Our latest CPM Expert Speak comes from Alberto Almar; CEO of CPM Expertus Spain Field Marketing. Alberto has been working at CPM Expertus for over 16 years and has over 20 years’ experience in field marketing.
Our present purpose for a better future.
There are many trend reviews that talk about the need to observe the world from an Omni-channel perspective. For those of us who are not millennials, this means we must recognize the convergence between what is physical and what is digital (the so-called Phygital), understand that concepts like credibility and reference have moved to the Internet and that the words agility, flexibility and service have taken on different meanings since the arrival of Amazon.
Despite the growth of e-commerce, selling in physical environments continues to be essential. Drivers related to price and convenience (the possibility of free delivery, ease of returns) co-exist with the great battle involving the abandonment of the shopping basket. Unfinished transactions in fear of a hidden cost, lack of information or the need to meditate the buying decision are what confirm that aspects like production presentation and prescription are decisive factors.
What are the challenges in the Spanish market for an outsourcing company focused on retail (not on e-tail)?
Although there is budding economic recovery, job insecurity in the sector coincides with a growing need for professional brand representation profiles: impeccable presence, excellent argumentation capacity, great negotiation skills and long-term service. And given that the buying experience is nearly as important as the actual purchase itself, exceptional representation of the brand values becomes something extraordinary.
The change in our clients’ demands and the evolution of consumer behaviour are obvious and, therefore, it is surprising to see how there has been talk for years about people management without truly committing to talent management.
Being committed to talent means:
In short, committing to talent means offering a tangible benefit to employees that directly impacts the quality of the work done and, thus, improves our clients’ business results.
At CPM, our mission is to have an impact on the sale of our clients’ products. By acting on the Sell-Out or Sell-In; face to face or by phone; permanently or tactically. Through Sales Forces, Sales Reps or Sales Promoters; through teams of Merchandisers, Brand Ambassadors or Specialist Trainers, among other alternatives. Although being results-oriented leads us to wanting to measure the impact of our activity, the generation of Insights and Influence is where value creation resides and this continues to be the driving force behind our business: people.
CPM EXPERTUS FIELD MARKETING
Alex McKay, Chairman – CPM Australia and Co-Author of International Retailing Books , including the latest CPM – sponsored book, Brand Activation: Implementing the Real Drivers of Sales and Profit; is interviewed in Australia’s leading retail magazine, Retail World.
Alex discusses the how the future of retail lies in activating customer and not brands; and mentions that companies need to re-evaluate how to they optimise their resources to create value for both the brand and the end customer.
“The principles of activation haven’t changed. They just needed to be adapted to an evolving environment,” says Alex.
Download the full interview below.
About Brand Activation: Implementing the Real Drivers of Sales and Profit:
The book takes a microscope to the consumer purchase journey, examining the effectiveness of different channels and touchpoints in driving sales. It draws on global insights, our own experience and comprehensive research we conducted in collaboration with the Australian Consumer, Retail and Service Research Unit (ACRS). The research revealed a number of important insights. A key finding is that, confronted with today’s digitally disruptive and over-saturated media environment, more purchase decisions are being made closer to the moment of sale. Our authors and contributors include: Dr. Sean Sands, Managing Director of the Australian Consumer, Retail, and Services (ACRS), Graham Brown, CPM Alumni, and Alex McKay, CPM Chairman, Thailand and Australia.
CPM is an award-winning international outsourced sales agency specialising in field marketing, contact centre and digital marketing solutions working alongside our extensive portfolio of clients to deliver long-term strategic programmes and shorter term tactical campaigns. CPM forms part of CPM Group, one of the world’s largest outsourced field marketing and sales companies. CPM is a part of the DAS Group of Companies.
This month, it’s over to Bastiaan van Houten, MD from CPM Netherlands, for our Expert Speak. In 2001, Bastiaan started his CPM career with a field job at Diageo and in 2004 moved into CPM’s Dutch head office for a role in direct sales. After various roles and positions, Bastiaan started Cosine Benelux in 2011 and merged this business in 2015 with CPM Netherlands.
