Go to Market Strategy for South East Asia Region

This article has been put together based on writings by : Sethu Meenakshisundaram

SEA is not one homogeneous market, but a fragmented region of independent markets at different stages of development. OceanFrogs has produced this set of best practices and has compiled it into a knowledge base of sorts by talking to experts. Use the tips mentioned in this article to better target accounts in South East Asia.

Pragmatically Estimate your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost)

Be prepared to incur high CAC for the Singapore and Hong Kong markets. These markets are saturated with a lot of players and it can be difficult to find a lead.

Leverage Channel Partnerships and Direct Marketing Channels

  1. Campaigns for Singapore and Hong Kong can be in English.
  2. Make use of greetings and epithets in native language to endear yourself to your prospects.
  3. Wish your prospects on their native festivals to build relationships.
  4. Build a LinkedIn profile of your regional team with a native flavor.

Country Specific Tips

  1. Singapore is home to the local Head Quarters (HQ) of many MNC’s. Any business decision made would be in consultation with the global HQs. Factor in the additional time it might take to reach a decision.
  2. Philippines is a GIC/BPO focused country and a sizable number of family-owned conglomerates exist there. Approach prospects or plan expansions accordingly.
  3. Indonesia has a well-funded start-up cluster and processing industries. It can be the right starting point for your expansion plans.
  4. Malaysia is home to energy-related clusters, consulting/tech (big four and more), and semi-government companies. Be aware of the local regulations.

Be in it as a Long Term Player

  1. Convey that you are in the market for the long term. Make your intent to be in the market well known. Convey that the local team is there.
    Make sure your LinkedIn page and website says that you are present in the country.

Choose your country carefully!

Some of the considerations while selecting a country can be:

  • Your serviceable available market (horizontal/vertical, number of accounts, ACV et al.). In SEA, due to various advantages/constraints, your Serviceable Available Market (SAM) can be vastly different from the Total Addressable Market (TAM)
  • Initial set-up cost (SG/HK will be expensive to set-up than MY/TH)
  • Language (matters when you are one product vs. multi-product)
  • Ease of doing business (withholding taxes and currency fluctuations for example)

This list is non exhaustive. Customize the same for your use case.

Invest in building relationships!

Do your best to build relationships with key people in your prospects even if they aren’t really your immediate clients. OceanFrogs has done the hard work for you. Use the native epithets listed below and build relationships.



  • How are you?: apa kabar (sounds like: “apah ka-bar”) 

Ideally, their response will be kabar__baik (sounds like “ka-bar bike”), which means “fine” or “well.” You should respond with the same if asked apa kabar? Saying baik twice is a way to indicate that you are doing just fine. Personal relationships play a large role in Malaysian business culture. Trust is key to good business for them, and therefore they will be on a lookout for an honest commitment to the business relationship from you. Their business networks are often comprised of relatives and peers as nepotism is cultural presumed to guarantee trust. They will often ask many questions about your family and personal life, which can sometimes come across as direct and overly personal. However, it is not intended that way. In fact, they will expect you to ask the same of them. Wish them on their festivals. Key festivals have been outlined here for your reference.

  • Thaipusam – Jan/Feb 2021
  • Chinese New Year – Feb 2021
  • Malaysia Water Festival – April 2021
  • Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival – 30 & 31st May 2021
  • Wesak Day – May 2021
  • Hari Raya Aidil Fitri – June 2021
  • Sarawak Gawai Festival – 1st June 2021
  • Rainforest World Music Festival – July 2021
  • National Day – 31st Aug 2021
  • Mooncake Festival & Hungry Ghost Festival – Aug-Sep 2021
  • Hari Raya Haji – Oct 2021
  • Deepavali – Nov 2021
  • The Dragon Boat Festival – Dec 2021
  • Christmas – Dec 2020


Communication style – Closely related to the concept of ‘face’, the Philippine style of communication is indirect and takes into consideration the perception of the recipient. In order to save face and remain courteous, Filipinos rarely give a direct answer of ‘no’ and will generally avoid disagreements, rejections and confrontational behavior, especially when a superior is involved. The word ‘yes’ is often used to disguise more negative responses and avoid causing embarrassment or offence. ‘Yes’ may mean ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll think about it’ or even an outright ‘no’. You will have to be more alert to the subtle cues hidden in conversation such as nonverbal communication, to help decipher meaning. This ambiguity in response means that it can take longer to get a firm negative answer.

Pakikisama – This Philippine cultural concept, loosely translated as ‘group loyalty’, is an important cultural value in the Philippines and defines the social need for comradeship and general consensus. ‘Pakikisama’ is closely linked with maintaining harmony and as a result, disagreement and interpersonal tension are considered negative aspects of behavior. In business terms, it is often necessary to gain a group decision
before proceeding further which can make negotiations seem more indefinite and take more time.


Salamat (sa-la-mat) / Thank you

Kumusta? (ku-moos-ta) / How are you doing?



  • Indirect Communication – As an extension of the need to maintain harmonious relations, the Singaporean people rely heavily on indirect communication. They rely less on words and are more attentive to posture, expression and tone of voice to draw meaning. Speech is ambiguous as they may
    often understate their point. The purpose of this is to maintain harmony throughout the conversation and prevent a loss of face on either end of the exchange. The best way of navigating this rhetoric to find the underlying meaning is to check for clarification several times.

  • Refusals – A Singaporean person’s preoccupation with saving face and politeness means they will seldom give a direct ‘no’ or a negative response, even when they do not agree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say and double check your understanding by asking for their opinion. Though they may not willingly speak up to contest an idea, they generally give their honest
    opinion when invited to do so.

  • Voice – Speaking loudly can be seen as rude and overbearing in Singapore.

Make use of these tips and tricks to better target your prospects in the South East Asia region.

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