Sales Training, Cambodian Style

In December of 2009 my wife and I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. We packed our lives into backpacks and committed the next 4.5 months to travelling and experiencing the other side of the world. We spent 1.5 months driving and camping along the east coast of Australia (from Sydney to Cairns). Our next 1.5 months were spent in New Zealand traveling by bus and staying in hostels as we explored both south and north islands. Our last 1.5 months were spread out travelling parts of Asia: Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.

Trust me when I say I could write for days about our trip and our life altering experiences. However for the purpose of this post I want to focus on the interactions with local sales people in Cambodia.

Cambodia was one of my favourite stops on our entire trip. We spent 3 days in Phnom Penh, then traveled to Siem Reap for the remaining 4 days. In Siem Reap there is a street that is obviously catered towards tourists: Pub Street. And to no one’s surprise this street houses roughly 15 restaurants on each side. If you follow the alley behind Pub Street, there is another 10-15 establishments through there. Needless to say, the street is aptly named.

While we sat and enjoyed our food and our 50¢ draft beer (another reason I liked Cambodia) it was common to have two or three children approach your table during course of the meal. These children would range in age, they all spoke English extremely well, and they were quite possibly the best sales people I have ever met.

First of all, they are kids. How do you say “No” to kids? They do this whole puppy-dog face thing and it’s kind of heart breaking because you know they have very little.

Secondly, the children are persistent. Not in a “Come on!” kind of way, but if you say “No” to a book, they will show you a postcard or a necklace or hand carved turtle. Whatever they are selling, “No” simply seems applies to that particular product, so they keep asking.

Thirdly, typically the children will not move on to the next table until everyone at your table expresses they are not interested in purchasing.

Lastly and most impressively, they know TONS about where you are from. For example: prior to presenting an item for sale, they will ask where you are from. The kid will then spill off facts about your homeland (and in some cases facts you may not even know). Their response to our answer of Canada might be, “Oh yes, Canada. Big country. Flag has maple leaf. 10 provinces, 3 territories. Capital city, Ottawa. Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Population, about 34 million. Money, dollar. National Sport, lacrosse. Very good hockey players.”

Our initial reaction after hearing their response was to pick our jaws up off the table. It was amazing the amount of information they knew about Canada! And it’s not like Cambodia only allows Canadian visitors. We watched as these sales pros moved from table to table delivering facts to patrons from other countries. Utterly unbelievable.

What can we, as sales professionals, learn from these Cambodian Sales Wizards?

1) It’s tough to reproduce a child’s puppy-dog face, so we’ll have to rely on another source to ensure our prospects can’t say “No”. To get prospects to say “Yes” relies on the value you bring to the table. When you are proposing an initial meeting, developing a well-crafted value statement is key. A great value statement addresses your prospect’s critical issues, focuses on improvement of a business objective and provides a clear call to action. It solidifies you as an advisor instead of another “sales guy/gal” slinging product. You continue to grow your influence within an account, continuing to add value as the sales process moves forward.

2) Be persistent. I have had experience where I knew my product offering could benefit the client; however, I had to earn my stripes within the account. The customer was not willing to give me all of their business until I proved myself within one product category. What if I had walked away because they were not prepared to go all-in? I would have missed out on a solid account because I was unwilling to put in the work. Maybe your product isn’t right for your prospect now, but what about the company they want to become? Do you follow their press releases, do you have a Google Alert set up, do you invest in the client before they invest in you?

3) Find other people at the table who might say “Yes”. After you’ve left a couple voicemail messages to a prospective customer, do you give up? Have you searched LinkedIn to see if you share mutual connections? Perhaps a vendor you work with has contacts within the account and can act as a reference. Do your current customers have connections to the prospect? Exhaust all avenues. In my estimation, regular sales people give up too early. We hit a roadblock and convince ourselves it’s not worth the effort to move around it. But it is the accounts we fight the hardest for that can turn out to be the most rewarding.

4) It was only recently that I reflected on the extent The Cambodian children must have prepared to face their tourist prospects. They must have studied, practiced, memorized, and trained for hours and hours. I’m not suggesting we study all our prospects and memorize all their value statements or corporate releases, that would prove unproductive. But how prepared are we before we pick up the phone or walk into someone’s office for the first time? Do we know what their role is (hopefully)? Do we understand what industry our prospect is in, and can we draw parallels to similar customers within that particular industry? Have we developed or thought about what we want to ask? Do we know what our purpose for contact is? What is our objective for the meeting? I think you get the point. Before we even open our mouths, we need to prepare: EVERY TIME.

It’s amazing what we can learn from other cultures, isn’t it?

10 thoughts on “Sales Training, Cambodian Style

  1. All great points. I particularly like #4. Get to know your prospect and their industry as much as possible before heading in. Too many sales people start off with “tell me about”. It’s not necessary to be an expert, but taking the time to gain basic understanding sends the message “you are so important to me, I took the time to find out a bit about you.”

    • Nothing bothers me more than receiving a call when someone clearly didn’t take the time to do one ounce of pre-call work. They basically become a telemarketer at that point. Thanks for commenting Laurie!

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. Those children are really impressive!

    During college, I participated in an overseas study program in Singapore back in the summer of 1996. I got to visit Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. It was an incredible 6-8 weeks and I’m really looking forward to going back.

    There are many great points in this post, but here is one of my favorite parts:

    “…do you invest in the client before they invest in you?”

    Great advice.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Greg!

      I cannot begin to explain how much that experience meant to us. I highly recommend everyone to go away and immerse themselves in another culture. It certainly changed our perception and our lives.

  3. First, thank you for your comment on Halong Bay (freshly pressed). Your article is so right on and there is much to learn from these little saleschildren. We listened to them switching to different languages if the situation required it. I was in education and I can’t imagine our kids that motivated. All good points you have made to be successful…be it sales or a surgeon.

    • It is quite remarkable watching these children isn’t it? I wish we would have spent more than 7 days in Cambodia, specifically Phnom Phen. I’d love to go back. Thanks for reading Lynne, have a great day!

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