Becoming a top Sales Executive is a lifelong journey that starts with a fascinating quest for knowledge…
SINGAPORE — Jennelle Lee is on a journey. Her first steps have put her on a quest for knowledge. In a quiet lecture hall hidden away behind the workshop area of Borneo Motors’ Leng Kee Road building, she takes notes diligently.
The strikingly tall former flight attendant shows us a diagram she drew herself of the combustion chamber from a Toyota engine. She points out the intake and exhaust valves, two fuel injectors (one port, one direct), and explains how the setup is designed to reduce fuel consumption.
But Lee isn’t training to be a technician. She has just joined the Toyota distributor as a sales engineer, and is now in the middle of Borneo Motors’ New Sales Engineer Development Programme.
“It’s a lot to absorb,” she says, but it’s nothing she wasn’t mentally prepared for. That’s probably because she has already displayed three attributes: being a self-starter, having a learning attitude, and being resilient.
Those are the qualities that Borneo Motors looks for in its sales personnel, explains Voon Chin Chao, Senior Manager, Sales Training & Development.
Voon heads the team that trains new sales people like Lee. “The objective is to bring the company to a level where our sales team is the best in town,” he says.
But staying at that level takes effort, too. “How about people who have been here six months, six years, 20 years or even 30 years? Sustaining it is important,” he says. “We have a very high expectation of service level.” That being so, existing staff attend follow-up sessions every four to six weeks.
You might think that sales training involves boning up on a car’s features and the hard facts that you’ll find on a brochure. And while product training is important, Voon says it only scratches the surface of what it means to be a good salesperson — one who is able to deliver a holistically positive experience that is part of Borneo’s DriveHappy mission.
New Sales Engineers actually start by learning about Borneo Motors and Toyota. The traditions and values of both companies are highlighted from the start. “We go all the way back to 100 years ago, the great grandfather of Akio Toyoda (the President of Toyota Motor Corporation),” says Voon. “Innovation, spirit, challenges, failures, how the company learnt from them and how the Toyota Way provides a guide going forward.”
The new Sales Engineers undergo basic orientation about the company’s various departments, learn what is expected of them, and discover key Toyota technologies.
All that is just on Day One of a two-week programme — that is how comprehensively prepared Borneo expects its team to be, and how heavily the company invests in its new recruits. “If a person is worth hiring, a person is worth training,” says Voon.
The second day is about imparting vital trade knowledge: how does car insurance work, how should a Sales Engineer handle a trade-in, how do Certificates Of Entitlement work? Expertise in all these areas will allow Lee to help a customer one day, after all.
But it’s not all hard lectures and studying for the trainees. “Something we do that is quite unique is to take them to a retail centre out in town,” says Voon. “It has nothing to do with cars. It lets you put yourself in the shoes of the customers.”
Naturally, there is follow-up work after that, in the form of a discussion. In typically organised, meticulous fashion, it involves seven questions that encourage the trainees to review their experience as customers. “A simple thing like salesperson talking among each other, and only one minute later coming to you. What is the impact on you?” says Voon.
It’s easy to tell a Toyota salesperson not to do that, but letting them see things through the customers’ eyes reinforces the lesson much more strongly.
Another activity that Lee has found enjoyable? Test driving Toyota’s latest models. “I get to have a feel of them, so I can relate them well to the customer. It’s a very good learning ground,” she says of the experience.
In that one remark, Lee captures the goals of the training: all her knowledge of Toyota and its cars is only valuable if she can make them relevant to a customer.
“It’s not just about price and product. Everyone has that. Here, things are driven by trust. That is our vision. Let me try to understand your needs. What would you like to have in your new car?” says Voon.
Voon adds that there are three levels of sales competence. For a start, a salesperson should be able conduct the proceedings of a sale well — handling test drives, ensuring paperwork is in order, doing a proper delivery. It’s arguable whether small, independent brokers are able to do it all smoothly every time, but at a large setup like Borneo Motors, those are considered the basics.
The next level is about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and making sure his needs are met. “When the customer spends a lot of money on his car, we want him to say, ‘Hey, this car suits me,’” says Voon.
Beyond that, the very best salesmen are so reliable that they can keep a customer for life. “We want a customer to be able to say, ’When my son wants to buy a car, I can count on you,’” explains Voon.
That is the destination that Lee has her eye on. It will take time, but she already knows the direction to take.
One of the most memorable takeaways she received on her first day at Borneo Motors is the way her first interaction with a new customer will set the tone for their future relationship. “When someone walks into the showroom, it should feel like a welcome home, rather than giving them a feeling like they’re a stranger,” she says. “The most important thing is to not make them feel uncomfortable or obligated. Don’t push them to a product just so you can clinch the deal.”
A Sales Engineer without that attitude would only be friends with you if you bought a car from them first, but at Borneo it seems to be the other way around: relationship first, sale second.
“It has to come from the heart. People can feel it. It’s really about your sincerity, not about hard selling,” says Lee.
In that sense, Jennelle Lee’s true destination might as well be signposted “DriveHappy”.