A Behind the Scenes Look at Life in International Sales

This is the first in a multi-part series that will take Newsroom readers behind the scenes for an inside look at what it means to work in the trading industry.

For many, life on the road can be a tough way to make a living. Always being away from one’s friends and family, living out of a suitcase, and using single-serve toiletries and condiments can take a toll on the most resolute amongst us.  

However, for others like Manager, Nala Lee, with Samsung C&T Trading & Investment Group’s Fertilizer Part in the Chemicals Team in charge of Indonesia, Turkey and Europe, life on the road is a welcome challenge – full of life-enriching opportunities and experiences.

So how did Nala Lee end up working in international fertilizer sales for one of Korea’s largest conglomerates? Let’s take a look at her journey.

An Unexpected Path

Despite excelling in chemistry at college, a summer internship at a lab helped Lee realize that that sitting in a lab all day was not for her. Seeking an alternative path, she next prepared to take the notoriously competitive Korean civil service exam.

But after 1 year of preparation, Lee did not pass the exam. She later remarked that “I quit the internship because I didn’t want to sit in a room all day, but I realized that I was doing the same thing again.” This was the catalyst she needed to uncover her true calling in life

That’s when Lee came across the Samsung C&T Youth Intern Program, which was actively recruiting young graduates like herself. When asked to choose her desired profession on the application, she chose sales. Lee quipped that simply, “I thought it was a good fit for me.” Here is where her life in international sales began.

Life on the Road

Life on the road can truly be a grind. Travelling back and forth between time zones is difficult on our body’s circadian rhythm, and if not properly managed, it can lead to insomnia and severe fatigue.

When we asked Lee the question, “Aren’t you tired?”, she pleasantly responded, “I am enjoying it. I think the characteristics of the work, with a variety of new things happening every day, fit me very well!”

Lee must visit her clients every 2 months and their locations span a wide swath of the globe, including Indonesia, Turkey and most of Europe. In her 7 years since joining the company, Lee has visited roughly 20 different countries, spent 670 days on the road, and has banked over 500,000 air miles!

Overcoming Difficulties

No matter how much one likes their job, there are always hurdles and obstacles to overcome. And Lee was no different. She mentioned that sometimes she can get “really tired from putting so much energy into managing clients, both physically and mentally, and that it is a struggle to remain cordial with demanding clients”. However, she also noted that a great sense of accomplishment is also felt when making a client happy, especially one who didn’t like you at the beginning.

Tips For Success

To be successful in international sales, one must have thick skin. Lee commented that she “usually hears ‘no’ from the clients a hundred times”, and that “the process of turning that negative response into a positive one is the most challenging aspect of her job.”

Moreover, you must have the ability to portray how you will continue to provide value to a client in the future, not just in the present. Therefore, Lee stressed the importance of “future value to one’s client” in order to have the “client accept and believe me as a true partner.”

Lee also attributes a lot of her success to a book written by Robert B. Cialdini, titled “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. Let’s take a look at the important points she derived from this bestseller.

The 4 Pillars of Sales

1. The Threshold Effect: For sales, to open the firmly closed hearts of potential clients, it is your job to gradually narrow the distance between you and them, and cross the threshold from being a stranger to a trusted other.

2. The Principle of Likeability: As the name suggests, being liked by your client is key. Building bonds and finding common points of interest with your counterparty is extremely important to be successful in sales. Additionally, when dealing with clients from different cultures, learning a polite gesture or simple phrase from their country can be very endearing.

3. The Principle of Reciprocity: This basic principle states that in many social situations, we pay back what we receive from others. Although seemingly counterintuitive, providing constant favors to someone can actually be burdensome to them, so it is important that interactions with clients have a clear and mutually understood intention. This is the best way to avoid any confusion between parties and continue to build trust.

4. Modesty: Nothing in the world is perfect, which means no person is perfect either. We all have our faults and we must remember to show others humility in our interactions with them, especially in sales.

Taking Pride in Your Work

We asked Lee to share her proudest moment of her time at Samsung C&T, and her response reflected back upon just her second year in the company. “I came to lead an investment project to expand sales”, she noted, adding that “I really questioned if this was the right choice to choose this job” due to the difficulties of the situation. However, she was successful in expanding fertilizer sales, and she is still fond of that achievement today.

She reminisced, “When I passed a wine corner at a grocery store, I wondered, could our fertilizer be the one that fertilized the soil of the vineyards where the wine came from?” It gave Lee great pride in knowing that a product she helped expand in the market, would have real-world benefits locally.

Finding One’s Calling

After taking this journey behind the scenes with Nala Lee and her role in international sales, a few key points should emerge to readers. First, finding one’s path in life is not always linear and that’s okay! Second, international sales is a demanding job that’s not for everyone, yet perfect for some. Finally, there is always more to learn, so don’t stop perfecting your craft!

Stay tuned for the next installment where the Newsroom will again take you behind the scenes of international trading.

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