People battling on the front lines of the sales industry know that sales has undergone a seismic transformation during the last 20 years. I recall the times when the industry emphasised the effective presentation of products – aka ‘The push’ – before the trend emerged for sales businesses to become more consultative or solution-based. What’s the current state-of-play within the sales industry – and how do developments pertain specifically to Singapore?
How has Sales changed in Recent Years?
- After much research on the part of consulting organisations plus anecdotal evidence from clients over the past decade, we can confidently assert the following:
- Buyers are better informed. They often conduct up to 75% of their research before meeting a sales person face-to-face. This can lead to a high percentage of the sales process being completed remotely.
- Clients don’t have time to educate salespeople. They expect salespeople to know and use that information to develop insights that add value to the conversation.
- Clients expect sales pros to adapt to their buying process and style – not be driven by the salesperson’s approach or timelines.
- Overall, we’re increasingly seeing better informed, increasingly sophisticated and demanding customers wanting … more!
What Specific Challenges are Presented by the Sales Climate in Singapore?
Understand your location
Within Asia, Singapore is more open than many other regional cities – so doing business here is a different experience to Hanoi, Seoul, Phnom Penh or so on. There's no doubt that Singapore’s both different and atypical of its regional neighbours. You've really got be ‘on the ground’ to understand the intricacies of Asian culture; Australian, British, and (particularly) American expats coming in to Asia from offshore often don’t understand the culture – and get it very wrong.
Be culturally sensitive
The right approach for foreigners in Singapore is to be sensitive to, and respectful of, the cultural differences. I recall an American company who, for years, ran their standard US-centric programme in Asia, which wasn't culturally sensitive. They challenged their customers thinking to a degree that could almost be seen as aggressive. Those who’ve spent time in Singapore (or Asia generally) appreciate the value of ‘losing face’ here – and how that can impact on business relationships. So their approach didn't take off, because people interpreted it as being almost confrontationally rude.
Localise your strategy
I’ve run a number of workshops with clients around what we call an insight-led approach. In terms of doing business in Singapore this means adapting your traditional style to your locality. In many cases this has meant changing the way information is delivered, to really adds value to the customer's thinking rather than challenge the way they're conducting their business.
Understand the hierarchy – and work harder to break into it
One thing that's common across Asia is business is very hierarchical. Getting interpersonal contact with senior people here is a lot more difficult. In my first week in Australia, I was getting facetime with managing directors, in one case, the managing partner of one of the country’s biggest accounting firms – and a lot of the intellectual collateral I’ve developed came from my interaction with those people, considerably improving my business prospects. That wouldn't happen in Singapore. You've got to work harder to get that kind of privileged, value-adding access to senior executives.
Tips for Adapting to the Evolving Sales Environment
Marketing and sales need to work even closer together. To understand buyers, we need to connect with their digital footprint to ensure we ‘tailor our approaches’ beyond the traditional ‘blanket marketing’. Key considerations include:
- Where is the business today vs the demands of the market?
- How do the currently popular market processes align to this?
- How do the skills and capabilities of those go-to market people align to what is needed into the future?
Put yourself in the client’s shoes. How can you maximise the value you deliver to them? How do you help them win? Digital technology enables us to enjoy greater access to knowledge. The decreasing ages and increasing sophistication of buyers means that sales teams must adapt or die.
- Design a clearly defined strategy to align to the market demands
- Redesign the go-to market processes to enable the strategy
- Ensure you have the organisational structure, people and tools to execute this
Sales leaders are conduits to success. They must ensure you have the right tools and capabilities to deliver. Relationship selling is not dead. But the type of relationship we need to build has changed. Even in markets like Singapore where traditionally relationships have been key (as in much of Asia), you now have to earn that right and first build trust. It can take several positive interactions before trust is built, so how can we do this virtually?
- Ensure salespeople have the right capabilities for their job areas that add value to your business and, most importantly, customers
- Know your metrics for success and review, coach and monitor against these regularly.
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