The number of smartphone owners is growing non-stop. At least 80% of the Dutch population owns a Smartphone; more than half of the population have at least one household tablet and just over 40% own a laptop also. And let us not forget about the 34% of Dutch citizens with a Smart TV; with an ever growing market share in the Dutch marketplace. If we look at the number of downloaded apps on a smartphone, this averages at just over 20 apps. All these figures lead to one thing: accessibility. People want to have access to everything, and this access must be easy. The same goes for our clients; they want access to all data and they want it now. And here, we see an opportunity for our newest app, CPM GO. With this app, we are able to serve our clients with a straightforward, efficient and low cost delivery model and most importantly; with the best ROI possible.
How it’s done
We have decided to collaborate with a crowdsource solution which enables us to gain insights from a large group of experienced app users. In addition to offering an affordable solution, it also provides speed and flexibility. Whilst this may not be the first crowdsource model on the market; CPM’s competitive advantage lies in the ability to offer a solution in the quickest way possible and which is only executed by our in-house, expertly trained CPM staff. We use “fire fighters” for controlling situations that need to be controlled.
At the beginning of the process, the client submits a brief and we then analyse the ability to deliver this via crowdsourcing. We look at the complexity of the request and if it’s feasible to carry out using crowdsourcing. Impacting factors include the speed of delivery requirements and delivery location. If the activity can be done through CPM GO, the project is launched directly on the app. App users can register via the CPM GO app and we’re able to conduct the selection process directly through CPM GO. This enables us to provide robust solutions to our clients which deliver the best ROI. When the job is done, the app user receives a compensation for the completed activity. Thereafter, data analysis and intelligence reporting are undertaken with recommendations and a plan of action for the follow up presented to the client.
On the ball
Our main focus is to guarantee the quality of our sales activities. We endeavour to deliver an even better ROI by gathering more data in a more efficient way. In this way, we are able to always be responsive to our client needs and always be on the ball! Results can be used to ensure the quality of previously executed store check activities, but also to eliminate any non –essential activities. We are in control at all times and can offer the client maximum results along with low pricing. A win:win solution all round!
One stop shop for the client
CPM GO is our way to align with a world that is changing so rapidly. We need to keep looking to the future and what the future is asking from us. We need to be flexible in times like this, as that’s how we will be able to continue to serve our clients in the best way. There is a growing demand for crowdsource solutions. Therefore, the client is asking for one stop shopping; customers can get all they need in just “one stop”. Not only can the delivery model be scheduled at the click of a button, but we can also look for possible improvements and solutions through CPM GO users. The call to action will be monitored on an ongoing basis. By integrating this app into our service offering, flexibility is generated for both the client and the app user itself.
If you would like to learn more on the capabilities of CPM GO, please contact Bastiaan van Houten on: +31 (0)20 712 20 11 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s official: CPM UK has been listed amongst the best companies in the world for people management. We’ve received the coveted Gold level Investors in People accreditation. This is the international standard for the way businesses lead, support and inspire their people.
We’ve just completed our fourth Investors in People assessment since we first achieved the standard in 2004. We were delighted to reach Silver status in 2013 and now we join the élite – only 8% of businesses in the UK holding the Investors in People accreditation have reached Gold level.
CPM UK Managing Director Karen Jackson says: “One of CPM’s core strategic focus areas is the empowerment of our people, so we couldn’t be more proud to have received this, the ultimate accolade.
“We’ve increased our focus on career development over the last two years – for field, Contact Centre and Head Office staff. We’re providing the structure, tools and awareness for our people to manage their own careers and this includes making online learning resources accessible for all.”
CPM’s IIP assessor emphasised the high level of engagement amongst our people, describing us as passionate, proud and energetic with a strong culture of wanting to improve and deliver the best for clients.
She commented: “It is a supportive, caring and dynamic business for those who want to work hard and play their part”.
Karen Jackson adds: “Everyone in the company is encouraged to seize development opportunities, and we’ve given our managers the framework, skills and behaviours to motivate and inspire their teams. At the same time, we pursue a ‘Grow our Own’ ethos, supporting people to build on their capabilities and be rewarded with promotion.
