2014 Asia Conference


Asia: an ocean of opportunity for professional services marketers

More than 200 marketing and sales professionals attended the APSMA Asia Annual Conference, held recently in Hong Kong. 

This year’s Conference theme, ‘Waves of change, oceans of opportunity’, alluded to the bright prospects ahead for industry practitioners in the region. 

Now in its second year, this forum is APSMA Asia’s flagship event designed to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and networking for professional services marketers.
Dale Bryce, President of APSMA, opened the Conference and highlighted the tremendous growth opportunities Asia presents for marketers in his address. 

Speakers from across the profession: managing partners, corporate communications specialists, change managers and economists shared their vision on how this would likely take shape. Below is a snapshot of their insights.

Attributes of World Class Sales Performers

What does it take to succeed in the cut-throat world of professional services? What attributes or characteristics are required to perform at the very highest level?

In his keynote presentation, Mark Weston, Asia Pacific Head of Arcadia Consulting, said that high performers not only have the right skill-sets, but more importantly have the right mind-set to apply them with.  Weston believes that high performers share common personality traits, enabling them to consistently achieve high-level results.  These attributes include persistence, resilience to change, self-awareness, strong discipline and focus. He said that in a practical sense this means valuing your clients, focusing on and being aware of market opportunities, soliciting feedback, and being quick to follow-up.

But how do organisations go about identifying or developing high achievers? Weston identifies three behavioural traits that are common sense to many high-achievers, but not common practice in the vast majority. The first is visualising the desired outcome and creating a personal identity that matches, or goes beyond, what you want to achieve.  Second is challenging limiting beliefs by understanding how they are formed and testing the reliability of these references. Finally, success is about moving outside the comfort zone, being aware of the fear and pushing through it, to continually lift the bar to improved performance.

2014 APSMA Committee Photo:

Communicating change

Successful change management programs often start with a vision from the top. But making those changes stick relies upon sustained and targeted communications across the organisation across all levels.

Treena Nairne, People and Communications Leader, EY, and Mark Walters, Director of Communications, KPMG, shared their views on how communications can be a powerful agent for change.

Nairne said that effecting change was about building a sense of ownership among everyone across the business. However, achieving this requires more than communicating messages from senior management.  She said it was about understanding and addressing the emotive aspects of change – people’s fears, hopes and motivations – and using this as the foundation for engagement. 

Walters said that generating support for change requires developing relationships with the right individuals across a firm – not just with management.  But knowing where to look can be challenging. He said it was more about identifying people with a similar mind-set which meant looking beyond formal networks, and, instead, focusing on informal ones.

Making the switch: A BD professional makes partner
PwC Australia Partner Angelo Estrera’s life has been about transitions.

One of the few BD professionals to achieve the coveted title of partner, Angelo’s career has been about adapting to new situations. At a young age, he emigrated from the Philippines to the US. From there, his life was about change: new cities, new schools, and new people.

A life on the move taught him the importance of adaptability – a lesson he’s applied throughout his career. Angelo said that his life had been driven by the ‘immigrant mentality’ – the ability to evolve, change and adjust – a mind-set which is also critical to becoming a successful BD professional.

But it’s not just attitude that differentiates BD professionals.  It’s their ability to build long-term and sustainable relationships with the right stakeholders. Angelo said that “segmentation” is key – knowing who to meet and when. He also stressed it was important to focus on internal relationships as well as external ones (and while they can be more difficult to build, having good internal relationships can empower you to forge stronger ones with your clients).
Asia’s transforming financial system
The transformation of Asia’s financial systems will spur a new period of development and growth for the region’s markets.  This is likely to create new opportunities for professional services firms based here as economic activity intensifies.

According to Raymond Yeung, Senior Economist, ANZ Bank, three major trends will characterise this shift in economic power: the breadth and depth of Asia’s financial system will grow; the structure of capital markets will evolve; and the size and direction of trade flows will change significantly.

Yeung is mindful of the challenges ahead.  He said the region is at a cross-road. Many emerging markets in Asia have reached middle income levels following a period of rapid industrialisation. However, reaching the next stage of development will require new economic structures and policy frameworks. 

Central to the reforms required will be the deregulation and internationalisation of Asian market currencies. This will facilitate both the efficient deployment of capital, and facilitate greater volumes of trade within and outside the region.

