We add 8 new learnings and approaches to B2B sales picked up from our podcast from B2B founders in Southeast Asia across industries and markets

9 More Learnings and Best Practices on Enterprise SaaS and B2B sales for Southeast Asia Startups

We add 8 new learnings and approaches to B2B sales picked up from our podcast from B2B founders in Southeast Asia across industries and markets

Back in an October 2021 article, we identifed best practices when it comes to B2B sales from our conversations with B2B founders on the podcast. We listed eight of them: 

  1. Focus on PMF to unlock the right go-to-market strategy, but it pays to be global-first from day one.
  2. Build global credibility and branding through strategic, institutional partnerships. 
  3. Leverage industry network effects and communicate peer case studies and best practices. 
  4. Don’t just sell for the buyer, sell for the end-user or end-consumer, and create a win-win proposition. 
  5. Strengthen distribution by going the extra mile in relationship building
  6. Create a seamless customer experience from deal origination to customer success 
  7. Maximize the SaaS advantage through product iterations that bring together “big picture” and “small picture” insights.
  8. Prioritize technology availability (automated testing) and security (ISO certification). 

Around six months later, we’re back with a new set of B2B sales best practices as we’ve had a lot more conversations with B2B founders (or founders of startups with a significant B2B component) from Season 3 and Season 4 of On Call with Insignia

Apart from just having more material to work with, we’ve also seen how there are a lot more startups going the “OS for X” trajectory even if they were not originally SaaS companies, as more businesses are willing to use full-stack digital solutions for various needs. There are also more software enablers emerging to meet specific industries or market segments from the get-go. 

In particular we put together nine more practices or approaches to driving B2B sales (both SMEs and enterprise):

  1. Keep an eye on “end-user” success beyond customer success is key to finding real product market fit
  2. Proper digitalization is not just about tech but also metrics
  3. End-users can be part of the enterprise sales process too
  4. Don’t just rely on tech to drive customer experience across global reach
  5. Ensure product reliability with big guys to win brand credibility
  6. Take the “How can I be helpful?” approach to regulators 
  7. Retain control of product scalability by selling the “generic” version
  8. Create healthy circulation of data in multi-product strategy
  9. Flexibility is key for multi-stage (i.e. both SMEs and enterprise) customer businesses

(1) “End-User” Success vs Customer Success: Key to Real Product Market Fit

In the first edition of B2B sales, we wrote about the importance of selling for the end-user as these personas are often different, especially when dealing with enterprise customers. 

In a continuation of that thread, we also write about the importance of having customer success teams and post-sales processes in place to actually ensure that the products are not just sold for the end-users but there is actually an uptake in the product from these end-users.

Ritase CTO and co-founder David Samuel writes in a contribution piece the typical scenario that happens when software sales doesn’t take into account the end-users. 

“Our customer is typically the logistics head or VP of the supply chain or the one who attends the pitch presentation in the company headquarters and decides which tech platform will be implemented in their company.  

On the other hand, the users of our platform are the daily workers, transport planners, and administrators in the warehouse, factories, or distribution centers. 

Some companies can make a beautiful pitch deck, nice looking frontend with great UI animation, woo the logistics VP and heads, and get a positive nod to have a trial, only to find out the software isn’t being used properly in day-to-day operation by the users. 

There could be a variety of issues: slow loading time, misalignment in the problems being solved, the product only adding more unnecessary steps to an already complex process, etc. 

Then six months later, thanks to disillusioned users, the dashboard is not reporting the correct data because the platform is not being used properly. Then the customers decide to choose other tech platforms, and the cycle continues. We believe that we need to achieve a balance between the expectations of our customers and users.”

He then writes about how Ritase ensures “change management” is taking place with the help of their solutions.

“Even early on in Ritase, our product and engineering teams sit together with the real users for months in the warehouse, before even writing tech spec documentation and beginning to code the app just to make sure every part of our frontend helps them make the process faster and accurate.

And once our clients start using our platform, our customer success team makes sure the “change management” is really taking place in our client’s company and delivering results for them.” 

In some cases, the change management is influenced by industry or society-wide shifts, as mental health tech company Intellect CEO Theodoric Chew observed and shared on our podcast.  

“One big thing is that we’ve seen a lot more alignment with corporations, insurers, and us as people providing mental health care to these companies. Companies are a lot more attuned and aligned to actually driving this with us as well. So it has become very clear [to companies] that you want to make this a priority in workplaces. 