“We also provide a two-way communication channel between our Board and staff representatives, encouraging grass roots ideas and quickly resolving any perceived issues. We’re delighted but not surprised that the ‘Morale’ and ‘Enthusiasm’ scores on our employee surveys have surged in recent years.”
1. Benefit from elite sales talent
Your company needs star performers and the best place to find them is at a sales specialist. An outsourced sales provider is a community of experts in their field of sales. Their knowledge will be honed through years of working with dedicated colleagues across a variety of companies, brands and sectors. To identify the very best in the industry look for a partner with a strong philosophy of training and benchmarking. For example, sales outsourcer CPM runs a Sales Academy to educate its in-house sales teams. It also offers this service to clients. CPM then benchmarks performance to track “star” performers, “winners”, “puzzles” and (hopefully few) “passengers”. The company has been an Investor in People for 15 years, holding silver status. A partner can be beneficial for the in-house talent pipeline too. Best practice will be shared, training offered and candidates from the outsourcer may move in-house. Each year CPM provides a sales talent pipeline for blue-chip organisations that this year alone has recruited more than 50 salespeople from CPM into their wider organisations.
2. Glean insights from other industries
A classic business strategy is to observe behaviours in other sectors and then incorporate them into your own. By using an outsourced sales partner you gain instant access to a galaxy of information. A sales outsourcer will work across a whole range of companies and channels, including retail, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), utilities, automotive, technology, financial services and business to business. The outsourcer collects data from every transaction which, when anonymised, can be used to improve the performance of other clients. Karen Jackson, managing director of CPM, says: “We process 75 million pieces of sales data each week. This data is hugely important as it provides empirical evidence to support decision-making.” Evidence that it works? “Our average return-on-investment measure shows we have grown our clients’ sales by 24 per cent year on year,” she says.
3. Conquer omnichannel
The Holy Grail of sales. In order to be omnichannel, an organisation must be able to track a consumer across mobile, online, e-mail, social media, in person at the store and over the phone. Consumers also expect a seamless sales experience regardless of the channels they use. Weaving these channels together into a single picture of each consumer can be a nightmare. Most companies don’t even try. The obvious solution is to go to a sales specialist with the technology to implement an omnichannel experience. This may involve uniting existing technologies or it may mean introducing new systems. The key is to find an outsourcer that knows how to capitalise on the data collected. This opens up data-led sales campaigns in which messages are tailored to each and every customer. Ask your potential sales partner for examples of how they’ve implemented and then maximised omnichannel for a client.
4. Access specialist sales technology
It’s not just omnichannel where the latest technology comes in handy. Your company needs the best solutions for all sales-related matters. And here’s where a sales partner can make a real impact. A premium-level sales outsourcer will provide access to the most productive sales technology. For example, CPM is an accredited partner of Salesforce.com, so it can use the best cloud-based sales technology. Salesforce is also easy to integrate with existing systems, ensuring a high degree of compatibility between a client’s current systems. CPM also boasts a deep knowledge of the Salesforce AppExchange, which adds functionality to the core product. In addition, CPM is familiar with the latest tech in the fields it works in, including contact centres, field sales, digital analytics, experiential shopping and training. This expertise can be introduced into your organisation.
At Christmas there’s a sales rush. Some companies hire for the season, then downsize in early-January. Many get it wrong, leading to bottlenecks in the pipeline and unhappy customers. An outsourced sales partner can help ramp up sales capacity smoothly. At a stroke you can access greater headcount around the clock. Product recalls are another key time. Ms Jackson explains: “We have supported our clients in providing additional face-to-face resource within 24 hours to support retailers in removing product from shelves and siting information notices, protecting trading relationships. Customer service teams are upscaled to handle the increase in consumer queries. At CPM we have supported two of our FMCG clients in this way in the last two months alone, increasing resource the same day.” Outsourcing is also a great way to grow a channel, territory or segment without being constrained by internal headcount restrictions, formalised pay-banding structures or pension arrangements. Throughout the year, CPM books more than 650 sales campaigns for a variety of clients. These run from 25 health and beauty specialists to over 700 active selling colleagues, at timescales as short as four weeks’ notice. Relationships range from a month to numerous 25-year-plus strategic relationships. It handles unusual requests, such as finding 30 Chinese speakers within four weeks to take a household sauce from 20 to 70 per cent penetration across four UK major cities. Clients think of it like a tap they can turn on and off when they need, without any of the ongoing costs.
