Kevin Britten, Managing Director of Top Recruitment, believes the current patterns in local labour demand offer a “pretty good snapshot of the present Cambodian economy.”
Top Recruitment was launched in 2007 as a company offering a variety of office services for inbound investors and business start-ups. It has since grown to become one of the country’s most well known employment agencies, predominantly acting for international companies and foreign-owned and managed firms seeking local staff.
And who’s in demand now more than ever?
“Sales people are the biggest growth market in Cambodian labour,” attests Britten. Spurring this demand is “a new wave of foreign businesses entering the Cambodian market chasing the aspirational middle class dollar.”
Literally everyday, international companies are introducing new services and products to the Cambodian market firmly aimed at the new, but ever growing, middle class of Cambodians. This demographic have newfound expendable incomes and a thirst for new and globally known consumer products.
“Cars, insurance, ice cream, cosmetics, coffee, holidays, pizza and fashion are just a few examples,” says Britten, “and these types of services and products offer the easiest chance of fast profit to new investors.” Off street retail, which was barely existent in Cambodia only a few years ago, is fast becoming the norm.
The lower economic class in Cambodia, although the vast majority, represent a scattered and logistically challenging market. Meanwhile, they offer very little expendable income and a low awareness of international brands and consumer trends. The very rich, on the other hand, are so few in Cambodia that only a handful of international companies will bother exclusively chasing this market.
“The middle class are all together in the urban centers of Cambodia; they have money, and they are wholly accessible. They watch TV, they use the internet, they go to the mall in the weekend, and they are willing to learn about new products and services quickly—and demand them even quicker.”
What these international companies want more than anything are low-salary sales staff to market their products to this emerging middle class.
“Certainly, they can find low-salary sales people here,” remarks Britten, “but so many companies complain within the first month of hiring that Khmer sales people can’t sell in a way or at a rate that these international companies are used to.”
The chief difference is that Cambodian sales people will seldom try to sell their product to someone immediately, believes Britten. “In Khmer sales culture, a personal relationship must be built between two parties before sales are even discussed.”
In addition, many international companies want Khmer sales people to work on a purely commission basis. Very, very few will accept these terms, as it represents a denial of job security and a company with very little respect for them as a staff member.
These lessons mirror another common misunderstanding between foreign companies and their local staff: “Khmer people firmly respect a life/work balance. This exists equally in the development of personal relationships.”
“For a foreign manager to unsettle this balance or challenge it, in the eyes of the average Khmer worker, is a sign of madness,” says Britten.
“What we are seeing over and over again are international companies quickly firing Khmer sales staff as they do not reach short term sales targets at the beginning of their contracts. These companies see Khmer sales people as slow and unincentivised.”
However, Britten says that’s not the case—they are not bad sales people, this is what is demanded of sales in a Cambodian context. If the foreign investor spends some time here, they will realise this too. The foreign manager has to have patience, and take time to understand the nature of Cambodian culture and sales.
“If they do, and they respect their sales staff, the results will come,” says Britten.