Well I did. That's why I am doing a series of interviews with Philippine sales leaders.
My first interview was with the national sales head of a leading car brand. Perhaps she revealed possibly controversial personal stories that she asked not to reveal her name or her company. Maybe she's just being careful with her corporate image. In any case, here are the top things I learned from her:
Remember Attorney Ally McBeal from that 90's sitcom? The Dragon Lady carries the same dainty corporate look, and would not be out of place in a boardroom of a multinational company. She also speaks the language of corporate Manila: management frameworks, war metaphors and a sprinkling of TLAs (three letter acronyms). But when she found out I'm Cebuano, she started speaking with the colorful language of my drinking buddies from downtown Cebu!
It was a bit disorienting, but this adaptability, it turns out, is a key skill that led to her success. She started her career selling to businesses in Cebu (overhead projectors) and to farmers in Sultan Kudarat (fertilizers). She also headed the operations of a fish exporting business based out of Mindanao, and had to deal with corrupt managers and an aggressive labor union.
To be effective in selling, you need to speak the language of your buyers. Language is an entry point to a people's worldview. All too often, corporate leaders are insulated from the culture of the streets and the hinterlands. The Dragon Lady seems to be as comfortable in dealing with farmers as she is with CEOs. My impression is that she appreciates the importance of understanding different cultures in their own terms. Undoubtedly, this openness has also contributed to her effectiveness in sales and sales leadership.
2. Earning the Dragon
This lady has earned her Dragon prefix. She was only 25 when she headed the operations of that fish exporting business. She had 5 managers who reported to her. Some of them were in their 50's, and have worked in the company years before she came. She found out that these guys were cheating with the inventory. She fired all of them.
You would appreciate this more if you understand the dynamics of power outside affluent cities like Makati and Cebu. A young Maria Clara is expected to be pliant and reverent to her elders. The Dragon Lady carries a 45 caliber (she's a gun collector).
3. Humility and supporting leadership
She considers humility as a requirement for sales. People with sensitive egos simply cannot survive in this environment. She is an effective boss because she knows how to be a subordinate. She sent me her long email to her current executive team, and you could see her unambiguous support for their leader.
The government was going shut down their fish export operations in 30 days due to some technicalities with export permits. If you have dealt with government agencies, you would know that getting paperwork through the bureaucracy within 30 days is nothing short of miraculous. She flew to Manila and politely waited outside the office of the official she had to influence. With a charm offensive during the odd times the official went outside his office, she was able to iron-out that problem that had a potential to destroy their business.
5. Know the type of sale you are good at
The wide range of products to sell and markets to sell to require different sales approaches. The Dragon Lady has sold countless of high-end cars to diplomats and other VIPs. But she says it has been challenging for her to sell lower-end cars. She knows her strengths and plays to them.
6. Be ready to pay the price of excellence
The Dragon Lady warns that you should be ready to say goodbye to the time you have for yourself if you wish to take on countrywide sales leadership for large multinationals. She shut down all her social media accounts (except Linkedin) so she could have more focus. Her dedication and its resulting rewards however is allowing her to consider the option of retiring before she reaches 40.
7. Hiring sales people
On evaluating new hires:
- If the new hire has some issues in the first two weeks, don't continue with the hiring
- If you see an attitude problem in the first month, terminate the hiring
- On the second month, the new hire should be able to close a sale
- If you are hiring a veteran, divide these time spans by half
Who to hire:
- First impressions are important for effectiveness: eg, "pleasing personality"
- "Homo sapiens are very visual"
- Communication skills is key
Fresh grads or veterans?
- Depends on what is sold
- She prefers fresh grads. The veterans have contacts but tend to be hard-headed. This is especially important for key skills needed in premium selling.
- Best to have a mix of fresh grads and veterans in a sales team. This gives an environment of healthy competition.
- Etiquette is important to learn
- Train new hires to treat team mates as internal customers
8. Sales as a career
I asked what advice she would give to those who are just starting out in sales. She replied jokingly: "don't screw up your life; find another job." I pushed for a more serious answer and she said that you have to find a product/service that you are very passionate about. Sales is not for everyone.
Yes, sales is not for everyone. But as the Dragon Lady has shown, if you have the talent and the dedication, you can go very far, very fast.