6. Get strategic advice
A sales outsourcer will bring genuine expertise to the relationship. It can help you construct a long-term strategy, and advise on granular issues, such as how to split budget between marketing channels and which consumer segments to prioritise. CPM has more than 80 years’ experience selling products across many sectors, channels, segments, through face to face, over the telephone and digitally. Ms Jackson says: “Sales is our business. We have specialists that cover talent management, data and analytics, and operations to deliver an unbeatable combination. We can help clients develop a sales strategy, acting as consultants, to ensure they have the optimum approach in everything they do.”
7. Lower risk
Around 70 per cent of companies enter outsourcing arrangements to make cost-savings. This is valid, but underestimates the other benefits. By using an outsourcer all peripheral costs are eliminated. The overheads of hiring and developing talent are gone. The mindspace absorbed by running a team is freed up for more important tasks. And risk is reduced. There’s no longer a danger of buying the wrong sales software or struggling to use data in the right way. A sales partner will ensure you are working near maximum potential from the start of your campaign to the end. Furthermore, the “risk and reward” remuneration models used in outsourcing ensure there is skin in the game for everyone. Agencies are accountable for the return they deliver and therefore driven to focus on the agreed strategy. It’s why the world’s fastest-growing organisations use sales partners.
Andrew Potter, Group Managing Director, CPM Australia analyses the impact of the shift in power between brands and customers and why now, more than ever, it is crucial to maintain a human touch within the contact centre and customer service environment.
Over the past few years we have seen substantial changes in the relationship between brands and their customers. More than ever, power has been steadily shifting back to the consumer and the gap between brands and customers is widening. There is a growing realization that over-reliance on digital is creating this disconnect with customers and that stronger human intervention is needed to close this gap. No one doubts that digital is an important component of any company’s go-to-market strategy. But it is just one component of a complex customer experience continuum.
For all of these reasons, it is more important than ever that businesses get customer service right. The changes that we foresee in the next year is that contact centres will play a larger role in bridging that gap between brands and their customers and that good customer service will be even more important than ever.
There’s not a simple answer to these challenges. However there is one fundamental element that – despite all the changes we are seeing – remains constant and which is an essential part of the solution: the human equation. There aren’t any touchpoints, channels or sources of information quite as powerful or credible as that delivered by knowledgeable, professionally trained human beings.
We recently conducted research with the ACRS’s quarterly Omnibus Tracker to find out how customers feel about the current state of customer service in Australia. The findings are clear and confirm that personal contact is a vital component of customer satisfaction. For both simple and complex enquiries, Australians top communication channel preference for customer service queries is to speak with a real person over the phone. For all of these reasons, it is more important than ever that businesses get customer service right.
This month, our CPM Expert Speak feature is brought to you by Andrew Potter, Group Managing Director, CPM Australia & Retail Safari in collaboration with Monash University. CPM Australia and Monash University carried out research around Christmas Shopper Behaviours in the build up to the festive season.
CPM Australia, in partnership with Monash University, shares its latest research study which examines Christmas Shopper Behaviours during the busiest shopping season of the year.
According to research results, in-store purchase is still the most preferred channel for Australian consumers this Christmas. However, the data also reconfirms the notion of in-store and online shopping being treated separately is no longer valid. Increasingly, more and more brands and retailers are blurring the lines seamlessly between digital and in-store experiences.
