Ngo Quoc Bao, FPT Retail Business Development Director and Apple Business Director in Vietnam with almost 10 years of experience developing new marketing channels and strategic-alliance programs in increasingly important nationwide markets of FPT. FPT is one of leading multinational information technology companies of Vietnam. Being one of Vietnam’s leading conglomerates, FPT corporation comprises of affiliates in telecommunications, property, financial services, retail and education. As Business Development Director at FPT Retail, Ngo Quoc Bao is involved in identifying markets and taking the bottom-line responsibility for marketing and promotion plans for FPT products. Currently, FPT retail has more than 1,500 agencies across the nation. The Columnist talks to him about the innovative sales culture in FPT and what Asian companies need to do to create an innovative sales culture.
The Columnist (TC): FPT has intensive experience of establishing and implementing large scale business models, especially in the distribution of IT and telecommunication products. As of today, FPT is considered to own the largest distribution network in Vietnam with more than 1,500 selling agents across the country. So in your opinion, what are the elements that bring current success to FPT?
Ngo Quoc Bao (NQB): In my opinion, the important elements are our excellent-valued products and services together with human resource. By saying “excellent value”, I mean FPT does not only focus on good PR and marketing strategies, but the most important thing is that we emphasise on creating high quality products and services from inside, all of which is to satisfy the customers’ demand in the best way we can.
TC: Could you share the values practiced among FPT people that contributed to this success?
NQB: The value that is practiced among FPT people is innovative and freedom to innovate. We create space for every member to express themselves and contribute their ideas. Instead of stressing on hierarchy, we focus on effectiveness. At FPT, we continuously encourage our people to propose ideas for better outcomes. As the management, we remind ourselves to be open-minded, continuously improve our processes, regulations to be adaptable to fast-changing society as well as market. As a technology-based company, we have to live out the values of innovation and freedom to innovate more than any others.
TC: With every staff since their early days of joining FPT, what’s the mentality that you train them to determine their position in the relationship with customers?
NQB: I would like to clarify that the customer relationship is not limited to the front-liners and customer service staff who directly interact with customers on their daily chores. The work of every department in FPT is all customer-oriented. In traditional concept, customers are said to be king, which is popular among retail companies. However, we propose a new approach which emphasises that our staff are consultants for customers. These consultants should provide specific knowledge and honest advice and the decision belongs to the customers. In FPT corporation and FPT Retail, every staff is trained to be customers’ consultant and friend. By saying “friend”, we really mean that FPT staff are willing to provide customers with both positive and negative (if any) points of the products. We know that in customers’ eyes, every product has its own strengths and weaknesses. In some aspects, we are taking risks with this new approach as we know that very few retail companies adopt the same approach.
TC: In FPT sales strategies, besides revenue quotas, how does the relationship with customers affect your staff performance evaluation?
NQB: Besides sales quotas and revenues like other industries, retail industry requires adaptability and quick response to any change of market. Thus, companies often focus on training sales staff with products’ knowledge, they even engage training companies to provide customer orientation skill training classes (i.e. training staff to convince customers to make purchase decisions). However, in my opinion, customer-oriented sales approach without full control of product supply will badly affect company reputation. Once you aim only to make money and neglect the products’ supply and product quality, customers are unforgiving when they find out any problem with their products.
As for staff performance evaluation, the number of new shoppers and returning shoppers is used as one evaluation criteria. Beside stringent hiring policies, we set up an internal training center in FPT Retail to improve staff profession, nurture their talent and organise programs such as “FPT Shop smile”. We also have reward and recognition system, for example we have awards for excellent staff and retail shops who get thank you letter from customers. We believe that in addition to staff’s professional competency, the employee’s passion for their job is another big element of an organisation’s success. Since the nature of retail industry requires excellent communication and service skills, this can only be achieved when we have a strong team of people who take pride in their jobs.
TC: Could you share more about achievements or effective measures that you have applied in encouraging your staff to take responsibilities, give decisions and innovate beyond their daily tasks?
