During the breakout session of our Japanese B2B marketing event, Bigbeat LIVE, we heard from 4 leading Japanese marketers who are abroad. The breakout session was themed ‘think local’ and ‘go global.’ The first session was about how local governments need marketing. This is a report on the second half of the Global Stage, where we held a panel discussion with our speakers and host. We heard about their actual experiences with expanding overseas in South East Asia. (You can read our report on the first half here).
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.
Our Host was Naotake Hibiya, Evangelist, Project 30.
How is Japan different? What is the business environment like abroad?
Mr. Hibiya: Let start right off with the first topic. How is the business environment in Japan and abroad different? How about the business customs?
Mr. Yamamoto: Well to start with the business environment, abroad you can understand more from basic information. You can predict how well your product will be received from each country’s GDP, demographics, religion, language, political trends, industrial sectors, and number of Japanese companies already in the country. From here you can then narrow down your target.
Mr. Kaneko: I have only been overseas for about 1 and a half years now, so my experience is limited, but biggest difference I first felt was the payment customs. In Japan when working with partners you normally pay the bill after a project is finished, but in Thailand it is common to pay 50% of the bill upon signing the contract and then the other 50% by the end of the project. You get worried about people following through with the project and the cash flow management becomes very difficult. For example, when you have exhibition booth support staff, you need to prepare cash to pay them the day of the event.
Mr. Hibiya: Has everyone else faced the same difficulties?
Mr. Sakamoto: I have heard the point about payments a lot. Since we use a partner sales model, we are not directly at risk, but our partners who interact directly with local companies have become very upset at us before about payments.
Mr. Hibiya: It seems that those are risks that are hard to cover. I think that Mr. Mameda had something that he wanted to talk about regarding the business environment and business customs.
Mr. Mameda: In the case of Studist, we were able to get a lot of Thai contents, but I feel like doing business the same way we do in Japan just doesn’t produce good quality leads. We are currently examining each channel in the book: Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. For example, in Japan for the keywords in Google Ads (Formally Google Adwords) we were able to use the word ‘manual’ or ‘procedure manual’ and get 30 leads in 3 days. But I didn’t get a single reply to any of the emails I sent.
Mr. Sakamoto: After listening to your story I remembered what one of our Filipino partners tried. In order to try and reduce the burden on the customer they reduced the number of items required in an inquiry form. While they did get around 300 leads, none of those leads led to an actual sale. We then increased the required number of items. In one month we only got 4 leads, but we received responses from 3 of them.
Changing Jobs is the ordinary
Mr. Hibiya: Since the required information for good leads is different, it means you have to do it differently than how it is normally done in Japan. Has there been anything else you have been struggling with? During their presentations we heard about recruitment from Mr. Mameda and Mr. Kaneko.
Mr. Mameda: We do all of our recruitment in English but there are places where if you don’t speak the same native language you can not get really deep into it. It can be frustrating at times. In a resume you basically write what you ‘can do’ but you have to then test if this is really true or not. In Japan it is difficult, but you can have people go through a 3-month trial period and if they do not perform well then you have them quit.
Mr. Yamamoto: Changing jobs in Southeast Asia is just a normal thing to do. Someone changing jobs within a 3-year period is not rare. If you think of it in a positive way, people who have used our will write on their resumes, ‘Can use Motion Board (A BI dashboard by WingArc 1st)’ This means that people who are changing jobs are actually spreading awareness of our product.
Mr. Sakamoto: One time our partner sold our product Kintone to a decacorn company (an unlisted venture capital company that is worth over 10 billion USD) because someone from that partner company left and went to that decacorn company. When they were there, they told the management about Kintone. There are real merits to high mobility in labor.
Mr. Hibiya: Thanks to the high mobility in the human resources, it is possible to spread word of your company that way. But at the same time, you see so many people come and go. When you hire someone new, and you think it will be ok, do you still have a back-up plan.
Mr. Mameda: We always perform reference checks on people using their resumes. They are also people who have criminal records with drugs or have embezzled money before.
Mr. Kaneko: Performing the reference check is important. Really, I think that a recruiting company that is in the middle should do it, but there are not many places that are following their job seekers that closely, and eventually you just have to do it yourself.
What Should I do? Studying the Local Language.
Mr. Hibiya: In order to make sure you recruit can speak polite language, it would seem that being able to understand the local language is necessary. How are you all responding to this?
Mr. Mameda: After living abroad for 1 and half years I have come to the conclusion that you should study the local language yourself. Currently I am making sure to study Thai 2 to 3 times a week. If you can’t speak Thai, then you won’t be able to grasp the current status of business negotiations and you can’t get feedback from your staff that will help you make improvements. In that situation, making decisions can be very stressful, so I am making a real effort to study the language.
Mr. Hibiya: Did you think it would be enough if you just spoke English?
Mr. Mameda: I think so. If you are dealing with the upper management class, then English works perfectly fine, but anything lower than that and the people can only speak Thai and very basic English. Thai also means that in order to communicate with your users that Thai is necessary. With this in mind we translated our product’s language, FAQ page, and help page into Thai. We are also currently in the process of converting our inquiry process so that we can respond to inquiries in Thai. It has been taking an enormous amount of man hours, but we are proceeding with the highest priority in order to support to our customers.