As the blend between physical and digital becomes more popular, the desire among consumers to complete their Christmas shopping in actual stores is still strong. This holiday season, most consumers plan to use both physical store and online (49%), or only physical stores (43%) to conduct their shopping. Only 8% of surveyed consumers plan to use exclusively online channels during this holiday trading period.
These well-informed shoppers have started thinking about what to buy this year two months prior to Christmas.
The figures indicate that the majority of buyers are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping in November (51%), leaving only 30% making purchases in December.
Given shoppers have already done their homework and are starting early, ensuring knowledgeable retail sales people are available will be even more critical to the in-store mix this coming November and December. In order to maximize influence with consumers at the store level during this crucial trading period, it’s vital that brands and retailers properly invest in their shop floor staff this Christmas so they can be seen as a trusted resource where they can pass on expert advice.
The in-store experience is paramount. Online shopping offers convenience, but the physical store offers a sensory experience. The research demonstrates that not only does physically holding a product create a sense of ownership but it also drives must-have purchase decisions. Well over half (60.5%) of respondents report that the ability to see & touch the product in-store, for example, in-store sales demonstrations, enhance their shopping experience. This is also the main reason for shopping in a physical store this Christmas instead of online.
Other reasons why shoppers favour the physical experience include:
In terms of spending outlook for this year’s holiday season, the majority of respondents expect to spend about the same amount on Christmas shopping this year as they did last year (55.6%) while 18.1% confirmed they intend to spend less.
In terms of purchasing plans for presents; gift cards and gift certificates (45%) will be the most common type of present consumers intend to buy this Christmas, followed by clothing and shoes (39%), toys (33.1%) and food and liquor (32.7%). As Christmas becomes the time to entertain and indulge, food & liquor will be popular gifts chosen by those aged 18-34 and 55-74. Gift givers are least likely to purchase craft items or sports gear for this holiday season.
What this research tells us is that consumers won’t be shopping in a single retail format this Christmas.
Therefore, during this critical trading period, brands must be available across multiple formats as well as getting even closer to the customer to meet their needs with a whole personalized shopping opportunity.
To find out more on this research piece, please contact Andrew Potter on: +61 3 9211 2300 or to learn more on how CPM’s services can help drive sales for your brand during this festive season, please visit our Services page.[wpdm_package id=3422 ]
For years of working in the Field Marketing industry, I have experienced that Brands utilize merchandising and auditing tactics to actually visualize their products at retailers. However, I always ask myself a question: “Do they really make an efficient investment?”
From the traditional…
In any product visualization project at Point-of-Sale, it is easy for every field marketer to propose a traditional execution plan which includes a two- phase process:
Negatively, there were so many cases which Brands found out that there were alignments which had been made and agreed informally among stores, auditors and salesmen. Instead of fully arrange a certain on-shelf shares in stores for paid Brands throughout months, store owners only displayed those products during auditing days, which was only few days in a month. In this stage, Brands’ benefits are put under risks while they are experiencing increasing in cost of both merchandising and auditing, not even mentions to in-store products visibility cost but they still do not have sustainable on-shelf shares.
Solutions? Yes, many Brands choose to outsource merchandising team via their distributors with the hope of putting brands benefits and distributors’ benefits on the same boat. Yet, they are wrong. Distributors in Vietnam are different, and I would say, they are certainty do not care about products’ visibility. Distributors are happy with this model because they have free labor source to leverage daily workload such as delivery, sales for others products, moving goods and less of store’s merchandising tasks. Unfortunately, Brands have no control over these things other than they have to scope with this.
The jump in of technology in retail marketing
In the reign of techniques and developments, many Brands have transferred themselves and threw into field automation. Techniques helps us release stress and a lot of paper works, data transfer and manual analytics and reporting deadlines. Vietnam is not out of this trend. Few agencies, which including CPM Vietnam, have developed Cloud Reporting: field application and web reporting to fulfill Brands’ demands: real-time reports with instant actions, evaluation dashboards, stores’ histories, etc.
How does it work?
Cloud Reporting is a combination of two platforms: field application and web reporting and are synchronized via cloud server.
