Selling and Marketing in Asia

Last week I attended a great talk by Kyle Hegarty of RidgeAsia, about selling and marketing in Asia Pacific markets.

Selling and Marketing Into Asian Markets

Kyle’s business helps his clients, mostly US-based B2B technology companies, market and sell in the region, and offers a number of relevant services in several countries in Asia Pacific: setting up sales operations, building lead gen teams, coaching and training lead gen and sales teams, and related consulting services.  True to the title, he offered lots of hands-on tips and insights, and delivered a fun talk to boot.

Some highlights from the talk:

  • Taking western products and applying the dragon to them (what Kyle calls “slap dragon”) = FAIL.  Kyle cited the classic example of washing machines that broke when used for washing potatoes as well as clothing (in Japan), and the need to build the machines to withstand the rigors of washing potatoes.  He also gave a great example, which I hadn’t seen before, of a Porsche designed with luxurious leg room in the back seat for the Chinese market – because Chinese owners of luxury cars usually sit in the back, while a chauffeur does the driving.
  • Likewise, trying to simply translate marketing doesn’t work.  Kyle showed a couple of examples of Chinese New Year cards, meant to be culturally appropriate, but of course, who in the US sends “Happy American New Year” cards?  You’ve got to have a local presence to be able to deliver marketing and sales efforts that will work for the region, never mind not actually offend your prospects.
  • Some of the most interesting points were about the challenges faced by US businesses selling into Asia. One key challenge is that Asian sales teams tend to have less experience and understanding of consultative selling, and need significantly more training, both initially and on an ongoing basis, than a comparable US sales team.  Developing consultative selling is never easy, but for Asian sales operations, his advice is to double your training budget.  Even experienced salespeople tend to have little formal training, and have more of an order-taking mentality than what US businesses would consider a sales approach.
  • Asian customers are much more likely to deliver a “soft no” than to actually close the door (in many Asian cultures, it is considered rude to say “no”).  In the US, it can be hard to get anyone to answer their phone; not so in most of Asia.  But that doesn’t mean they’re actually going to buy your product or service.  He strongly recommends that American sales managers go to look for themselves, not just rely on CRM data, and actually go on sales calls with their reps. One of the services Kyle’s business offers is pipeline audits, to help US clients understand the real probability of sales wins.
  • One question emerging from this last point is whether standard pipeline stages work for a global company?  Typically at least some pipeline stages are marked by specific events, such as a product demo, face-to-face meeting, or RFP.  If clients in some regions are more willing to allow these events, then the probabilities assigned to those stages in one country have little relevance in another country/region.  I’d be interested to hear from global sales managers who have wrangled with this issue, and possibly implemented different pipeline stages and probabilities for different regions.
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