Starting out her career in sales without prior experience was a big challenge for Hui Keow ('HK') Lim. But she found trying to make her own way in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry even harder at first.
Based in Singapore, HK is now an assistant manager for sales at Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE). She joined the company in 2001.
“I started off as an admin executive working under our former president for the Asia Pacific region, Vincent Tan. After a couple of years, he asked me if I was keen to move into the sales side of the business. I really wanted to take on this challenge, even though at that stage I had zero experience of selling and no technical knowledge either,” HK recalls, reflecting on her early days.
“To ease me into the role, Volvo first adjusted my job scope from being 100% administrative to 30% administrative plus 70% sales. Two years after that, my job scope changed again, this time to 100% sales.”
HK’s on-the-job training gave her the confidence she needed to take on the role. Yet, it has not been an easy journey.
“It was tough to start, in fact a real nightmare at times. I had neither network in the construction industry nor any understanding of the best sales approach to reach out to customers. I did not understand the technical terms, especially when customers were speaking in their local dialects,” she says.
“One customer even questioned my experience and product knowledge and after I'd answered, they told me to leave their office. But I persevered and stayed patient, and I even explained to this customer that I was starting out in my sales career and reminded them that everyone has to start somewhere.”
In the world of heavy construction equipment, HK’s tasks can be quite demanding, both technically and physically. She has to know the machines she sells very well, like the back of her hand - including the capacities, hydraulic components, engines, spare parts, and other related accessories. This is in addition to her other responsibilities such as prospecting for new machine business, arranging demo machines for new customers to test the performance (and bring the deal to a successful close), and disposing of trade-in machines and/or customers' old machines.
As if that weren't enough, regular visits to project sites – sometimes in harsh conditions – are also an important part of the job, in order to gain a better understanding of the machines in operation.
“Your job doesn't stop when the machine is delivered to the customer,” HK explains. “Go out to the project site, engage with the operators and site personnel, and ask for feedback.
“Customers will appreciate and remember if you take the time to visit their job sites and understand their operations. It also keeps your discussions going with customers and helps you build stronger relationships with them so you can better serve their needs.”
'Nothing is impossible'
HK takes pride in her work and despite her struggle in the early days, she has proved her capability over and over again.
To every woman who wants to pursue sales career in the construction industry, HK shares her advice: “For sure this is a majority-male industry, but I’d say don't be afraid. Nothing is impossible, and being sincere in your approach is a key factor. Do not pretend to know everything, and respect it when the customers know best. You should be honest if you are unable to answer a question, the best customers will understand and respect that.”
She emphasises that the best experience one can get, “aside from product training courses, is learning from the customers.”
After two decades with Volvo CE, HK has seen first-hand the evolution of technology for construction equipment - from being manually operated to semi-automated and now fully autonomous.
“It's been amazing to see the emergence of Volvo Autonomous Solutions. It’s so exciting to see how we are able to develop intelligent machines working on job sites without operators. We can put our trust in these machines to operate effectively and safely.”
And that’s just one of the thrills and spills the construction industry has to offer. “There are plenty of rewards from a career in this sector,” HK says.
“The best part for me is that I get to build strong working relationships with customers who are appreciative of my dedication and who have supported me through the years. Many of them have actually become friends, and I have been regularly invited to both family and company gatherings.
“The confidence and enjoyment I get from the way these customers have supported me really motivates me in continuing to work in this industry.”
Photos courtesy of Hui Keow Lim