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Sales / Marketing

Harnessing cyber power

by Ada Ng

Brian Wong
head of global sales
Alibaba.com
Photo: Edde Ngan

E-commerce giant continues to innovate and expand globally

Taking advantage of the economic downturn, one highly successful e-commerce business has stepped up its portal services and overseas marketing activities to create new opportunities for small enterprises and bolster online trading activities between East and West.

"Last year was a year of investment to us," says Brian Wong, head of global sales, Alibaba.com. Although businesses in the US, Europe and across Asia faced many challenges, the company did not sit back and wait for an economic revival, he adds.

Instead, the operation spent money and effort to educate small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on using the internet to grow.
"We believe that SMEs are at the heart of economic growth. By supporting and empowering them, we're driving the economy towards quicker recovery and subsequent growth."
Alibaba.com's investments last year included a number of new product offerings to facilitate ease of trade along the supply chain. The company also ran sponsorships and competitions to reward creative and entrepreneurial SMEs.

Established in 1999 with 45.3 million registered users worldwide, Alibaba.com is a mainland-based business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce company that offers online "marketplaces" for buyers and suppliers around the world to conduct trading and business matching activities.

Its three marketplaces are alibaba.com (a global trade marketplace for importers and exporters), alibaba.com.cn (a Chinese marketplace for domestic trade on the mainland) and alibaba.co.jp (a Japanese marketplace to facilitate trade to and from Japan).

Changing patterns

Every business in the world will use Alibaba.com or something similar over time, Mr Wong predicts. B2B e-marketplaces were traditionally used in the US and Europe as a tool to source low-cost products and materials from mainland China. This has changed noticeably since last year's economic crisis.

With China's domestic consumption and purchasing power growing rapidly, many Chinese buyers are now looking for imports from further afield. Also, as purchases slow down in Europe and the US, suppliers are more open to trade with emerging Asian markets.

One product that is actively traded on Alibaba.com is wine, with buyers from Hong Kong and the mainland looking for deals. Other highly sought-after items by Asian importers include luxury consumer products, pharmaceutical products and automobile parts.

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles hindering global expansion, Mr Wong notes. "Over the past year, we tried to get people to realise that they don't have to travel to trade shows to get exposure. They can simply put their products on an e-marketplace for year-round international visibility."

The company last year launched its new Global Gold Supplier (GGS) service, offering international suppliers authentication and verification and additional visibility in the Alibaba marketplace. Before that, only Chinese suppliers were given a "Gold Supplier" status. The new service creates a unified product offering so that all international suppliers enjoy equal visibility. "This is important in a truly international marketplace, where you want to have representatives from different countries."

Alibaba.com's efforts have paid off. Web activity increased significantly last year and paid customers went up 34 per cent from 432,000 in 2008 to 578,000 in the third quarter of 2009. The highest growth regions included the US, the UK and India.

Online suppliers and buyers from the UK alone saw a 42 per cent year-on-year growth as of the third quarter in 2009, while registered users and paid customers in India recorded increases of 58 per cent and 154 per cent respectively. Mr Wong adds that opportunities in a down market are with small businesses that are alert adaptable.

Facilitating trade

With Alibaba.com's core business centred on a B2B e-marketplace, the company's focus is on bringing in new products and value-added services that makes business trading simpler.

"Regardless of our members' business locations, we want to make it easy for them to find business partners and access financing, organise logistics, verify the identity of prospective partners and conduct transactions," explains Mr Wong.

The company's new AliExpress service allows buyers to purchase and transact directly in small product quantities for sampling or trial purposes. A third-party online payment platform, Alipay, has been introduced on AliExpress to facilitate online payment transactions and an Ali-loan service has also been expanded in 2009 to help more Chinese SMEs access bank loans on the strength of their Alibaba.com transaction histories and records.

To support Alibaba.com's global expansion strategy, Mr Wong anticipates that it will expand both its local and worldwide sales teams. The company prefers candidates with an international business background or online business experience, but good insights into SME business and the ability to adapt to the fast-paced internet business environment are prerequisites.

Alibaba.com offers two to four weeks of induction training to sales professionals at its Hangzhou headquarters, focusing primarily on company culture, core values and team building. Selling techniques specifically applicable to SMEs and the e-marketplace are also covered.

Taking business online

  • Internet trade activities and interaction growing rapidly
  • New service platforms increase ease of trade
  • Global expansion requires bigger sales force

Taken from Career Times 5 February 2010, B2


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