So we get a lot more push, and credit to our client success team, they do a great job actually pushing this to workforces and we see best-in-class adoption rates of workforces, anywhere from 20% to 40% of the workforce use Intellect in the first few months of rolling it out. It’s quite a strong point here whereby people need it and we are resonating well with like workforces.” 

Even then, Intellect still makes sure that they’re not just, as Theodoric puts it, “a B2B that companies get on and it just sits there on the shelf”, and that their mental health platform and programs become proactive habits, and not reactive measures. They are able to have visibility on this engagement through the very product itself and customer success teams.  

Theo continues, “We help companies in a few ways from their well-being improvements. They are ensuring that [the programs] get utilized, right? That’s a big thing that we help drive and make sure, that it’s not a checkbox that the company’s HR teams roll out and source out. We have always ingrained ourselves as an end-user experience whereby we’re not being a B2B to them that companies get on and it just sits there on the shelf. We want to build something that people actively use — daily, weekly, monthly, whatever the case that they want to use it for as well. So I think that’s been very, very core to what we’ve been building towards.” 

Of course the key reason to ensure end-user engagement and retention is to see if product-market fit is cost-driven or product-driven, the former which can turn out to be crippling for the business if market factors force cost advantages out the window and there was no product-driven adoption to begin wiith. 

Another important reason is that for Intellect, they work with companies that have teams in various geographies, and monitoring and supporting this “end-user success” is key to their hyperlocalization advantage. And for clients that perhaps might roll out adoption slowly, seeing on the ground results materialize can speed up implementation in other geographies as well. This ultimately becomes part of their value proposition. In other words, one great “end-user” success begets another. 

Theo shares one example on our podcast. “With Shopback, for example, one of the great clients that we have worked with very closely since the start of the year, we helped push this, not just to Singapore, but from a region-wide perspective. And it got taken up so well they had to expand [utilization] to different markets. That’s one that speaks true to the fact that what we push, it’s not only towards clinical needs, but it’s very much streamlined for an everyday use case. Taking in account that most people’s struggles are real. It may not be so real to the point that it needs to be clinical in nature, but people do struggle enough. They do need support.”

In the case of Intellect’s buyers/customers (i.e. the leadership of these MNCs), they find it important to also have visibility into the end-user success, and so if the product is effective, which it has proven to be, it also works to “sell” continued retention of the product throughout the entire organization. 

Theo continues, “So to get into some hard examples, high utilization is one key thing, more people actually being engaged in their workforces. We help companies measure this in terms of their output, their motivation and then just overall driving the point that there will eventually be better outcomes for the company in terms of less turnover, less causes of people being ill and falling sick. So [these are] different points that we help companies quantify, not just qualitatively report on.”  

(2) Proper digitalization is not just about tech but also metrics

Digital enablers when entering traditional offline (or legacy software-enabled) markets, digitalization is not just a matter of plugging in new software, but more likely also changing mindsets and business practices. 

In the case of Ritase, proper digitalization in logistics was about enabling companies to focus on reducing waste and optimizing processes, as opposed to trying to extract savings from predatory price negotiations with their vendors, putting relationships at risk. 

Ritase CTO David explains this in his article, “What we’ve seen from our work in Indonesia is that incumbent logistics companies tend to focus more on negotiating with the vendor transporters and pushing them to lower their quotation transportation fees every year. This approach is not healthy for both parties, as it can backfire and the sustainability of the vendor relationship could be damaged. 

The truth is that proper digitalization in logistics allows planners and managers to discover areas of waste in their transportation strategy through route and load planning optimization, lead time identification between warehouse and delivery, and other methods, so they can improve operational efficiency based on historical data and create more value for the supply chain. 

Case study: Within 5 months of using our TMS, one of our enterprise customers successfully reduced their logistics cost and saved $178k monthly. It’s a very good deal considering our TMS subscription costs a fraction of what they save monthly (less than 10% of what they save monthly in logistics costs).” 

The key takeaway here is that driving adoption for this software is also about selling the right metrics, and ideally, these metrics don’t worsen the root cause pain points of the industry (which most of the time don’t even have anything to do with tech at all).  

