APAC countries are an extremely diverse grouping, making multi-country market entry a potentially daunting prospect. But given the market’s size and importance, there is no shortage of newcomers keen to take on the locals on their home turf.

SMRITI DHINGRA IS THE DIRECTOR of Experience Management Services with SAI Digital, a Vietnam-based eCommerce agency. [C] Vietnam asked her to share her insights and lessons from the company’s synchronized expansion into Japan, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines earlier this year.


For SAI Digital, Dhingra said going multi-market wasn’t so much in reaction to market forces, as it was a founding principle. As a provider of eCommerce services to large enterprises, the company has always had a regional mindset. SAI Digital increased its APAC presence gradually, first by establishing implementation teams in Japan, Singapore and Australia, a process that took nearly a decade, then using their on-the-ground presence as a springboard for expanding into new verticals, namely Digital Marketing and Intelligent Commerce.

Until recently, SAI Digital considered tech solutions, not marketing, as its bread and butter. But with the pandemic bringing opportunities in marketing automation, the B2C player pivoted to providing digital marketing solutions to B2B clients. The shift was decisive, and to leapfrog competitors the company invested in a proprietary product, with an eye for it to be transferable between markets in APAC.

“We realized that organizations screen potential business partners in much the same way they do their increasingly millennial workforce and when bosses make everyday purchasing decisions they look you up on Google,” explained Dhingra. “Word-of-mouth is great but without a robust digital presence, including testimonials and client lists, it’s hard to retain a competitive edge.”

As the company was undergoing a transition from a predominantly tech partner to one that offers end-to-end eCommerce solutions, it became clear that future opportunities will mainly be available in the SMEs segment. “Mid-scale eCommerce agencies are usually highly specialized,” said Dhingra. “When clients want a full suite of services, they engage global agencies, which is very expensive.”

Offering the same range of services at competitive prices puts the agency on the radar of the regional SMEs who were previously priced out of the endto-end eCommerce services market. Moreover, the agency’s Vietnamese roots offer reassurance that their eCommerce partner understands the unique challenges companies face in this part of the world.

Dhingra’s business unit, the marketing services team, doubles as a sales innovation lab. The team’s autonomy means they have the freedom to generate revenue the way they see fit. Following the expansion, Dhingra introduced her unit to a sales theory that argues that deploying different sales tactics for different products is counterproductive.

“Whether it’s SaaS, FMCG or heavy machinery, the purchasing decision is ultimately made by a human being, so the psychology is the same,” she said. “If your approach works in one sector, it will work in all.”

Expanding into new markets has offered SAI Digital an opportunity to experiment on a bigger scale, and the marketing services team’s early efforts are already bearing fruit.


Considering the hype surrounding tech companies, you’d think recruitment woes would not affect the industry. Yes and no, said Dhingra. When it comes to hiring for their marketing services, the agency has a wider pool of talent to tap into as the team is by design multinational. But implementation teams in each market are recruited locally and that’s where she has run into difficulties.

Speaking of Vietnam specifically, attracting talent is relatively easy. Young graduates find the prospect of working for a locally grown tech company with a regional footprint more exciting than joining a multinational that merely uses Vietnam as a tech hub. The real issue is expectation management. Because many come fresh from universities or other industries, they have a romanticized idea of what working in tech looks like.

Inevitably, several weeks into the job, reality hits. A common refrain among those who don’t last is “I didn’t realize it would be so dry.” It would help if all students had a chance to intern at a tech company, but that’s wishful thinking for now, so the mismatch between expectations and reality will continue to contribute to high staff churn.


Being a home-grown company certainly has its advantages in the local market. But in a place like Japan, where outsiders are perceived as lacking in cultural awareness, you are going to struggle to get a toehold unless you recruit locally. “For anyone looking to scale and expand outside their home market, assembling a local team or working with a local partner adept at navigating cultural sensitivities is a must,” said Dhingra.

Another challenge the team faced overseas was less anticipated. “Now and then you get a raised eyebrow from a potential client or a business partner when they see Vietnam on your business card,” admitted Dhingra. “It can be anything from being questioned about the team’s English proficiency to concerns about regional savvy.” Although she understands it’s all part of an emerging market reality as well as being a deep-seated bias that’s hard to shake, it doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating.

During the current, first phase of the expansion, the company’s number one priority is getting the new tech product into the market – a B2B marketing solution for automation in decision-making through the use of artificial intelligence – which, the team believes has a potential to go global. The real test of success, however, will come once the patent has been granted. The product’s performance, domestically and across the APAC region, will show if the agency’s expansion strategy can deliver. [C]

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