The wheel of CPM Vietnam services must keep rolling. I never feel satisfied, if yes, I should have gone behind and lost our competition advantages. Consequently, I think why don’t we combine merchandising and auditing and go beyond consumers’ expectation!
Nevertheless, I must assure that Brands must increase their benefits and maintain fair evaluation for every stores at every month payment. Challenges are how can we convince Brands to change their mindsets of separating merchandising and auditing and how can we gain store owners’ trust from our monthly display judgment?
The concept is as simple: Merchandisers will visit each store four times per month, which is once in every week to support store to display goods as said planogram, record store’s display status, current stock level based on required quantity of each SKU, and take photos of that visit as proofs. Then, these data are process through an auditing team to calculate average stock level, display position, POSM out of four times visits compare with requested planogram, if the percentage is more than 80%, store is considered achieved. Of course, unsuccessful visits such as: temporary closed, store do not wish to continue are also be recorded and be taken into consideration.
Technologies has played an important roles in this concept as it records and keep all data in one place: Cloud server can be able to export into excel files at no efforts. CPM Vietnam can keep its reporting deadline with their clients. More important, Cloud Reporting can be developed and customized follow the needs of every clients and organizations, so that, they do not afraid of not being able of deploy this concept into their business. Come to this point, to be or not to be?
Benefits, of course, benefits
In any circumstances, concept which is applicable should go along with benefits to our clients. Which benefits would Brands take into consideration by deploying this concept into their benefits? Obviously, in this concept, we eliminate auditing phase and of course Brands can save money spending on auditing. In addition, benefits which Brands can obtain from are:
Enhance their shelf-shares in-stores
Maintain frequent, sustainable and certain display area within stores
Increase brand image and brand awareness in general trade market
Data and historical is controlled and monitored in one platform: Cloud reporting
Increase sales opportunities by out-of-stock real-time reporting directly to sales team
Store is taken care more than ever
Cost effective and can be measured
More market insights gain together with fast market react
Anything else that Brands can wish for?
In Vietnam, currently CPM Vietnam has been successful in launching this concept with some key clients. Our clients are very entertained when they see mass converting in store owners’ displaying habits when they more care about their products and enjoy continuous increase in sales volume.
Act now or never…
By leveraging this concept, CPM Vietnam is able to root our business into clients’ business because we keep our clients’ data safe and secured in one Cloud server. Moreover, by joining with clients’ sales team, and gain a sustainable relationship with stores, we are now eyes and ears of our clients in store to keep them update in this Fast Moving Commodity industry.
I believe other brands will recognize competence of this concept and looking for an agency who is capable to consistent execute and quality maintain. CPM Vietnam currently is leading agency in the market in this field, we are gaining our expertise to improve our services and are ready for next successful clients.
Our latest CPM Expert Speak comes from Marco Gualdi, CEO, CPM Italy. Marco is the founding partner of our Italian field marketing business, setting up the company over 20 years ago.
In his article, Marco analyses the tangible benefits to be achieved through outsourcing a field sales team in the new retail environment.
We live in a constantly evolving world and perhaps the desire for innovation and change is best expressed in the retail environment. The omnichannel presence and the ‘phygital’ approach of many brands have shown that offering a coherent and integrated brand experience between online and offline, via a series of technological applications, leads to greater brand loyalty. And , it’s also the winning strategy to confront the growth of online retailers.
Indeed, today the brand experience starts with pre-tail – or online – to conclude with post-tail, that no longer merely represents post-sales but the extension of the brand experience to the period following the purchase. And technology undoubtedly plays a leading role in this process.
Such a scenario therefore calls for the rapid reinvention and reengineering of sales strategies, to be supported with skills and know-how that are in step with the changes imposed by the technology made available for the customer experience. Consequently, it is also necessary to reassess the position of the seller, that regains value and once more takes on a central role in the sales process.
The persons representing the brand in a retail environment today must not only be in a position to answer all questions regarding the product, but must also be able to guide potential customers through the brand experience and, where necessary, modify the purchasing processes of individuals. They must be focussed and prepared to follow the changes to be seen in the market in an effective and efficacious way. In this context, the decision to pursue a strategy for the outsourcing of sales resources may prove to be a successful one.
