During the breakout session of our Japanese B2B marketing event, Bigbeat LIVE, we heard from 4 Japanese overseas marketing leaders in Japan. the breakout session was themed ‘think local’ and ‘go global.’ The first session was about how local governments need marketing to bring people to their region, and the second session, which we will report on in this blog was about Japanese companies marketing overseas.
Our 4 speakers were:
Kentaro Sakamoto, APAC Region, Sales & Marketing Director, Cybozu, Inc.,
Yukuke Mameda, Managing Director, Studist (Thailand) Co., Ltd.,
Shuhei Yamamoto, Managing Director, WingArc Singapore Pte. Ltd.,
and our own
Hideaki ‘Charlie’ Kaneko, CEO, Managing Director, Bigbeat Bangkok Co., Ltd.
A chance to change the way you think and take action
Bigbeat Bangkok CEO Kaneko opened the session by explaining the theme of the session. He explained that the ‘global’ theme was not just about simply about expanding your business overseas, but about the necessary changes in your way of thinking and actions when facing a global market. Our host of the stage, Project 30 Evangelist Naotake Hibiya, APAC Region, Sales & Marketing Director, Cybozu, Inc., has over over 20 years of experience working in startups including famous Japanese company, Sansan. Mr. Hibiya prefaced that, through activities that go beyond the boundaries of industry and companies and struggling to over barriers you start to notice values you hadn’t before. With the keyword “cross-border”, he introduced our 4 speakers who have been continuing to challenge themselves in Asia.
Developing sales channels in South-East Asia though the “partner first” concept
The first speaker to take the stage was Kantaro Sakamoto.
Mr. Sakamoto’s profile
Mr. Sakamoto was hired at Cybozu, Inc. in April 2010. Until the December of 2017 he had managed Partner Sales (Sales Department) overseeing the Otsuka Corporation account. In January 2018 he became the manager of the Global Sales, South-East Asia. With Tokyo as a base, he often on business trip mainly to Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and India.
In April 2010, he joined Cybozu Inc. as a new graduate, where he worked in Partner Sales in the Japanese market and took part in the sales of “Kintone”, an integrated platform application. From January 2018 he became manager of International Sales. Thinking about his future career path, he decided to change his job position.
His initial aspiration was to be involved in Marketing, but with the condition he would continue working “inside the same sales department”, while helping the international sales as the ASEAN area manager. At the time of his assignment, including himself, there were only 3 members in his team. The resources were very limited, indeed.
Mr. Sakamoto was assigned to South-East Asia, and not America or China where the company already had its major branches. Even now, he has not been transferred to an overseas office, but he is developing sales channels through business trips. As resources are limited, Cybozu Inc. decided to specialize in indirect sales, as its own strategy, with the key theme being “partner first.”
Mr. Sakamoto explained that you cannot do anything alone, so the business strategy was to find new partners that “could do things for you” and let them work autonomously to “get things done”.
In order to increase the number of partners, you have to “jump in” and “create a fanbase”. For example, when you launch an event, you will look for acquaintances on Facebook, or invite people from each company on the JETRO list to gout for a drink. In order to build awareness, Kintone decided to make giveaway items, such as pop sockets for smartphones, parasols for golf, or raincoats to reach partners in different countries. Also, Mr. Sakamoto explained that, for instance, he held local events in the Philippines, collaborated with public universities in Laos, developed two agencies in Vietnam and used digital marketing strategies in Indonesia.
In addition, as he had no choice but try to secure his resources, he involved other departments inside the company. He said, “I want to get the people around us involved so that our resources don’t bottleneck.”
As a result of the activities of their partnering companies in each country, the total number of companies using their product reached 400 as of December 2018. Most of them were Japanese companies, but Mr. Sakamoto was excited to also see orders from local companies, especially from Myanmar telecommunication companies and government ministries in Laos, were gradually increasing.
Establishing a local corporation to provide direct product sales and support
The second person to take the stage was Yukuke Mameda.