Mr. Hibiya: What about you Mr. Kaneko?
Mr. Kaneko: In house at Bigbeat Bangkok, we speak English, so when hiring, being able to speak English is one of the basic requirements. But I also feel that if I don’t speak the local language that my business won’t move forward. You can explain things in English and people will understand you, but in order to make that one last step forward you need the local language. I am studying Thai now, but I feel like the only people who can break through that last wall of communication are native Thai speakers. So, I leave it up to them to make the last push through that wall.
Mr. Hibiya: It must be different in a partner sales model?
Mr. Sakamoto: More than language, the thing we are prioritizing the most in our recruitment, is finding a trustworthy person who can become a bridge between us and our partners. For example, we are looking for acquaintances of employees or acquaintances of acquaintances who have studied abroad in Japan.
Mr. Yamamoto: I usually make full use of the whiteboard during meetings to communicate things, but since I am not very good at English and if the communication lapses are a risk, I am considering making use of an interpreter. I think the language is important, but I think living in the local area and going out to food stalls and communicating with the local people is a great way to build trust with each other.
What you can learn by example.
Mr. Hibiya: In your presentation Mr. Yamamoto you talked about learning by example. How did you find a model? Was this something you heard from someone at another company?
Mr. Yamamoto: We networked and exchanged information with people in the same industry. And we have found and met pioneers with a wealth of experience in overseas business that serve as models for us, and who have told us about various initiatives and struggles. WingArc 1st has over 500 partnering companies, but even if we have a base, most of these companies are not in the same type of business as our Japanese partners. So, listening to experiences from a variety of different people who have different backgrounds can really provide an understanding of business abroad.
Mr. Sakamoto: The stories of seniors can be helpful, but at the end of the day you have to believe in your own intuition and then verify it. Cybozu has succeeded when it comes to holding events for Japanese companies, so we wanted to try it abroad. Our partners in India and the Philippines opposed the idea when we proposed it to them. But we went with our gut and we still held the seminars. They turned out to be a huge success.
Mr. Hibiya: You have to gather the backing evidence yourself. Mr. Mameda, you are very good at gathering information, but what do you think?
Mr. Mameda: I have met a lot of people in my year a half abroad, but I have yet to find another Japanese company with a similar B2B cloud service that was very successful in approaching local Thai companies. I felt the only conclusion was we had to just do it for ourselves. And we have been going through a lot of trial and error. Currently I am allocating 80% of our resources to customer success and the other resources are being used for our employees to go out and meet customers and physically go there to support them. If you do this to set up the base relationship, then it wont end with just the customer buying your product.
Mr. Hibiya: You are not trying to imitate anybody, but succeed through trial and error?
Mr. Memeda: It comes down to you won’t know if you don’t try it yourself. And since a lot of B2B business is based on word of mouth, we are trying increase our customer satisfaction.
Mr. Sakamoto: In the case of Cybozu, we used promotions to help us when we were establishing ourselves. We did whatever we could to stand out and gain awareness. In the same way people remembered us in Japan, I want people in South-east Asia to remember us as that ‘yellow company.’
Go overseas now!
Mr. Hibiya: From listening to the discussion here today, it sounds like the answer to the question ‘should you approach marketing overseas the same way you do in Japan?’ is a clear no. For your final thoughts, could you give a message to those who want to expand and work abroad?
Mr. Mameda: As a message of support all I want to say is ‘try your best.’ The way you have done things in Japan will not work abroad and you will not have access to the same resource you do here. And you will not only need marketing knowledge but knowledge in management and finance. I never really had a strong urge to work abroad, but I have no regrets about doing it. I am really enjoying myself.
Mr: Kaneko: I really like giving messages of support, so in my year and a half, here are the 4 things I think you will need; live with the feeling that you are allowed to live in Thai, and work there. You are not a guest or visitor, you are living and working there. 2, learn the native language. 3, Learn the history of the country. And 4, your past experiences of success will not serve as references.
Mr. Yamamoto: I think I have experienced the saying ‘seeing is believing.’ Our sales in Japan were good, so I thought that doing the same thing abroad would work. I was wrong. It is important for those who want to go abroad to really think about how much their business can succeed and combine that with your gut feeling to make a decision. It is natural to fail and make mistakes. But you can succeed if you use those failures to correct course.
Mr. Sakamoto: I'm not sure it is advice, but Southeast Asia is a very attractive market in the IT industry. I don't speak much English, but I'm managing somehow. So, I encourage you to go for it if that is what you want to do.
Mr. Kaneko: The reason I said ‘Go and try’ at the beginning is because I think most of the people here see the necessity of expanding outside of Japan. Its just like going to the dentist, don’t procrastinate just go now.
Mr. Hibiya: After listening to out 4 speakers today, I think they have a one thing in common; they are all adaptable to change and open to new things. Whenever I try something new, I go in with the expectation to fail. But I will somehow recover from that failure. Thank you so much for coming to our session today.