(3) End-Users can be part of the enterprise sales process too

For Intellect, their go-to-market to build a trusted brand and distribution was a self-care app that was rapidly adopted globally. What does this have to do with their B2B business?

For one, there’s brand recognition. And second, the users of the B2C business eventually became product evangelists for B2B adoption as well. 

The virtuous cycle of driving adoption and retention between the B2C and B2C businesses has been a key growth channel for Intellect.

As Theodoric shares on our podcast, “So we use B2C as a very strong growth channel for our core business. And in 2021 by having 2.5 million users, and then having won one of Google’s best apps of the year last year, it creates a lot of trust as a young brand. That helped a lot with how we could reach partners and clients [at scale]. We also get a lot of clients that come in initially as users themselves and are either HR or are themselves, someone who wants to bring Intellect to their workforces. So that’s been [going] pretty well for us in many ways.”

Of course this doesn’t mean every B2B business should go out and create a B2C version. It worked in Intellect’s case given the nature of the solution and the problem. Mental health care, even if sold company-wide, involves very much personal, consumer-level engagement. The real takeaway here, beyond having a B2C business / growth channel is to have distribution channels that reach the end-users, apart from selling to decision-makers, because these end-users can be helpful in the sales process as well. 

(4) Don’t just rely on tech to drive customer experience across global reach 

Then when it comes to Intellect’s hyperlocalization advantage, which we’ve covered before, it’s not just about ensuring “end-user success” as mentioned above. It’s also about having local partners, in this case on-the-ground therapists or healthcare professionals and local insurers, working with local teams.

As Theo shares on our podcast, “I’d say it’s a mix. For us, we don’t just do an AI self-guided piece. A lot of it’s driven by the extra human touch. It’s the live professionals we connect with people. So it’s both through software, but also through us customizing things by the market as well that has helped us win a fair bit of the market share in a sense.

I would say the challenge in what we’re trying to drive and move towards more quickly is hyper localizing it towards Asia-wide needs and use cases basically. So we set up from English in  Southeast Asia. Now we are live in 11 languages. We have therapists on the ground in twelve countries across APAC. The goal is not just for English-speaking markets, but anywhere in Asia that needs access to care where a lot of our clients have a presence. How can we help support them in a very local, nuanced way? Because one thing that we have won in many ways against the big US companies and credit to them, they’ve done a great job building the whole industry and paved the way for players like us to come in and do something that’s hyper-localized to Asia.

A key thing is that we win by adding nuance to an Asian perspective on mental health. In the US It’s not without stigma, but it’s a lot more open than in Asia. With us here, we understand that by market, even between Singapore and Indonesia, or the Philippines and Thailand, there are different nuances. So we hyper-localize it. We get [our solutions] very much geared up for an individual in the local market with actual, live native professionals. That makes it very, very attuned to them.”

The value of local partnerships is not just to navigate the nuances of the market, but also to drive down the costs. Such is the case for plant-based foodtech Float Foods, where global commercialization of their recently launched plant-based whole egg OnlyEg comes with ensuring costs don’t become a burden on the consumer and ideally even reaching price parity with regular eggs. 

Given the tenuous nature of global supply chains especially during this period, having local distribution partners is all the more important, as Float Foods CEO Vinita Choolani points out on our podcast

“[Supply chains are] certainly challenging because we are also being impacted with all these shipping issues with logistics and supply chain, but I think, once all of these current issues — there’s a war going on and people have been suffering from the back of COVID — when these things settle, I hope at some point then it will be a lot easier, but it is challenging for us to have to deal with that because the price of transport and supply has gone up on both sides, both equipment and basically distribution all have gone up. So we have to take that into consideration as well.

So we’re looking for partners in the US market and the UK market. if they have a strategic infrastructure in place for distribution, we would love to reach out to them. We already speaking to some of them in the US and UK, but that is the way for us to go.”

(5) Ensure Product Reliability with Big Guys to Win Brand Credibility 

When launching a SaaS product, especially one aimed towards enterprise one of the biggest challenges is building trust and credibility within the industry. For Verihubs, they focused on ensuring product reliability and brand credibility, with the latter meaning they went for industry players whose adoption meant that other players in that industry and even others would find it easier to trust their solutions as well. In particular, they worked to secure banks like Commonwealth Bank and Bank BCA, the largest private bank in Indonesia.  

