Amy Karam, author of the book, The China Factor:Strategies to Compete, Grow and Win in the New Global Economy, recently was interviewed at Google’s Mountain View campus, providing insight for companies to better compete.
“The main intention of “The China Factor” is to equip western-based companies with strategies and tactics and knowledge to better compete with emerging entrants like those from China,” says Karam. “China has risen, they’re doing a great job, there a strong force in our economy and they do business differently. The premises is that we as western-based companies need to change our game. We need to know that emerging competitors have different approaches and we need to be more creative about that.”
“The other element is the innovation advantage and how do we protect or maintain and evolve our innovation advantage?” she asks. “How did China become so strong? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each side, the West and the East?”
Working for Cisco in China Was Eye Opening
Karam’s time at Cisco where she was involved in the Cisco sales strategy shaped her opinions of how Western companies can better compete. “The results were eye opening,” she said. “Wow, this isn’t business as usual. It’s not like our domestic competitors. It’s not a product superiority play anymore, where it’s like my box is better than your box so I’ll win the business. That’s not what was happening in emerging markets and especially with some emerging competitors.”
“That was the catalyst for me to say, wow, this is not a trend, this is not a blip, this is here to stay.” She noted some big competitive differences with Chinese companies. “First is the severe price discounting and that’s no shocker right? Most of us know that that’s generally a pretty consistent market penetration strategy, but there was really no bottom to it. I encountered a lot of escalations where they say, hey my competitors just discounted me by another 25% and I need approval for another discount. We realized that wasn’t going to be a successful strategy for either competitor and even for the customer, it wasn’t a winning game.”
“Another big thread was financing, which we didn’t really get into very much as a Western based company but that’s a a real helpful tool for emerging customers. This competitor would help them with financing and to an extreme degree. Sometimes they would help finance over a very long
period of time and that was a real great value to these emerging markets customers.”
“Another huge trend that came up was the use of politics to influence business decisions,” Karam said. “We’re like whoa, where did that come from what do we do about that? I would get escalated complaints from emerging markets that we’ve been working this deal for two years, we had in the bag and in the eleventh hour they would just say it was a an influence from above and we have no idea where it came from. It was government-to-government influencing for business decisions at a more granular level.”
What Can Western companies Do at the Practical Level?
“For those who are business geeks, you know there are the 4 P’s of marketing… product, price, place, promotion, so I created the 5th “P” which is politics,” said Karam. “I created the 5 P’s of Global Marketing framework. Because this has become such a a big world but it’s small at the same time, we need market access, we want to play and other peoples sandboxes, but there are certain rules and there are certain limitations that we need to encounter. When Google pulled out of China in 2010 for censorship reasons that was a big decision and the implications were huge. You could have affected 1.5 billion people in terms of access to knowledge, but there were really good reasons and those were the the boundaries within which a Western based company decided that they did not want to operate.”
“Recent headlines say that Google is going back in,” says Karam. “So market access is really important and reach is really important, so the political element is knowing that co-oppetition is is the new element. It’s an integral part of a strategy going forward, it’s not us versus them. It’s how do we all play together within our own boundaries and desirables to get ultimately the success that we need. That’s it at a high level.”
“Then how do we at the working level deal with politics?” she asks. “Politics even happens at the organizational level and generally there’s a pretty negative connotation to politics, but it’s really important, we can’t ignore it anymore, we we need to embrace it and apply it.
“So how do we apply it from a sales perspective is to educate the sales teams on some of the tools available from the US government and the local governments in the different countries,” asks Karam. “How can they engage with their own government to help influence their own sales locally? Reaching out to the consulates, how do you get them involved, how do you know that some of these deal opportunities are happening early on in the game? There may be unfair trade issues that you’re experiencing so that maybe some intervention sooner rather than later so it’s not at the eleventh hour when we oftentimes hear about it.”
“We’re also organizationally changed and we’re able to convince the senior vice president of government affairs to shift the focus from just a policy perspective to helping with sales objectives,” she says. “Using the influence that they have in the government affairs group for more of the end result in terms of numbers and not just policy has been very effective.”
How Should Western Companies Evolve and Change?
“Very simply, go global,” says Karam. “A lot of times Western based companies have been hesitant to go global. The second part is let’s move out of emerging markets being a novelty. I think a lot of Western based companies dabble in emerging markets thinking it’s really cool, it’s let’s try it out let’s throw a few people and in there and see how it works out, and then… oh no, not making the ROI that we need so we need to pull out. It needs to be a longer-term investment, it needs to be a commitment and you need to know that it’s it’s not just a temporary thing.”
“Make sure that your product development is catering or customizing to local customer needs,” she says. “We can’t just recycle, saying this is a mature product in this market and let’s just throw it over the fence and see if they’re going to like our old product.
How Can Western Companies Maintain Their Innovation Advantage?
“Every company, East to West, really wants to be innovative because that’s where the next phase of growth comes from,” says Karam. “We see contingents of emerging folks coming to Silicon Valley wanting to learn the secret of how is Silicon Valley innovative, how do you do it how do you become creative? But the idea is that we have to also be creative – we have to be innovative at being innovative, so you can’t just the rest on your laurels. This whole concept of innovation is evolving and as more players from different backgrounds are becoming innovative they’re bringing different business models.”
“Some business model innovations are coming from the East,” she says. “They’re really good and commercializing things and we’re really good at making things, really cool things, but they’re really good at making money yet from really cool things or even making money from ok cool things.”
“We also talked about supply chain or process innovation,” said Karam. “There’s the reputation of manufacturing, they’ve got it down. One venture capitalist who I interviewed for the book says, you know all this business about bringing manufacturing back to America, we don’t have the efficiencies, we don’t have the ecosystems yet to do that, and some of the Eastern countries do. We need to either establish that ecosystem or just understand that there’s there’s a different source of innovation happening out there.”
“What I’m saying s let’s get more creative, let’s figure out what’s our what’s our innovation 2.0,” she says. “How are we going to step up our game and learn from others as well?”