"Your mission if you choose to accept it, is to launch and scale the company in Asia-Pacific. We look forward to you delivering triple-digit growth over the next five years. As always, should you or any of your team fail, we’ll disavow any knowledge of your actions. This post will self-destruct in 60 seconds."
I’ve been asked by some established B2B Enterprise Tech companies for a pragmatic approach to expanding in APAC. Here are some of the ideas I’ve shared with them as they’ve moved through their launch and scale journeys. It’s a ten-minute read that could save you a couple of months.
When I first moved to Singapore in 2011 people would refer to “Asia-Pacific” like it was one country. In reality, it’s 30+ countries with over 4.5 billion people and is home to 60% of the world's population.
A simple trip from Singapore to South Korea takes over 6 hours. In those same 6 hours, I could have flown to Europe or the US. Side note here: I was definitely NOT ready for APAC’s varying temperatures from ice and snow to sizzling tropical heat.
Upon arriving, I realised that people had all sorts of names for the region from Asia to Asia-Pacific to APJ to Emerging Markets. Each regional cluster had a slightly different mix of what country was or wasn’t included depending on the brands' presence.
Through my work here, I’ve witnessed operations move through regionalising, localising, globalising, glocalising and now sub-clustering. I’ve observed a business environment where people are always hunting for the right model to overcome the geographic scale.
I’ve partnered with the smartest and most discerning people. And, have experienced everything from rapid growth and mind-blowing failures to epic wins and incredible food. I’ve been able to witness enormous change as the economy has grown and countries have leapfrogged over each other with technological adoption.
Above all, I’ve learned that the only sure thing in Asia is change.
The most direct path to scale in a new region is through your existing clients and networks. Start now, as it takes time to earn trust.
For example, if you work with global businesses in different markets like North America or Europe, the easiest place to start is by building relationships with your client’s counterparts in APAC.
Ways to reach out and connect
By connecting with prospects and opening the lines of communication, you’ll quickly start to understand the real challenges you're going to face in the market. Listening will give you feedback on whether you need to tailor your value proposition, product offer, or pricing strategy.
Speaking to people will also give you insights into building an account-based strategy. You may find that particular verticals, countries, or customers are ready and waiting for your solution.
People will be very open about their business if you make an effort to nurture relationships. I wish I had spent more time listening and less time talking when I first arrived.
If you have a solid product/market fit and are driving Inbound successfully, odds are you'll be attracting leads and interest from businesses across Asia-Pacific.
Open up your existing pipeline and take the time to uncover:
I've worked with many companies expanding into APAC recently where there was a steady stream of interest and leads. The opportunity was to start converting demand. We tested the existing lead pipeline with an Inside Sales or Business Development Executive sitting outside of the region first before making a call on what market and resources were needed to scale.
If you uncover that you don’t have a lead pipeline, take a look at Google Analytics to see how much traffic you are getting from each country. Also, check out “networks” to see if you can spot any brands or companies you know. Also, keep note of how much activity is on mobile. It’s a mobile-first region, and this will be critical as you look to Go-To-Market.
Finally, open up Google Keyword Planner and set aside some time to look at search trends. It’s an absolute gold mine for understanding intent and language. I was doing this recently for a brand, and we found two new categories of associated keywords. This keyword discovery process helped determine where demand was coming from and the real human words that customers were using in Asia.
An incredible source of insight can also come from your global partners. Connect with them to see if they have a presence in APAC or have plans to expand in the region. Engagement is a useful entry point if partners are open to sharing.
Questions to ask partners:
Business in Asia is relationship based, and having a trusted partner in the region can help you navigate the potential challenges ahead.
I’ve seen that existing partners will be open to rolling out a similar commercial agreement if it helps you both move faster in APAC. Check in for legal advice first, and be sure to get guidance on exchange rates and transfer pricing
Once you've uncovered your current demand opportunities, it's time to take a fresh look at the market. Quick wins can help you move with speed as you look to break into the market effectively. Having said that, you need to make sure any actions you take are clearly aligned with your market strategy.
Below are some statistics to help you determine your next steps in APAC as it relates to countries, customers, key accounts, and ultimately, your business model.
According to the Worldbank, overall growth APAC for 2017 was 6.4% and this represented over a third of global growth with a significant contribution from China (30%). 2018 is looking to net out around 6.2%. Markets like Australia will sit closer to 2.5%, South East-Asia around 3-7%, China at 6%, and India at 7%.
Top Performing APAC Businesses
Last December, Deloitte ranked the Top 500 companies in APAC. Out of the Top 500, 212 were software organizations (42%). The second largest category was hardware at 18%. The Top 500 companies average revenue growth was 600% in 2017. Deloitte’s analysis showed the growth rate increased by 27% vs 2016. 119 of the companies were in China.
That’s an incredible growth gap between the top companies and the baseline economy.
Tech Spend Trends
The latest research from Forrester on Technology in APAC has concluded that:
Top 5 Cloud Readiness Markets
The Asia Cloud Computing Organisation has released their 2018 Cloud readiness ranking. The rank took into account ten different factors including connectivity, policy, privacy, regulation, and business sophistication.
In 2018 the top five countries for cloud readiness were:
Singapore and Hong Kong scored higher than UK and US in cloud readiness.
Growth opportunities abound all around. Just be clear where you want to play and focus your resources wisely. It’s much easier to drive growth in one or two markets than it is to drive growth flawlessly across a dozen.
Across the region, we see a diverse mix of technology behaviours. Some markets are more developed, and others like China and Indonesia have a habit of leapfrogging when it comes to using technology. It’s useful to look at overall tech usage to appreciate the pace of change.
Let’s say you are a global brand and you’ve identified an ideal customer. You have crisp personas, a deeper understanding of pain points, and a value proposition that resonates. Congratulations! You should be able to pick up your existing marketing programs and adapt.
Don’t reinvent unless you can’t find a product/market fit.
I’ve found that you don’t need to boil the ocean. You just need to see how much traction you can get if you turn on your pipe. You’ll then be able to adapt and tweak as you go.
If you are starting from scratch in the region with a brand new proposition, you’ll need to build out a more in-depth Go-To-Market strategy. That will take time, so be patient.
“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Now that you have focused on the "where's" and "what's", it’s time to look at the "who".
Start this process by answering the following questions:
Depending on your growth goals, your talent answer will vary.
I've seen businesses set up a limited presence while they build a sustainable growth path. Other models include putting a senior leader in the region and then relying heavily on the global team until the business has gained traction. The third is placing a sales lead in one or two critical markets to help engage customers. Finally, getting a channel partner to take the lead for you.
All models have their strengths. Don’t worry about getting it right on day one. You’ll keep tweaking as the business expands and as you connect with your ideal customers.
Here is the good news. We are seeing huge growth in the realm of gig workers, freelancers, and agile businesses. More co-working spaces are popping up and commercial rent in hub cities like Singapore and Hong Kong are decreasing. Very good news, indeed.
There are so many great workspaces to set up shop in. I move around between a number of them in Singapore based on where my clients have set up camp. Each has a unique culture and flavour depending on the vertical and stage of business.
Expanding in a new region is one of the most exciting missions you’ll ever take on in business. The stakes are high, and so are the rewards. The best advice I can give you is to stay focused, connect with humans, and learn from the failures.
When you hit your quarterly target, give me a shout, and I'll take you out to celebrate.
Because it’s important to have a kit full of resources. Keep these excellent pieces below handy as you start your mission.