Verihubs CEO Rick Firnando explains why they went for big banks first on our podcast. “I think the biggest challenge we’ve faced was during the first time we launched the product, and the biggest challenge was building trust. It’s not only happened to us, but also many other software-as-a-service companies in the B2B landscape. And getting your first customer is really hard.

The way we tackle these challenges was we made sure our product solves our customer’s problems. This is the first one, and we really paid attention to our product reliability because [we’re] in B2B market sales; your product has to be reliable. And the last one was getting their credibility, which is why we dealt with banks and fintechs in the first place. Having big banks as our customers definitely will help us to get more customers because everyone knows earning trust from banks is not that easy.”

Of course winning the brand credibility through these big clients would not work with product reliability. 

(6) “How can I be helpful?” Approach to Regulators 

When it comes to frontier industries or technologies, with respect to regulation, it’s important to be able to build strong relationships with regulators and even become their reference or resource when it comes to formulating policies or frameworks. 

Such has been the approach of Brankas, as CEO Todd Schweitzer shares on our podcast. “The approach that Brankas has taken is, not the cowboy approach of, “Do it and we’ll face the regulator if and when it becomes a problem.” I think from day one, we’ve been very transparent, black-and-white with the regulators, and this is not just with the central banks and the financial regulators. It’s also [with organizations] like the national privacy commission in the Philippines, which is a dedicated data privacy watchdog that makes sure that customer data is protected and being handled securely across industries. In Indonesia, data handling and authentication is covered across bank Indonesia OJK and Comminfo the IT ministry. So I think really across the region, the regulators have been really receptive.

So our approach is being as helpful as we can possibly be to the regulator. That [open finance] is not a boogeyman. They have the benefit of case studies from other countries. We are participants in case studies in other countries and sharing that knowledge has been really helpful. We try to share our experiences of what’s happening in other countries, not just in ASEAN, but outside of Southeast Asia, for example, the open banking lessons learned, good and bad, I would say, coming out of Europe, as well as interesting open banking regimes in the Middle East now.”

There’s building relationships with regulators, then there’s also scaling that through thought leadership and industry influence. In the case of Brankas, Todd became director of the Open Banking Exchange in Asia, leading the way for greater exchange of best practices in open banking across economies and markets in the region. 

As Todd explains on our podcast, “Late last year I joined as the director of the Open Banking Exchange in Asia and the open banking exchange or OBE is basically the large industry association for open banking FIs, technology companies, service providers, aggregators in Europe. There’s been a lot of effort with the MAS in Singapore and with the World Bank to set up OBE operations here so that the industry can come together and share these best practices in a more formal way. So I’m excited to be participating in building the Open Banking Exchange in Asia and that’s good for Brankas. It’s good for Brankas’s competitors. and it’s good for consumers that would benefit from an open finance ecosystem here, but someone needs to, basically push that rock up the hill to come to some agreement within the industry and also share case studies with the regulators to speed up adoption. So that’s a big part of what Brankas does.” 

(7) Retain control of product scalability by selling the “generic” version

When it comes to SaaS solutions, it’s easy to fall into the trap early on of catering too much to early adopter preferences that the product no longer becomes scalable. Ultimately, one of the key elements of a SaaS business is that the software can be used at scale, and even then customization features can be part of the product. 

In the case of Verihubs, because they worked with AI-driven solutions, it was even more important that they didn’t fall into the customization trap, and took greater control over what they were selling. 

CTO Williem Williem shares on our podcast how they approached selling their “generic” version, “It’s one of the lessons that we have learned during building Verihubs, because sometimes clients want solutions tailored for them. And we are trying to build the general versions of the customer’s needs, because sometimes when customers request something, they don’t really know how to use it. They don’t really learn how to maximize the power of these AI technologies. 

And instead of relying on the customer needs, we are trying to talk with the customers and give some kind of explanation for them that our generic versions of the solutions are the best one for them to integrate, because they don’t really need to spend more resources on user experience testing or something because the solution that we have has been tested, has been researched by our team to provide the maximum capability.”

Building this generic, scalable version of course comes with truly understanding the underlying pain points. In other words, “customization” or taking into account the diverse needs of users should already be part of the product development process and not during or after the product is sold. 

