Last Word

Big Sell trick

Updated: 2011-05-06 11:35

By Matt Hodges (China Daily European Weekly)

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Big Sell trick
Morry Morgan says Chinese sellers need to improve their level of engagement with their products. [Provided to China Daily]

Expert reveals How European firms can better train their Chinese sales force

Morry Morgan has what they call in the business a face for sales. With his penetrating gaze and silvery hair, he could smile and launch a thousand ships, or Moutai brands. His expression suggests that, while he knows what cards you are holding, you don't know which ones he has up his sleeve. He is both salesman and magician.

Now the 36-year-old Australian has unlocked some of the secrets of his trade in his new book, Selling Big to China: Negotiating Principles for the World's Largest Market. He draws on his 10 years' experience in the country to help European firms improve performances of their Chinese sales teams through a series of tried-and-tested steps.

"I actually wanted to call the book 'Peng'," he says, referring to a move in the hugely popular Chinese game of mahjong, where one player wins a set by getting his opponent to throw in a piece he did not want.

"It was supposed to remind the Chinese that it's not a competitive world out there, although you often don't get that feeling in Shanghai, but a collaborative one. There's a mentality in China, unique in Asia, that is not collaborative. But the publishers quite rightly corrected me on that one. The name 'Peng' wouldn't have sold many copies."

As if to underscore his point, our interview is conducted at a trendy Shanghai bar with a firm deadline: in 30 minutes, Morgan has arranged a meeting with a professional rival he has never laid eyes on before, just to scope him out.

Some of the material in Morgan's book is plain common sense; other parts are China specific, and the rest amounts to widely applicable sales advice. Throughout, the author, who studied microbiology and pharmacology at the Royal Institute of Technology, brings a scientific approach to the world of sales, including a fondness for equations and acronyms. Customers, for example, can be won over by the TAE (target acquisition equation).

"The problem with having a Chinese sales team, which is essential in China, is that their level of engagement with the product is so low. I read in one survey that it's about 17 percent according to BlessingWhite," he says. "You need to talk about the product like you own it, but in China they lack these soft skills."

"There is no MBA in haggling. They don't learn these skills at school. The irony is that you often find Chinese salesmen who are 10 years younger than their counterparts in the West, but who are even further behind them in terms of their experience and skills. They're not power drills. They're screwdrivers."

In his book, Morgan outlines five basic characteristics of a good salesman: exhaustive product knowledge, ability to build goodwill, finding needs, legwork and following through with promises. Of these, finding needs tops the bill. It requires asking questions, which Chinese often see as a mark of disrespect if done without finesse.

Morgan uses the anecdote of a recent business trip to Beijing, when he only had 45 minutes to secure a new suit in the capital's famed Silk Market, to illustrate the point.

"The Chinese vendors there are supposed to be pros, but I walked away with a suit in 30 minutes for only 80 bucks," he said. "If the sales assistant had known how desperate I was, she could have got four times that amount out of me, easily. But she never asked me any questions."

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