Mr. Mameda’s profile
After having completed the graduate School of Science and Engineering at Waseda University, Mr. Mameda joined Inks Corporation as a design and manufacturing consultant for a major automobile manufacturer. In 2007 he was moved into the Corporate Planning Office. In 2009, the first B2C online 3D printing service was launched in Japan. In 2011 he began to work at Studist Corporation. After having worked as the CMO of the company, from January 2018, Mr. Mameda became the company's executive officer / general manager of global business.
Mr. Mameda has overseen the local subsidiary in Thailand of Studist Corporation. Studist Corporation develops and sells the “Teachme Biz” platform that supports the creation, sharing, and browsing management of SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) and product instruction manuals. “Teachme Biz” is a product born as a solution to the problem that even if you make a procedure manual that takes time and money to improve operational efficiency, they are not be used on the spot. “Techme Biz” is already being used in 2,600 global companies.
Mr. Mameda joined this project in 2011, and became friends with Mr. Hibiya at that time, as he was in charge of Marketing and PR as a CMO and Executive officer at Studist Corporation. And Mr. Hibiya taught him about Sansan.
Then, in January 2018 Mr. Mameda was transferred to Thailand. As Cybozu Inc. did, Mr. Mameda first thought about focusing on partner sales. Though through several interactions with different companies, they decided to establish a local subsidiary to strengthen support and expand sales channels for local companies. In August 2018 a local joint venture was established. The goal was to start development of business and reach 200 companies in Thailand by February 2020. Unlike other expatriates, Mr. Mameda has been not assigned a term.
Currently, there are 5 people are employed at the Thai subsidiary, divided into PR/Marketing, Sales (2 people), Customer Service (2 people) and Administration (1 people). According to the Thai regulations, when you establish a joint venture, you must employ 4 Thai people for each non-Thai employee. So, in the Thai subsidiary, Mr. Mameda is the only non-Thai national.
Mr. Mameda pointed out that the turnover of people is intense, and although 8 people have been hired over the past year, 3 have already resigned and they are currently struggling to hire new people. (One person retired after returning to Thailand from Bigbeat LIVE).
The local customers have continued to increase however. Even if the target is Japanese companies, which you can appeal with business efficiency, this is not true for local Thai ones. So, in order to appeal to Thai companies, Mr. Memada divided the issues faced often by these local companies in 4 categories and created documentation in Thai language, to make “Teachme Biz” product appealing to local companies too.
In other words, the product remained the same, but the message was changed to match the needs of the Thai users.
Mr. Mameda was excited about the results of this approach: more and more local companies using their product have continued to gradually increase and he now has more user case-study content to work with.
Understanding market characteristics to cover resource shortage
Our third speaker was Shuhei Yamamoto.
Mr. Yamamoto’s profile
Mr. Yamamoto joined WingArc1st Inc., a company based in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, as a Sales account executive. He was then relocated to Singapore in September 2017. The relocation became the very first overseas trip for Mr. Yamamoto, who had to start new business development from zero in the South-East Asia (Singapore, Malesia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam). With a partner business model, the company had developed its solutions, such as “MotionBoard” and “Dr.Sum”, mainly for the Japanese manufacturing industry, so he had to overcome hurdles regarding the promotion of the use of customer’s corporate data.
In Japan, WingArc1st, Inc. is known for “SVF” and BI product such as “Dr.Sum” and “MotionBoard”, but entering in the overseas market where it was full of competitors, had been a big challenge for Mr. Yamamoto. From his start as director of the Singaporean office in September 2017, Mr. Yamamoto has been networking and developing new opportunities with partners in ASEAN countries. Mr. Yamamoto explained that he joined WingArc1st, Inc. as a new graduated and, after only 2 and a half years the Tokyo HQ, he oversaw many customers in the manufacturing industry for 8 years in the Nagoya and Osaka branches.
Mr. Yamamoto’s challenge overseas began when the Sales Director proposed him to “use his knowledge of the manufacturing industry to do something overseas”. Although Mr. Yamamoto answered positively, he didn’t even have a passport at that time and he could not speak English very well.
In March 2019, Mr. Yamamoto, who had struggled alone until one engineer was relocated to Singapore, asserted that “even alone you can identify the characteristics of a market and take appropriate actions in that market.” He said that at first, he was quite worried about communicating with local companies, but in the end, he overcame this gap drawing on the whiteboard during meetings.
