don’t force him to become a team player, it would probably never work anyway.
The “challenger” characterizes the new generation of Chinese salespeople and this is what you want in your organization. They tend to be the most successful and efficient employees that quickly gain well deserved respect and trust from both clients and the co-workers.
Lack of experience is irrelevant for this type because he/she is all about the attitude. Their intelligence and creativity is what lies behind “challengers”‘ efficiency. They are team players and could be great managers, especially for like-minded individuals. Their ambition is backed up by the abilities and positive attitude.
They are good communicators, fast learners and tend to quickly advance in the right organization. The “challengers” don’t shy away from conflict which is inevitable with the “big shots”. Your company can quickly become polarized with the “challengers” on one side and “big shots” with their “juniors” on the other. If the conflict is not resolved by removing the corrupting influence of the “big shots”, the organization will suffer greatly.
The “challengers” must be developed and nurtured because they are the seeds of your success, the true driving force that could skyrocket your sales if properly taken advantage of. Beware, however, that this type craves challenges (hence the name). In a stale environment, they may feel bored and unused and could leave for more interesting opportunities.