Digital sales an opportunity for B2B players in Southeast Asia

04 December 2020 5 min. read

Business-to-business (B2B) offerings in Southeast Asia have been slow to digitalise sales in recent years – a scenario that is set to change in the post-Covid-19 world. YCP Solidiance presents the state of the market in a new report.

Setting the context, the Asia-focused management consultancy noted the sheer economic impact of Covid-19. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecasted negative GDP growth across Southeast Asia, be it Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The only exception here is Vietnam with a forecast of more than 1% growth – still a drop from over 6% before the pandemic.

And it’s not just within the region: economies of some of the Southeast Asia’s leading trade partners are shrinking. China’s growth forecast has dropped from 6% to less than 2%, while Japan, the United States and the European Union (EU) have seen growth forecasts fall into the negative – a staggering 8% plus in the EU.

GDP growth forecast of major ASEAN trade partners

Amid a fledgling global economy, the B2B segment has been among the worst hit. “With many countries imposing nationwide lockdown measures and border restrictions, many B2B companies in SEA cannot conduct sales like how they would just a few months ago,” explained Shingo Kasumoto, Managing Partner at YCP Solidiance Southeast Asia.

“Traditionally, sales representatives would be sent to meet with potential clients face-to-face or through physical networking at trade events. As B2B sales are conventionally reliant on forging strong and long-term relationships with clients, networking sessions and physical meetings are crucial to source for new businesses.”

Events are simply out of the question under the circumstances, hitting the B2B sector in Southeast Asia at its very core. Revenues have plummeted as a result, and Kasumoto notes how all roads point to a more digitalised sales offering. “Most cannot secure new sales deals, even from existing key accounts. They are forced to look beyond existing accounts and markets, with a pressing need to explore new sales approaches to do businesses – digitising sales being an option.”

The good news is that Southeast Asia’s market conditions are ripe for a more digitalised offering. The vast population is distinctly young by global standards – 64% below the age of 40 – and consequently tech savvy. What’s more, a growing share use online channels to prepare for purchases.

The new path-to-purchase

In fact, well over 80% of executives in the region do online research for a B2B purchase. As Covid-19 accelerates the reliance on digital channels for everything – from business to pleasure – this trend is only set to accelerate. As a result, the report notes how online channels present vast space for customer acquisition.

B2B sales need to up their game and reach these digital customers early. Key here is to tweak the marketing and sales balance. Conventionally, marketing would help generate awareness and interest about a product, and even plant a seed of consideration. Everything after that in the “path to purchase” – from building intent to assessing the product and making the purchase – was handled by the sales team.

This is different online. Marketing via social media channels needs to extend to building intent to buy as well, while sales should be left to carry out the transaction and nothing more. In short, the structure of the proposition needs to change. “B2B companies should take this as an opportunity to establish their online channels to be well positioned to capture new sales leads,” noted YCP Solidiance Director Jeaness Wong.

Transforming digital sales

Promisingly, 60% of B2B sales managers acknowledge the value of a digital sales offering. The problem is that most businesses lack the digital infrastructure, the technical expertise and the personnel to meet these digital market needs of the future. Only around a third of businesses actually have a marketing team in place to manage online sales channels.

Five principles to transform digital sales

So the path ahead is long, but necessary. Digital sales will be crucial for survival among B2B businesses in the post Covid-19 world. As they embark on this journey, YCP Solidiance has laid down five key principles for successful sales transformation: effective online sales content, stakeholder prioritisation, customer relationship management (CRM), key performance indicators (KPIs), and effective follow-up channels.

In a nutshell: sales content should be tweaked and improved centrally and distributed to all potential clients at once; customers should be profiled and resources diverted towards high-potential sales; a CRM database can provide detailed insights on customer behaviour; KPIs can give real-time performance updates; and follow-ups with enquiries and complaints are crucial to delivering a satisfying customer experience.

Using these track lines, B2B players can build a more resilient and future-proof sales offering. “As the most efficient and cost-effective approach amidst the current crisis, sales digitisation provides a low-risk way of testing the various markets and allows companies to target several markets effortlessly and simultaneously with localised content to reach out to their potential customers and achieve desired outcomes,” concluded Kasumoto.