Williem gives an example on our podcast. “For example, I can share that our liveness detections at first really focus only on the technology. And we gave the power for our clients to choose what kind of customer onboarding, and we just give it to our clients first. But the lesson learned that we found is that we could not really give bandwidth for them. Instead we focused on building our kind of “general version” and they can easily use our generic versions, and it is much more [effective] in realizing the customer’s needs from that perspective. The important keyword should be to make the generic version after talking to the customers; do not make the generic version without talking to the customers.”

(8) Create healthy circulation of data in multi-product strategy

As we mentioned at the start of this article, SaaS companies are no longer just purely SaaS companies. Some will use commerce as a go-to-market or leverage SaaS to enter a marketplace business that opens up ownership over customer journeys and unlocks adjacencies. In the case of these businesses that tap into commerce or marketplaces, the key is to be able to create data circulation that informs the SaaS component and which then flows back into the commerce experience of the customers. 

In the case of Wifkain, they leverage data from B2B textile trading transactions they digitize and facilitate on their platform to help customer merchants and factories to better access working capital with their partner fintechs, as CEO Sara Sofyan explains on our podcast.

“Last year has been a growth year in terms of the consumer side for us. In 2021, we grew 11 times more than them compared to the previous year. This year, the focus for us is to digitize the merchants. And [to do that], we capture a lot of data and grow the merchant side as well. That will create support in terms of faster growth of SKUs that will get those retention rates, in terms of customers as well, and provide enough data with other adjacencies as well.

We worked with one of our key merchants for over a year now. And before the first order when we actually worked with them, their factories were very underutilized. It’s not really good for their financial books and also the growth of the factory itself.

Once we engaged with them and we kept on building up orders with them, connecting them into a wider distribution network, now we actually already contribute almost 25% over their full capacity. So that actually unlocked an additional revenue of 25%, which is huge. 

So it’s not only that the data can provide pre-approved or easier access to financing to the buyers. It also provides the opportunity of getting a lot easier working capital for the factories. So as we’re currently speaking, the fintech is currently undertaking an assessment to provide the working capital facility to the factories, which previously had very limited access to funding from any financial services companies.”

Along the same lines, CrediBook’s wholesale commerce platform CrediMart creates a data circulation between CrediMart and their initial product bookkeeping app to retain customers. 

We cover this in more depth in this case study, but as CEO Gabriel Frans explains on our podcast, “Although [manual bookkeeping] is a pain point for them, their main problem usually revolves around transactions during the pandemic, especially [when] they [make] orders or receive orders via WhatsApp or online, and they need to capture that because their sales have already dropped by 20% on average. 

We talked to them and we [realized] that we need to help them on [these] transactions too, and a lot of our users are also wholesalers. That’s why Credibook is centered around wholesalers. We are giving them capabilities to handle orders online, providing pay-later and also logistics support for them, so they can [remove] their long lines, manual stock management and [lack of] customer management.” 

(9) Flexibility is key for multi-stage customer businesses

For businesses whose services have evolved to cater to both SMEs and enterprise customers, flexibility becomes all the more important. This is different from the “customization trap” we talked about earlier. Instead, the business naturally, as a result of its own development, the assets and distribution to readily meet the needs of various customers. Monetization and pricing as well should already have been developed to cater to different scenarios and price sensitivities. 

This flexibility is rooted in knowing the differences in pain points for different types of customers (in this case, between SMEs and enterprise), as Shipper COO Budi Handoko explains. 

“Small businesses and large businesses that have different problems. For small businesses, their problem is actually, how do they scale up? How do they make sure that they actually focus on the marketing, focus on the sales or adding new products without worrying about the logistics piece?

Meanwhile, for the larger businesses, all they want is efficiency. They start looking into efficiency. They start looking into data integrity. They start looking into real SLA. They start looking into the satisfaction of the customer as well. So we’ve worked with different larger businesses. One of the examples is Matahari.com, where we actually manage all their ecommerce fulfillment, from our facility in Balaraja. And the metrics that we are talking about are different from the smaller sellers. And a lot of those are mostly just because they’re different business scales.

So I think besides serving these small to medium enterprises, we also serve the larger customers which require warehousing. These businesses also have two kinds of businesses: ecommerce fulfillment, which is normal traditional ecommerce, but they also have their other fulfillment, which is a B2B business. So that is also another sector where we add value to our customers, so that they actually don’t need to rent big, full warehouses for their B2B businesses. They can run a small portion at our shared warehouse, but they can still run their B2B businesses, while using our service too.” 

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Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.