To date, most enterprises do not see the outsourcing of their field marketing or field sales teams as an opportunity for growth in the short and long term, but in effect, it is the only answer to the constant need for reinvention. The advantages of pursuing an outsourcing strategy are diverse and go well beyond a mere “saving on costs”, albeit considerable since the expenditure an organization has to incur for a direct salesperson is about 2.6 times higher than that for a person in outsourcing. The placement of the sales function – or part of it – to an external partner leads to the following benefits:
But, to benefit from outsourcing, the management of a company must be willing to review its organizational model. Outsourcing does not simply mean to redistribute your sales workforce, but rather to recreate a sales function so as to bring a new approach into the company in order to achieve results that would be unattainable by following a more traditional sales strategy.
For further insight on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Marco at: email@example.com or call: +39 02 831 0111.
To find out more on how CPM Sales Outsourcing Solutions can help drive both cost efficiencies and increased sales for your brand; visit Our Services page or Contact Us today.
Our latest CPM Expert Speak comes from Martin Ryan; Chief Development Officer at CPM Group of Companies Asia Pacific. Martin has worked for CPM for sixteen years and has over twenty five years industry experience.
Martin discusses the positive aspects of an overseas assignment and comments on the cultural and personal behaviours and strategies to demonstrate when conducting business in Asia.
Hands up all of those who have dreamt of expanding their horizons to experience life and business in a very different part of the globe to the one they were born in? In an ever-shrinking world, an overseas placement is now less of a dream and more of a mandatory move, especially if your ambition is to forge a senior role in the modern global landscape. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a culturally unfamiliar environment gives you the opportunity to blend information and communication styles and elevate your understanding of people and yourself. People buy from people and building your experience of diversity will undoubtedly contribute to your success.
As the Asian arm of the CPM business started to develop at a fast pace I was fortunate enough to be transferred to the region. I duly began my Asian journey in 2013 as interim CEO for China based in Shanghai. In 2014, I became Chief Development Officer at CPM Group of Companies Asia Pacific, with a brief to accelerate and coordinate business and help execute regional sales and marketing activity across Asia for clients such as Apple, Agilent, HP and P&G. Based in Singapore with offices and partners in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia, my role requires me to travel extensively throughout the ASEAN region.
Relishing the opportunity to immerse myself, the first lesson I had to learn in Asia was patience. Anyone in sales instinctively knows that success lies in building meaningful relationships based on trust and honesty, which are robust enough to thrive in the good times and endure when the road is rocky. Business in Asia is no different, but you have to build relationships patiently over time. Generally, Asian culture is reserved and formal when it comes to business. Time is needed to establish credibility and to navigate the nuances of respect and hierarchy. It is also prudent to carefully research who you are considering partnering with. There is a marked reluctance to say ‘no’ in Asian business culture so it can appear on the surface that everyone is able to cater to your every business need. Hard experience may prove that this is not necessarily the case.
Meetings in Asia tend to be formal and can also be fraught with opportunities to cause unintended offence as I have all too frequently discovered! Be especially careful with introductions. There is an established etiquette when you exchange business cards. Your business card is integral to identity and represents your “face” in the world, so when you receive a card, treat it with respect, read it carefully and never put it in your back pocket as this is perceived as being very rude. Always have a supply of business cards with you as they are also exchanged on social occasions.
Be cautious with physical contact. A big hearty handshake is out as is a playful slap on the back. Although many Asian cultures have large urban populations making it necessary to stand very close together in queues or on public transport, they tend to stand farther apart than many other cultures when engaged in business. A light handshake and slight bow is sufficient and only shake hands with an Asian woman if she offers her hand first. Also age and seniority is important. Always greet the most senior person first and wait to be offered a seat if you are in a client’s office. Never point and don’t stand with your hands in your pockets. Don’t ask direct questions such as ‘How’s business?’ As this may cause the other party some discomfort which is to be avoided at all costs.