Mr. Yamamoto confessed that “The most important thing in business meeting is being able to choose the communication method that suits the situation, rather than the language itself”.
The target was the branches of Japanese manufacturing corporations in the ASEAN area. So, Mr. Yamamoto focused on developing relationships with partners. As he was not able to handle all the deals alone, it was necessary to build good relationships with their partners to make up for the lack of resources. That is why he decided to launch an informative website in English targeted at their partners. Moreover, in the same way, he could establish a joint front with three Japanese software companies targeting the manufacturing industry, they were able to collaborate together on lead acquisition.
Also, in order to increase the number of fans, WingArc1st, Inc. is thinking to extend the participation to their annual conference, held in Japan, also to foreign companies. And, because their products are not easily sold, Mr. Yamamoto revealed that he is considering to expand their owned media used in Japan, “Deta no Jikan (Data Time)”, and create content that is suited for foreign markets, as well as adding the essence of the market of that Country in the content.
In the first year of his assignment, Mr. Yamamoto said he was focused on solving every single challenge. The business value of WingArc1st, Inc. is “Using data to make the world smile”. “I feel the same way.” With these words, Mr. Yamamoto left the stage.
Expanding the culture of the “self-study creation”
The last speaker of the session was our own Hideaki ‘Charlie’ Kaneko.
Mr. Kaneko’s profile
After graduating college, Mr. Kaneko was hired at an Advertising Company. There he met Yutaka Hamaguchi, with whom have been with for over 30 years. Mr. Kaneko joined Bigbeat, Inc. in its beginning days and after working as the sales director, he founded Bigbeat Bangkok in January, entrusting the future of the Tokyo office to the next generation.
After having graduating from university in marketing and advertisement, Mr. Kaneko joined an advertisement agency and has grown up with Bigbeat since its early days. When celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Bigbeat’s establishment, he suddenly looked back and asked himself, “Is it okay continue in this way?” He also told the audience that he wants Bigbeat to be a company that will continue for over 100 years. He thought that he wanted to do somethign useful for the future of Bigbeat. So, almost entirely by himself, he established the local joint venture in Bangkok.
It was the autumn of 2017. After having moved initially being in the JETRO offices for 3 months, he started in a room with just one desk. As said above, to be compliant with the Thai regulation, you must employ 3 Thai nationals for every 4 people. The vision of the company is “Give Happiness”. Taking the Japanese-style self-study-creative culture into consideration, Mr.Kaneko’s vision is for Bigbeat Bangkok to eventually become a Thai-managed company. But the problem is that turnover is very fast. He had heard this before but was impressed by it after only having experienced it for a short time. Currently, he is the only original member remaining at the company establishment. Mr. Kaneko joked that “people change more rapidly than popular rock bands!”.
Even though he thought that the company could not last these conditions, Mr. Kaneko, as a manager, emphasized that it is important to think not about the immediate profit, but rather create an organizational culture typical of Bigbeat Bangkok. This is because as Bigbeat does not have a product to be shown, he believes that people working in the company must build a relationship with the customers in order to gain their trust. “The culture and the climate are important”, stressed Mr. Kaneko.
Moreover, what he is developing as pillar of Bigbeat’s business in Thailand is called “B-Marketing Service”. Mr. Kaneko explained that tools supporting B2B marketing make events like exhibitions more effective. However, due to various reasons, the sales of release n.1 and release n.2 were abandoned. They are currently working on the development of release n.3.
What Mr. Kaneko learned working together with Thai people is that “Fun is righteous” is a value in Thailand. He had already heard this before from Ms. Akiko Suzuki, Cybozu, Inc., who took the stage at Bigbeat LIVE last year, but Mr. Kaneko is projecting these words to Thai people, and is trying to accept everything happening in the company with positivity.
The second half of the global stage was a panel discussion between our speakers and host. The themes of the talk included “The differences of business environment and product culture between Japan and foreign Countries”, “The difficulty of going overseas”, “Using the Japanese Style”, and “Advice based on experience”. Stay tuned!