Is AR really considered strategic in APJ?
That’s a pretty scary question for me to ask, when I spend many of my working hours pitching the strategic value of AR to ICT vendors and service providers of all shapes and sizes. It’s a question posed partly out of frustration, but mostly out of curiosity.
As with many of these things, it took a single event to trigger broader consideration of the state of AR across APJ, and how this marketing discipline is truly regarded by vendors.
The trigger was a phone call from the regional AR lead for a large multinational vendor telling me she was leaving – this week – to take on a bigger, more challenging role with another vendor. Not unusual, this happens all the time – personnel turnover is just part & parcel of the IT business – but it left me wondering, what happens now?
Out of respect for the individual and the company she most recently worked for, I’m not going to name names, though many folks reading this will know who I’m talking about. She’d be embarrassed to hear it, but her departure will leave a gaping hole in the marketing communication function within the vendor concerned, though there are several others who contribute positively to the AR program in various ways.
Without doubt, this individual is one of the savviest AR professionals I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with her on several projects at a couple of different vendors. She is held in high regard by all the analysts in the region who matter – and many who don’t – as well as by her internal stakeholders and spokespeople. She “gets” the strategic value of AR, and is a passionate advocate of leveraging AR to influence sales.
When she took on the role of AR lead at this vendor, the APJ AR program had been in hiatus for over a year. It was performing poorly in our AR perception study, Understanding the Influencers, but over a couple of years she was able to bring it back into the leadership groups in the market segments where it competed.
In praise of “AR heroes”
But this isn’t a story about this individual or the company she worked for. It’s not a criticism of that vendor, or the other folks who contributed to the AR program – it’s about the bigger picture of AR in the APJ region. She is just one of a handful of “AR heroes” who lead the profession in this region, who apply their passion and organisational skills to deliver great results for their employers, despite having far fewer resources at their disposal than their peers in other parts of the world.
And this is pretty much the nub of the issue. Vendors continue to under-invest in AR in the APJ region, though they have some great champions who punch above their weight. I’ve seen this scenario before, and sadly, I think I will again.
In most cases, vendor AR programs in this region are driven by single individuals, some of whom juggle their AR responsibilities with other disciplines such as PR or market intelligence. They are generally supported by other marcomms professionals to a greater or lesser degree, as they should be – they’re generally engaging with analysts in at least six of the 13 or more countries included in their sales territory.
When one of those individuals leaves a vendor, so too does much of the knowledge built up about the analysts & which ones are the most important, which areas they focus on, how they like to engage with the vendor, and much, much more. Rarely is there any succession planning, so the search for a replacement often starts with a blank sheet of paper and a long lead time.
In the meantime, the AR program slowly grinds to a crawl, if not a complete halt. Analysts are demanding individuals – when they’re being looked after, they’re happy, but when the information flow dries up, they can become difficult. They become reluctant to recommend vendors & solutions to their clients, because they’re not sure they have the latest insights & information.
Different strokes for different folks
This situation wouldn’t be tolerated at “headquarters”, but it’s situation normal in APJ. Why do vendors continue to under-invest in AR in APJ? Is it that they don’t consider AR strategic? Or that they don’t consider the APJ markets important? Or both?
Maybe it’s because vendors tend to apply standard frameworks across the world, regardless of the local market conditions. One analyst whose opinions I respect – located in APJ but supporting clients worldwide – has repeatedly told me over the years that most vendors regard APJ as a sales territory, therefore not requiring any depth in product management or marketing. Another – who also has extensive regional marketing experience – has often lamented that there is no correlation between regional marketing budgets (low) and regional sales targets (high).
I’ve certainly seen plenty of these situations – global marketing budget cuts of 10% imposed universally, including in countries growing sales at +100% each quarter! Global headcount freezes placing regional AR requisitions on hold indefinitely, despite “exceptional circumstances” bypassing the rules back at headquarters. The list goes on…
As I noted in my earlier post Why do AR in APJ? this region is home to two of the fastest growing economies in the world – China & India – which are buying technology at unprecedented rates, high growth markets in ASEAN, and more mature but technology-hungry markets such as Australia and Japan.
Certainly, it makes sense for vendors to invest in sales resources to service these markets, but doesn’t marketing pave the way for sales? Doesn’t it make sense to invest in marketing – and in AR specifically – to educate, inform and influence those sales prospects?
Personally, I’d like to see this role replaced with another “AR hero” within 2-3 months, but there ain’t that many of them, and only time will tell.
What do you think? Why don’t vendors invest in AR in APJ? Are “AR heroes” the best answer? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree.