KJ Wong’s professional journey started when he was still in his third-year university degree. A lecturer saw his potential and employed him in his newly formed start-up biotechnology company. Would you believe they never suffered any cash burn as a biotechnology start-up?
When he read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, he decided to embark on a journey of selling. He became one of the most successful sales reps and then was promoted to be one of the youngest sales managers leading a sales team. When he moved to a different state due to personal reasons, he was lucky enough to be given the opportunity in another company to rebuild a sales department that was in a dire situation.
A few years ago, he decided to use all that he had learned to empower sales teams worldwide. He sees a gap within many companies in the misunderstanding between product training and sales training. He is also not happy with the negative perception of selling. Awake By Five AM was established to change this.
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Table of Contents
Tell us a little bit about your current projects. What exciting milestone would you like to share with our readers? (Don’t hesitate to delve into your achievements, they will inspire the audience)
KJ Wong: Awake By Five AM is my current project. It is exhilarating because this is the first time I ventured out to start my own business and live my passion. It took a lot of courage because I am risk-averse when it comes to my professional life. I started this company because I noticed that there is a lot of negative perception around selling. It is understandable why there is such an issue. Furthermore, the true essence of selling is not what you see in Hollywood movies. So my passion is to change this misunderstanding.
Secondly, I noticed that when people get promoted to sales management to lead a sales team, there is a lack of training and mentorship in many companies. It is a different game and they just do not know what they do not know. I love the fact that I have been able to coach sales beyond my industry, which includes companies in the IT, Agile, SaaS, Kanban, Virtual Reality, and Biotechnology industries. It is humbling to know that my systems are applicable and proof that sales skill is a transferable skill.
In the last three years, I take pride in empowering my clients to grow and become confident with their sales skills and processes. Some have more than quadruple their sales and some quit their jobs to pursue their own business earning hundred of thousands of dollars doing what they love. I am just very happy to have also empowered many introverts to become confident in selling.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
KJ Wong: Yes. Of course, there were many times I considered quitting. Initially, the hardest part is walking away from a well-paid job with a regular salary. I recalled feeling that a wage is like an addiction and I needed my monthly doses. When we start our own business full time, the reality is you only get paid when you do work. It can be nerve-racking but we just keep grinding forward. I constantly have to go back to my list of values and my WHY.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
KJ Wong: I have been lucky to be part of a Meetup group that has over 15,000 people, mostly in the tech startup space. They spent a lot of time perfecting their craft and pitch decks. Unfortunately, I feel that many founders neglect their sales skills. The part where they need to converse with real customers and investors to understand their needs and challenges with no assumptions. They need to show genuine interest by getting to know their customers rather than telling them what they need.
Secondly, if you want others to listen to you, you must learn to listen to others first.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
KJ Wong: It has certainly been a very interesting year for many people. I believe that this pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in how we do things. Those companies that do well have spent resources focussing on digital transformation. I am not referring to having a new website. It is all about their processes to support remote working and communication using video conferencing. Businesses are also realizing that they can reduce travel costs and time by using the said technology. I do wonder how many businesses would go back to past practices when the pandemic is over. Is the brick-and-mortar model still relevant? Do we need to fly overseas for every business meeting?
The reality is, this is where businesses are heading anyway. The pandemic has sped it up and businesses are forced to take it up to survive. So I would say resilience is about evolving with the time to grow instead of doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome or freeze when faced with a new challenging paradigm.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
KJ Wong: I would like our company to be considered as part of many businesses’ sales expansion plans. Our ALIIGN sales technique becomes part of their sales team’s onboarding plan and empowering them to become independent quicker.
I would also like to see more entrepreneurship and business courses in universities to include sales as part of their curriculums. Our company is keen to support that. I am still surprised that sales training was not included in my MBA course. We learn everything else we need for a business except for the part that keeps the lights on, which is sales.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
KJ Wong: I found that managers who understand the Conscious Competence learning model are great leaders. They respect the notion that there is no one method to motivate people. Everyone is different, has different skill levels and inspiration. Using a blanket approach to cover the whole team has not served me in the past. We need to be more precise with the way we interact with individual team members. Not only that, everyone evolves and changes over time in the organization. Our leadership style needs to change with them too.
What I found beneficial in my sales management career is knowing the balance between management and leadership and be willing to be flexible as a person.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
KJ Wong: Personal branding is very important. Those who follow me on LinkedIn would have seen how my brand evolved over the last 3 years. I share my thought about my sales and sales leadership experiences on this platform every day.
I wish I was more active on this platform during my career and learn to grow my brand earlier. Despite being late to the game, the effort I have made on LinkedIn so far has helped my business grow quicker than I expected. I was coaching people online worldwide, invited to many podcasts, business and professional conferences, and invited as a guest lecturer in universities, teaching institutes, and international business chambers.
Not only that, I became a networker. I routinely introduce my LinkedIn connections around the world to my current clients to give them the reach they never thought possible.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
KJ Wong: When we realise the power of the Conscious Competence learning model, we become more flexible. I encourage other leaders to understand this simple model. It is the one style that served me well throughout my sales management career and my business. I just want to be clear that I am not perfect and have a lot to learn still. I am always on the lookout for great mentors who is willing to put me under their wings.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
KJ Wong: I would suggest knowing your WHY. We need to be comfortable with the risk, opportunity cost, and emotional rollercoaster when we embark on something like this. If you are passionate about it, why not? In addition, learn how to learn. Always remain humble no matter how successful your business is and wealthy you get because of it. The thing about learning new skills is realizing that there is more to learn.
If you have a job, fantastic. Nothing should stop you from having a side gig. When this side gig grows big enough to quit your job then that is great. I call this risk management. Please note that a job is still a great place to learn entrepreneur skills. All companies started with zero. There is a lot to learn and more than you can imagine. Just remember not to wait for your manager to give you what you need to learn. Volunteer for projects or create a project and persuade your manager to let you lead it. I wish more of my staff do this.
It is also the same reason why I suggest improving your sales skill so that you can be more successful to convince your manager to give you what you want.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
KJ Wong: This one defines what I do and why I do what I do every day.
Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand they listen with the intent to reply.”
It is my lifelong pursuit to reach unconscious competence to heighten my active listening skill. I have a long way to go with this professionally and personally. The end game is to become a more compassionate, empathetic, and empowering leader.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank KJ Wong for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with KJ Wong or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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