We’ve spoken about this for a while, that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic disruption in Southeast Asia. One of the most greatly affected industries happen to those that rely on B2B sales.

Traditionally an ‘old school’ aspect of business, the pandemic has been forcing companies to shift from traditional sales approaches to embracing online sales channels.

We all understand that digital adoption is crucial as online research is a key part of the decision-making process. To better understand what is going in the region and what businesses should be doing, we decided to speak to an expert.

YCP Solidiance recently shared their latest white paper, Transforming B2B Digital Sales in Southeast Asia (available for download) about the changing needs for B2B sales.

We look at sales technologies changing the industry in Southeast Asia

We had a chance to speak to Shingo Kasumoto, Managing Partner of the company to find out more about their findings and how it is affecting Southeast Asia.

Can you give us an overview of the region’s current B2B ecosystem?

At present, the majority of B2B businesses in Southeast Asia are still largely traditional and do not possess the right technical expertise to go digital. However, this ecosystem has been changing over the recent years, as Southeast Asia is heading towards a digital revolution with an exponential surge in internet usage. B2B industries are directly impacted by this digital shift as its workforce becomes more tech-savvy. In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated an inevitable digital revolution on B2B sales, forcing companies to shift from traditional sales approaches to embracing online sales channels, stemming from a need to explore new markets to generate new revenue streams for businesses to stay afloat. 

Has there been a slow pivot to digital sales for B2B businesses in Southeast Asia? If so, why?

Yes, it has been slow, while 60% of sales managers believe that digitizing sales will be critical to the success of the business, at least one-third of B2B companies still do not provide online sales channels. Among B2B manufacturers, only 37% of them have a dedicated marketing team to manage these online sales channels effectively. Many B2B businesses are not ready for such a significant change in sales approaches. Many have not recognised the potential of marketing amidst the digital revolution. Marketing is severely undervalued in B2B industries. 

What are the current barriers in place that limit the adoption of a more tech-driven sales function?

Traditional sales approaches are still highly valued in the B2B industries as sales relied heavily on forged relationships. Since many of these B2B companies have been relying on a traditional sales approach, transforming into a digital one requires the business to invest in time, human and financial capital. In addition, the complexity of B2B products and services, relative to B2C, makes it harder to translate from a traditional sales approach (with multiple face to face touchpoints) to a digital one. 

What are the digital channels that businesses in the region should be looking at and why?

The digital channels that have been proven effective for B2C businesses can also be applied for B2B businesses. For instance, relying on online paid advertisements on Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook to send potential B2B leads to a webpage can be very effective in obtaining sales leads.

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49% of B2B buyers mentioned how ads appearing in the research process improved their perception of the company, thus increasing the likelihood of a purchase. 84% of C-suite/Vice president executives indicated that they rely on online media to make purchasing decisions. However, given the additional complexity of B2B products and services, digital sales channels should still be accompanied by a sales team to do the final follow up on high-quality leads, leading to the eventual sales conversion. 

Do you have recommendations for businesses looking to transition into a digital-first model for sales?

Managing the quality of sales content is one of the key success factors for digitizing sales. Traditionally, sales representatives will present the content and adapt actively during physical meetings. Success was then highly dependent on the sales pitch and ability of the individual salespersons.  With digitized sales, businesses should now consolidate the know-how and draw out the best practices and strategies from different sales individuals to craft the most effective sales pitch. This sales pitch can be delivered consistently to all potential clients. This translates to higher conversion rate with a highly controlled and standardized online sales content.

Identifying the right target customers is key to maximising your returns on investment (ROI). While digitized B2B sales can indeed cast a wide net to reach out to a vast number of customers, this should be done appropriately to not incur costs unnecessarily on unrelated customers. Through digitizing sales, sales pitches can now be delivered directly to key decision-makers. This reduces lead time substantially, as compared to the traditional sales approach which could take weeks or even months before reaching key decision makers.  With effective targeting, the quality of leads would increase, and would in turn maximise ROI.With sales digitization, conducting sales is now dynamic and fast-moving, with an inflow of leads at any point in time. As a result, there is a need for B2B companies to define and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to accurately track the sales performance and ensure effective cost control. Regular PDCA (Plan-do-check-adjust) cycles should be conducted to review the results and implement improvement strategies to optimise the performance on a regular basis.