NQB: In each department, we deploy KPI system to measure work performance. In addition to that, prior to giving any task no matter how small it may seem, we make our expectation and objectives very clear to our staff. By doing so, while trying their best to meet individual and department KPI targets, our staff have one more “self” target which is to exceed expectation – this is considered the best driving force for each individual. Doing well at work can meet expectations but only when they are innovative and creative, can they increase their work efficiency to exceed expectations. In order to ensure our staff can meet KPI targets, we provide regular trainings for every frontline division once or twice per month. After each training, there will be a class test before they have customer evaluation (which will affect the KPI performance). Every 6 months, we review staff performance for level promotion (staff level is defined as career level at FPT, which is linked to different packages of benefits, welfare and remunerations).
In general, each FPT staff has to meet both personal and organisational objectives at the same time. The incentive mechanism at FPT is also very straightforward. That’s why at FPT, we don’t manage people by the number of working hours, each staff has to manage himself or herself to meet the identified KPI targets.
All staff have to work towards providing solutions to customers, not simply orienting them to buy a product at the highest benefit of the company.
TC: In your opinion, what is the most important element in creating an innovative sales culture in FPT?
NQB: The fundamental is the realisation level of sales people and the prerequisite for this realisation is company culture.
The perception that salespeople don’t need professional competency is not correct. Vietnamese employees used to perceive sales as something temporary and short-term therefore they don’t pay attention to improve their skills and don’t proactively invest in training courses while in many other countries, sales is really a career and salespeople do have good opportunities to climb up the career ladder and receive attractive remunerations. Besides, companies in Vietnam lack a long term strategy when they hire salesmen, that’s why all available trainings are mainly about product training, rather than sales skills.
In FPT Retail, we always create opportunities for our sales staff to pursue their career and stay with the company for the long haul. Staff don’t work for the sake of working, they work because they enjoy it. When staff have a deep realisation of and pride in what they do, innovation happens not only in sales but also in other functions. Innovation helps them to perform more efficiently and effectively. We carefully evaluate all those innovative ideas for deployment. For our staff, the best reward for creativity sometimes is not materialistic as people often think, it’s the recognition. It’s when their ideas are recognised and deployed in large scale.
TC: What do you think Asian companies in general need to create an innovative sales culture?
NQB: I don’t dare to give advice to Asian companies in general, yet I wish to share our framework to build an innovative sales culture at FPT Group in general and at FPT Retail in particular as follows:
a. Organisation structure at retail companies:
In comparison to other industries, there are three distinguished characteristics of organisational structure of a retail company :
- More flexible and adaptable. The organisation structure must be able to adapt quickly to business strategy and to the constant change of the retail market.
- Not stand on ceremony to bring about new ideas or quickly adapt programs to catch up with competitors as well as market changes in terms of pricing, industry and even political and social conditions.
- Short structure. Vertically, the organisational structure should have less levels so that top-down decisions as well as bottom-up feedback can happen at the fastest speed possible.
b. Create and “unleash” deep realisation within sales personnel:
In FPT Retail, our trainings are not only about product trainings but also about sales skills training and involve role-play activities using real work situations. Regular trainings and sales experience sharing sessions must be done continously and systematically because retail industry changes rapidly. We don’t train our staff to sell for profit, we train them to provide professional service, to be a solution consultant who is able to answer customer’s problems and inquiries and then let customers consider and make decision by themselves. To make it short, “we don’t sell products, we sell solutions” and the core of good service is the people. Therefore, our people have the right to be proud of their career and this pride will create an innovative sales culture.
Fast and large profits is the objective of any business. However, for companies with a long-term vision and clear strategy, both business strategy and business execution will be effective. Therefore, staff training is not replaceable. People is the fundamental for a company not only to grow but also to grow sustainably!
Discounts and promotions are favourite tools of retail companies. Thus, we feel the pressure to not only to offer good price but to also provide very good service quality, especially post-sales services to make it our competitive advantage. Discounts and promotions only work at the moments customers make a purchase, but what happens after they do will decide whether they will return and destine whether a company can grow sustainably.
This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.