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How to sell Big in China, Avoid Moon Cakes and Score Sellers

Business Leader of the Month: Morry Morgan
Friday, March 25th, 2011
Morry Morgan

Morgan came to China vowing to stay for at least three months – even if it killed him - 10 years ago. Shortly after he started his company in 2001, ClarkMorgan Corporate Training, China suffered from an outbreak of the SARS epidemic, and then firms cut their training budgets during the global financial crisis. But Morgan emerged from all this to win the title of ‘Training Firm of the Year’ in 2007 and 2008. Asserting that “there is no harm in trying,” he launched a national human resources magazine, organized three innovation conferences in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, and authored the book Selling Big In China that details how he succeeded.

Morgan ([email protected]) gives this exclusive interview to Victor Fic ([email protected]), our special correspondent for economics and politics.

Morry, tell us about your experience learning about marketing in China.

In 2001, I knew very little Chinese and even less about marketing in China. Thankfully, so did most expatriates, so it was a fair race. Early on, I befriended Michael Golden, who later built AdSmith, a marketing and PR agency. He was a great coach, but I must still thank trial and error and China’s forgiving market because I often erred. One habit I started was to avoid following the pack. ClarkMorgan does not send moon cakes during the mid autumn festival. It’s a great tradition, but useless for marketing because you do not stick out – everyone sends moon cakes. Instead, we sent rare and memorable Women’s Day and National Day cards and invested in photos to avoid the stock photo fluff in many brochures and websites. ClarkMorgan has real people, not a politically correct diverse group of attractive models. Many staffers became famous within the human resources (HR) community. Clients say they have seen our people in our in-house marketing, industry magazine or the media. Another tip for would-be marketers is to build relationships with everyone, and don’t try to receive before you give. My book also discusses my friend at the Shanghai Daily newspaper. Two years after I initiated goodwill inviting him to the Formula One race there, he provided an amazing free advertising campaign.

You say that you are a deep thinker. What is your marketing philosophy, or framework?

I am as much about marketing as I am about sales. If you lack a strong sales team, marketing won’t attain your target. My key to sales is to know what people want and their often hidden needs. You say that you want a mobile phone. But needs are obscure and subjective. You need a mobile to relay your calendar, for convenience, style, easy use and brand loyalty. Finding such need allows me to negotiate incredibly low rentals, prevent staff resignations, build partnerships with HR firms and assist charities. Also, I love bartering for items spanning beer to hotel rooms to my MBA. The math is simple. You each have what the other wants - no fuss or tax. Far more trust enters without money. My old office furniture went to a beer importer who offered cases of Australian beer - a win-win.

Offer us more detail about bartering, because few people understand it.

Throughout 2009, ClarkMorgan Corporate Training worked with The Library Project and collected books for 1 to 6 year olds at rural schools in China. Founder Tom Stader charged our clients the cost of one children’s book for attending a previously free 3-hour ClarkMorgan demonstration. Bringing a book was voluntary so no one was rejected. By December 2009, we sent over 500 books to 15 rural schools in Sichuan province. The Library Project gets books, the HR manager gets trained and ClarkMorgan Corporate Training supports its PR and CSR initiatives for a win-win-win outcome.

That is also present in tourism as voluntourism. The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami, for example, offers a two-night package. Guests spend a morning removing invasive plants and recycling in Everglades National Park. Other hotels ask guests to fix hiking trails or work at soup kitchens. The next Shanghai event is entitled “Preserving Ancient Wuzhen.” So win-win-win is possible and rewarding.

You claim to surpass cliches like ‘work through local people’ or ‘carry business cards.’ What are your key insights?

They focus on doing business internationally and also specifically with the Chinese. The clients featured in my book work for multinationals, often travel, are confident in English or even a second foreign language, and are not wooed by foreigners. I look specifically at China’s business intricacies, for instance motivating a Chinese sales force. A big competency gap weakens Chinese sales teams caused by culture and habit. I offer pragmatic solutions and highlight five areas for measurement before management.

First tell us, why is the Chinese sales team often weak?

It is disturbing and obvious that they lack a formal sales education. There is no Bachelor of Applied Sales offered anywhere. But this function is the lungs of a company that inhales and pumps business. Sales in China is still very immature. Most likely you come from disciplines as varied as engineering, general administration or even economics. But not sales. So how can a salesperson become the best? First, identify the key skill sets. The five factors that mean success are product knowledge; uncovering needs; charisma to build goodwill; persistence to make calls and legwork and honoring promises.

Give our readers more information about these.

As for product knowledge, some sales people know little about their products and services. Because I do sales, I quiz service staff more than the usual customer does and generally I am unimpressed. Yes, sales ability in China has improved over the 9 years that I have lived here but is nowhere near international standards. If you manage a sales team in China, conduct regular service and product knowledge tests. Don’t assume that they know what you do. A simple pop quiz this Monday will prove me right or wrong.

How to uncover needs, then?

In my book, Selling Big to China, I highlight an invaluable technique called funneling. Unfortunately, few salespeople are taught this skill. Luckily, I learnt it 13 years ago. First, ask open, non-leading questions, then open leading ones and finally closed leading. In between, summarize the client’s words to clarify your understanding while building goodwill through positive language.

Charisma is rare, correct?

Goodwill is vital in sales, up to 37% of the successful sales pie. Charisma is not easily learned, but can be. Many great salespeople started off shy but grew into their charisma, most likely by mirroring others.

The stereotype about sales is that it means hitting the phone, knocking on doors...

You must persist in calling and legwork. In China, many people believe that connections, or guanxi, make a great salesperson. I disagree. Guanxi will start your career, but two years later, if you lack the persistence to gain new business then you will have dried up all your connections. At ClarkMorgan, we test for this quality with a Quality Score that measures our salespeople’s smart legwork with a running 30 day total. All sales staff must maintain a Quality Score of 1000 points or more by e-mailing for 1 point, calling for 5 points, attending networking events for 15 points and meetings at 20 points. It means only 50 daily points on the month’s 21 working days. You easily see who will excel or bomb-out.

If you fail to deliver on a promise, can’t you do it later?

Sales staff must get their client’s signature and then meet promises. Any gap will hinder repeat business. It costs 5 to 20 times more to secure new business than maintaining a pool of delighted customers.

Tell our readers more about the various demographic groups in China.

My book looks at the true reds, the old red guards, the children of the revolution and the 80’s kids. The true reds have retired. They are the parents of the children of the revolution. True reds are highly moral but often closed to outside ideas. Their children of the revolution, now in their 30s and 40s, have inherited these higher values, but the internet and travel makes them more open to the positive side of business in China. Sadly, the old red guards focused on guanxi or connections over knowledge and ethics and are corrupt. They are in their late 40s and upward. As for the 80s children, they are open but very selfish from being only children with old red guard parents.

At first, China lacked celebrity endorsements, but that tendency is on now -- do you see it?

Yes, the trend is growing to build a reputation by harnessing the phenomenon of a key opinion leader, which my book explores. But like with moon cakes, when everybody uses Jacky Chan, he loses his value.

More Western firms are expanding their marketing from first tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai to provincial towns like Dalian. Does this require new marketing attitudes and tools?

It involves far more patience with consumers less savvy than in first tier cities.

Does a Westerner need a Chinese partner to craft for marketing based on the culture and social trends?

You don’t need a Chinese partner to understand local insights, but require much input from the media, books, friends and colleagues.

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