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Can You Close Your B2B Sales Engagements On Relationships Alone In Asia?

Building and leveraging strong relationships is what is expected of sales professionals. In fact, one of the key criteria sales leaders focus on when hiring new sales rep’s is their ability to build and leverage great relationships.

In Asia Pac, even more so than in Europe or North America, relationships are everything, and lots of experienced business executives in the Region tend to think that it’s who you know, more than what you know, that matters to drive your sales engagements to success.

“Without a network, we can do nothing”, once said Mochtar Riady, the founder and CEO of Lippo Group, a powerful conglomerate in Indonesia.

Related: What You Need To Know About Chinese Markets: Insight From CBi China Bridge

Business logic

Whilst this is very true, sales environments have gotten tougher and competition has intensified in most industries in this part of the world. Certainly politics, emotions, private agenda’s and personal relationships still play a critical role in awarding projects to suppliers in most parts of the Asia-Pacific region. But business logic however is taking increasingly precedence over politics and emotions. It is not enough to identify and team up with the most appropriate deal maker or business partner for a given account or a given deal to win the business. There’s much more to it than just that.

  • Corporate departments and Managers must justify their projects and procurements to their Executives.
  • No single manager has the power to individually sign a cheque or send a Purchase Order.
  • Sales cycles are getting more complex: projects and spends have to be justified to committees comprising of multiple stakeholders.

Business case

It is critical to your sales success in Asia that you work closely with your champion and sponsors to put together a strong business case underpinned by a solid cost/benefit analysis.

What are the critical metrics and key performance indicators for the business? What are your prospect’s key drivers and initiatives your solutions and services can be aligned with ? How critical is your offering in assisting your prospect achieve their goals ?

By teaming up with your champion, get answers to these critical questions and develop a compelling payback model. Help your sponsors help you!

Additionally, and considering today’s risk-adverse corporate environments, deploy all efforts to convince the buyer that risks associated with choosing you as a vendor are contained. This is where having reference clients in the same region (or ideally country) will help you greatly. Malaysians prefer to have references in Malaysia they can call on, Japanese prefer references in Japan.

Related: Welcoming The Year Of The Dragon: Business Tips From The Far East

Payback time

In Southeast Asia in the Utility vertical for example, if you can develop a business case that offers a payback time of 18 months or less for your services and solutions, you are giving your prospect a good reason to buy from you. If you are able to deliver a payback period of 12 months or less, your solutions and services will be compelling to your buyer- and you can charge premium for this.

Demonstrate to your prospect that other similar clients of yours (ideally in the same country if possible) have had (relatively) short payback following their procurement projects. Broker a reference call or visit with your satisfied clients: this will go a long way in ensuring your prospect is comfortable with justifying a purchase to their Senior Executives.

Sometimes, there are cases where the payback or Return on Investment (RoI) will not be attractive. Can you find other drivers to make a procurement compelling ? Eg, certain customer service levels your clients needs to fulfil, or an important compliance matter. In the mobile communications industry for example, a number of projects to optimize mobile network performance may not offer short compelling payback time – in certain instances however, ensuring good customer service is a top priority and justify a purchase.

Bottom line

Work with your prospect’s project owner and the Executive sponsor to develop a strong business case. No business case means no deal. The buying committee simply won’t sign off a project without a solid cost-benefits analysis and justification. Similarly no relationship means no deal either.

The strong relationships you have developed will play a key role is getting your deals that are backed by a solid business case done and accelerated in complex B2B sales in Asia.

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Image: “Hong Kong at night/Shutterstock

Sylvain Lejeune has more than 17 years of experience in sales and sales leadership in the technology sector, with publicly listed and private solution providers alike, most of which in the Asia Pacific region. He resides in Singapore and is a contributor to To drive B2B sales results in Asia Pacific, visit

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  • Hi Bhuvan, I think happiness in work is directly related to the influence that one has, or how well you are listened to. If a worker feels that he or she has influence to impact positive change, then that person will be a happy worker. Interesting point around “no political work environment” I have rarely come across a working environment that wasn’t political to highly political, it may be unfortunate but in my opinion it is a fact of life for most people?

  • Hi Bruvan,

    This is spot-on, although I guess it can deviate dependant on opportunity, ambition, training etc.
    We have expectations based on experience. What I find interesting and controversal is the time we reach the ‘mentoring’ state. Value of knowledge combined with self-confidence dicates the point we feel we reach this stage – I’ve seen people in an industry five mins who liken themselves to a pro. At what stage do we stop learning ? the answer – never. We continually grow and improve, but we can share our learning experiences throughout these stages.
    Thanks for an insightful read. Human social behaviours and trends are definately a fave….keep em’ coming!

    @ Niall – You’re right, politics does feature. In some cases to the point of ruin ; 0 (

  • Hi Sylvain,  It makes perfect sense that while relationships may be hugely important, good business logic remains as important in Asia as it is anywhere else. The danger as you’ve highlighted – because we hear so much about the importance of relationships, we have to be careful, not to fall into the trap of thinking that this is sole aspect of being effective there. Welcome to TYB!

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