Yeung highlights China as an example of this new reform push in Asia, which has transformed its economy into a global powerhouse through its series of strategic five year plans.
He said that the wave of reforms emerging from China is unprecedented and will run through the next decade. In the short-term, we’re likely to see China depreciate the RMB to build economic flexibility and drive outbound investment, liberalisation across industries will continue, and we’ll see a greater depth of activities from the financial sector. 

China has set an ambitious path for reform. But Yeung believes this will benefit overseas economies as China seeks investment opportunities abroad. He estimates China’s FDI could grow ten-fold to US$10 trillion by 2030.

Shifting landscape in professional services

While the future seems bright for professional services firms, what does this mean for the BD and marketing practitioners?

The prospects are strong, according to Graham Seldon, Managing Director, Seldon Gill Consulting. But they will face far heavier demands than ever before.   

Downward fee pressures, greater resource requirements in Mainland China, and evolving servicing demands are just a few of the challenges professional firms are experiencing. These constraints are making them relook at who they employ in BD and marketing roles.

Firms are increasingly on the look-out for BD and marketing professionals with more specialised and sophisticated skill-sets, according to Seldon. In-depth industry knowledge, high-level account management skills, pursuits and bid management expertise, and advanced internal communication skills are just some of the qualities firms are now seeking.

However the prospects are significant for practitioners with the right skills, Seldon believes. This is particularly the case in China where many companies are seeking to expand their presence in the Asia region and beyond. Many will require professional services to assist them on their journey.

Managing partner panel – Innovate or die
Managing partners from Hong Kong’s leading professional services firms discussed the ongoing need to adapt and innovate in Asia’s dynamic market place.  

Moderated by Robbie Knight, Regional Managing Partner of Heidrick & Struggles, the panellists included Justin D’Agostino of Herbert Smith Freehills, Annette Kimmitt from EY, and Stephen Revell of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

As companies have expanded their presence in Asia, so too have professional services firms. Not only have these firms been investing heavily in the region, many have also been relocating their senior partners here to drive growth in their businesses.

Stephen Revell said we are entering a new ‘digital’ age, adding that business in Asia has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. He said that clients are now demanding more sophisticated offerings as their organisations reach a critical mass in terms of size, market penetration and development. E-commerce, strategy, cloud-based solutions and data analytics are part of the service suite that professional firms now provide. 

Justin D’Agostino observed that the way we use digital to share thought leadership presents challenges, particularly to lawyers who are concerned with the balance between quality versus immediacy. 

The panel also discussed the growing role played by women as buyers of professional services. Annette Kimmitt revealed that globally, more than 50 percent of senior managers in charge of buying professional and legal services are women – representing a spend of over US$20 trillion per year. There are far fewer female partners in the legal and accounting professions, yet there is a growing gap between what clients want and what professional services firms are delivering. This is an area that firms need to look at when adapting sales and client account management models.

Capturing a share of these opportunities is a challenge all firms are now grappling with, but it is certainly clear that BD and marketing professionals have a key role to play in this new world. 

But how do the leaders of these firms see their role evolving in the future? The panellists agreed that it will require new skillsets and greater focus.  Firms will increasingly seek to recruit specialists in sales, data analytics, communications and social media.

Managing Partner Panel

A fond farewell
The Conference was also the swan song for outgoing ASPMA Hong Kong Chairman, James Donnan, who will still remain on the Committee.

He will be replaced by Nicholas Moore and Samantha Jayawardane as the incoming Chair and Deputy Chair respectively.

Nicholas Moore said, “On behalf of the Committee I wish to thank James for his many years of service in building APSMA in Hong Kong. His leadership, drive and energy have helped propel our industry body to its strong position today. I am delighted he will remain on the Committee and his continued support will be invaluable as we take APSMA forward.

To view presentations from the conference please click here.

Growing success with sponsors
APSMA Asia would like to thank our sponsors, without whom the offering of this Conference would not be possible. On behalf of our members, we want to share our heart-felt thanks to Arcadia Consulting, Seldon Gill Consulting, Baker & McKenzie, The Henley Group, Mergermarket, KPMG, Rooftop Film Co, Frey & Ford, epigram, Ginsberg+Chan, White Box, and Flight Centre.

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