In most parts of Asia, business cultures can be very opaque and unpredictable. For many western firms looking to leverage Asia’s explosive growth to expand their B2B sales, such business environments can be quite baffling. Typically in Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand, transparency is the norm. Trained sales professionals and business executives are able to assess whether they will be awarded a given B2B contract or project.
In Asia, expect the unpredictable
In Asia-Pacific however, sales engagements are not transparent, personal agendas and relationships frequently determine sales and business outcomes. A lot happens behind the scenes. Frequent twists and turns mark the course of complex sales engagements. Priorities can change very rapidly: what is true on Monday may not prevail by Friday. A contract that is on the verge of being awarded to you on Monday may end up being closed by your competitor within a few days or weeks, with a sympathizing smile for the buyer saying “Sorry”.
And even when you do receive your PO, beware – the real sale starts at that point, as contracts and Purchase Order cancellations do happen, especially in South and Southeast Asia.
In such business environments, managing and being in control of the “professional & visible” part of your sales engagements is only one (sometimes small) part of the equation. What happens behind the scenes, all the lobbying & political alignment activities are just as important – if not more.
These are the types of business cultures one has to deal with in the Asia-Pacific region. Many western sales professionals and business executives have gone through many frustrating times in their sales cycles as a result.
What are the best ways to successfully operate in these opaque environments?
Here’s our Top Six:-
#1 Adapt and be agile – open your eyes and ears, engage with multiple stakeholders from the end-client and your business partner(s) alike. Swiftly adapt your strategy and tactics to the fast-changing dynamics of your sales engagements. If you don’t, your competition will.
#2 Be creative – you are going to have to handle sales situations where goal posts will often move frequently. Be it your go-to-market, pricing strategy, or product positioning, think outside of the box – what holds true in other geographical markets may not work in Asia.
#3 Adopt a positive mindset. Always. This is critical to successfully handle the many unexpected developments that await. Keep your chin up, be resourceful and make things happen.
#4 Build and grow a strong sales pipeline – if you only rely on one or a handful of large deals to achieve your sales targets, you’re setting yourself up for tough times if these deals vanish, take longer than expected to close or end up with your competition. Having a strong pipeline puts you in a position of strength.
#5 Bring local experienced sales talent into your Team – they know how to navigate the local business environment and can leverage their contact network. There is critical information westerners will simply never get access to in most Asian countries. Locals will. Acknowledge this and act on it.
#6 Endurance. With a positive attitude, great relationships and the ability to adapt to new ever-changing situations, you have the right traits to succeed in Asia. Embrace the fact that you will go through many twists and turns throughout your sales cycles, be patient. You are in a marathon, not a sprint.