The Sales Representative in ASEAN: a quick story based on true facts of one Company that is “looking at East”

Once upon a time there was a European Company very well established in its own market niche, a typical medium-size Company, 50-100 employees 10-20MLN yearly revenue. The Company was quite financially stable with a good reputation among its Clients and especially among its shareholders and had what it takes to be a strong player in the market.

Indeed, about 50% of the total sales happened in the EU market and overseas with its presence in more than 70 markets worldwide where the products were quite popular among retailers (distribution) and B2B.

The Company had a huge range of products and the export was driven by some high-valuable products pretty much appreciated by the market because, even if the competition was quite strong, the Company was able to give some unique product specifications that are really giving an advantage to the Clients and alongside with the product consistency, they were confident that this could create a long-term business… and so it was!   

Its production facilities were located in EU with regular and daily shipments to overseas markets mainly South and North America, Russia, EU Countries, Australia and northern Africa.

With the world nowadays fast-changing, the Company soon realized that it was time to “look at East” and they set their eyes on ASEAN markets, a kaleidoscope of 10 Countries with a rapidly rising middle-class, with a young and active population and more than 660.000 potential Customers.

Realizing the potential return on sales, they decided to start approaching the markets and they were confident to finalize the sales soon, but something is popping-up…. where to start? Which market should we go for? Which product shall we introduce/propose first? Shall we focus on products for B2B or products for retail business?

So, they have started considering the same traditional approach that has been working for the other markets in the past, but they are now experiencing little results, perhaps they did not focus in the right market (10 Countries in ASEAN!)? Or perhaps they did not pick the right product or even worse they picked the right product but they were not able to adapt it to the local need?

The Company struggled to find a solution, they put lots of effort on it but somehow the questions remained unanswered.

They have already invested quite a lot of time in chasing some results but so far what they only got the most popular answers such as “we will let you know”, “we will get back to you soon”, “we will pass your info to our manager’. Definitely the Company had to many WE WILL and many times the “future verbs” there is no business in the present and there will no business even in the future, they have wasted time drifting around, ending up nowhere.

Acknowledge that, the Company saw that there was no pay-off and they soon realized they have to change approach finding out a more constructive and specific strategy for ASEAN markets.

So, they have got in touch with a Sales Representative Agency which was already located in ASEAN markets and was already supporting foreign companies in doing business in Asia. The Agency gave them some few tips and explained why they failed (according to its point of view).

The Agency also gave them its experience and its way of working with other foreign companies. Those companies have experienced a sensible satisfaction in dealing with the agency for a few simple reasons:

  • they have created “bridgeheads” with ASEN markets
  • they have started selling
  • they even have created a local branch in ASEAN
  • they have got to know the markets (completely unknown before)
  • they have started creating “references” in ASEAN
  • they have, in general, improved the business

The agency also explained to the Company that the process of building the business in Asia require a different approach that sometime might sound a bit different due to the internal resistances of the markets, after all we are in Asia and you can not expect the market to react in the same way as others. The Company now also has more clear idea on how and why they failed so they have decided to take the suggestion of the Agency and re-approach those markets.

So, together with the Agency they have started to re-think they way of doing business in ASEAN.

First of all, the local presence of the Agency in the market allows the Company to be more directly connected with the final Customer. Do not forget that the Customer is not an “abstract entity” but it is a real organization made by human beings and human beings need TRUST which is mostly built by relying on each other, acknowledge so, the closer you are with your own Client, the more trust you can build. This give a very important competitive advantage to those companies that can boost a local presence in the market compared to their competitors that are many times 10.000 km away from the market.

Then, step-by-step, the Company has set up an “ASEAN strategy” done by reconsidering the range of products that they can re-introduce starting form one specific market and analyzing its particular needs; again, the Company found a great help to have a local representative in the market able to understand the trend and able to match those needs with potential products to sell.

Digital marketing also played a key role; the Agency knew very well that where the people is online more and more spending part of their life virtually connected, it was necessary for the Company to intercept those connections and the simple tools such as a local website and a couple of accounts in some main social network have improved the visibility and the reliability of the Company.

Finally, the results come soon after and the Company, wit the support of the Agency, really started to see something moving such as first sales, first positive feedback, first few Clients… They have realized that this was the right way to pursue and a consistent monthly/yearly sales improvement convinced the Company that ASEAN markets can really be an economic zone that MUST NOT be abandoned!

Shortly the Company and the Agency have decided to move on even further and they set up a local branch where they have started to distribute their own product directly to the market. For the first time they are not only a mere export company but a more proper organized and structured business able to stand with its own feet in the foreign market.

The process takes some time (indeed “Rome was not built in a day”) and a few years later the Company that was once struggling to make sales in ASEAN markets finally has achieved to successfully sell its product in 7 Countries, improving its presence, making its brand more visible and building up a strong and reliable image.

Would all of this be possible without the help of a local sales representative agency?


Hong Kong, 28 February 2021 


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