Vital to establishing a genuine partnership is physically going out and meeting people. Networking is important in any culture, but it is crucial in Asia. You need to get out from behind the computer screen, attend events and be seen. Socially, eating is central to all Asian cultures. Food is not something to be mindlessly consumed at your desk. I eat with my teams and treat food with respect. A common greeting is “Have you eaten?” which is similar to saying “How are you?” A formal lunch hour is observed and people actually leave their desks to go out to eat. If you organise a team get together or a long meeting, make sure there is enough food and refreshments. You risk being a social and business pariah if you neglect this. Note that sufficient food at company events is always more important than copious amounts of alcohol! Don’t eat or drink before your host and always leave a little food in your bowl.
Something I was not expecting is how difficult it can be to move a negotiation forward. Small details can become major sticking points and information can be difficult to extract.
Again, patience and understanding is required as you build up enough trust to get beneath the surface. Business is conducted on a hieratical basis so be careful if you go above an individual’s head as this upsets the status quo. Also, when posing a solution, resist the temptation to automatically use people as a quick fix, as labour costs are cheaper, and persevere to introduce business efficiencies.
When building sales teams, especially in Singapore, be sensitive to the diversity of faith and ethnicity. The majority of people are devout in their religious practices so be respectful. Also never underestimate the importance of family, in Asia, family always comes first and will trump everything else. Teams are naturally more collective than individual and it is considered very bad form to raise your voice or single an individual out for criticism. The concept of ‘face’ is an important one. In the Asian business culture any act which is deemed to have caused an individual to “lose face” (be embarrassed in front of others) will devastate your reputation. The fear of losing face also means that others do not like to criticise you in person. I recently had a face- to- face meeting with a client in China where no issues were raised. Upon returning to the office, I received an email from the same client detailing many areas where the client was not happy and felt our business was underperforming.
It is important that you check that everyone understands deadlines, targets and what is expected. Sending an email directive and assuming everyone is on track is not enough. People may say they understand to avoid losing face, but when you probe further, there may be issues preventing delivery and you have to spend time teasing them out. This is a delicate procedure and one where patience and perseverance is called upon.
Also, expect to be under pretty intense personal scrutiny. My rather florid Irish colouring is sometimes met with “You so red, lah!” It is also not unusual to be asked personal questions for instance, “How old are you?” “How much rent do you pay?” Have a few strategies in hand to deflect the comments without being rude.
Watch your language, especially if you like to chat, which I do! Keep sentences short and to the point and avoid colloquialisms. I once asked if some costs were “in the ballpark” and was met by a quizzical look. Another thing to be aware of, especially on conference calls, is you may be met by periods of silence. Asian sentence structure often puts the verb at the end so it can take a little time for translation. Resist the temptation to butt in and instead give people time to respond. Be aware that not everybody will understand your accent so slow things down a little without raising your voice too loudly.
In summary, conducting business in Asia is a phenomenal opportunity and one which will enrich your life and the life of your family in many ways. Yes, you have to adapt and will experience moments of bewilderment and dislocation but overall you will learn a great deal about the world and have more to offer when you return to your home country. Asia is a culturally diverse, noisy and colourful experience, at the forefront of innovation and technical development. It is worth persevering and delving below the surface to build real robust business relationships which will be mutually beneficial for the long term.
Ten things to remember when conducting business in Asia
1. Be patient. An agreement can take time and many meetings. You have to build up credibility through face- to- face contact.
2. Food is important. Embrace local cuisine and eat with your team.
3. Ceremony is important, especially in meetings.
4. Learn to tone down the volume and demonstrativeness of your delivery. Don’t overwhelm people.
5. Embrace local customs. It certainly pays to learn as much as possible about the local culture before embarking on any meetings.
6. Learn to respect silence and not rush to fill it.
7. Do not shout or criticise anyone in public. Learn the importance of ‘face.’
8. Never underestimate the importance of family. Family always comes first in Asia.
9. Don’t be sensitive to direct comments.
10. Never forget you are being watched so conduct yourself with restraint.