Several people over recent days have asked me the same basic question relating to the COVID-19 outbreak:
- Do the restrictions on international travel mean I need to halt my firm’s Asia expansion plans?
It’s an important question as many recognise the most viable markets to target right now are the recovering economies in East Asia. And the good news is the short answer is: no.
In fact, it’s an excellent time to push ahead with Asia expansion — as our CEO explained the other day. But you need to take practical steps to work around the restrictions, with the Virtual Roadshow at the heart of a new approach we’re taking with our clients.
It’s true that we’ve always emphasised the need for clients to visit China, Japan or South Korea at regular intervals to succeed in these markets. Relationship building is important to foster trust and strike deals with Asian corporations.
Our teams in Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul typically work to engage customers or partners for our clients by drawing on our connections within Asian corporations. And, in ‘normal’ times, when we have a shortlist of prospects, we’ll ask you to come out for a series of meetings – to demonstrate your product and cement the relationships we’ve been building.
But, while flying to East Asia is not a practical option right now, this needn’t derail your plans at all.
Our teams in Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul remain fully operational and able to work locally on your behalf.
During the lockdown in China, our Shanghai staff worked from home and — as the rest of the world is learning to do now — weaved their way around the restrictions by conducting meetings by conference and video call.
This worked well. And, with restrictions now being lifted, they — along with the rest of the business community in Shanghai and many other Chinese cities — are now back in the office. Face-to-face meetings and travel within China are happening once again. And 99% of large Chinese enterprises outside Hubei had resumed work by 28 March, according to analysis by McKinsey.
In South Korea, the restrictions have been far fewer. We’ve encouraged our team to work from home to minimise unnecessary risks, but face-to-face meetings with Korean corporations have never stopped.
In Japan, the recent restrictions in Tokyo mean, for the time being, our team members are working from home. But they’re busy conducting meetings by phone and video call, with little change in activity - and face-to-face meetings being scheduled for May.
So, there’s been minimal disruption to the roles our Asia teams play for our clients. In fact, you may have seen our recent news that we concluded even more deals on our clients’ behalf from January to March than in a usual quarterly period.
But what about visits to East Asia?
Of course, a visit to the region is usually ideal – and we’ll certainly organise these again when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
But, in the meantime, to work around the restrictions on international travel, we’ve been arranging ‘Virtual Roadshows’ so you can meet potential partners and customers by video link. And these have worked amazingly well.
Everyone understands the circumstances, and Asian corporations, despite the cultural norms, are making allowances. Many appreciate our extra efforts to find ways forward, as they don’t want interruption to their own development plans.
And, of course, it doesn’t need to mean they get no ‘face time’. Our teams can still visit them in their offices, even if the client representatives are in the room via a screen.
Take, as an example, a Japan business development initiative we recently ran for a North American precision medicine startup.
Our goal was to demonstrate the firm’s services to major Japanese pharmaceutical corporations. The client team couldn’t fly to Japan because the US authorities would have imposed a 14-day quarantine period on return, so a Virtual Roadshow was the order of the day.
We secured six meetings with Japan’s top pharma companies and one of the country’s foremost commercial clinical labs. Our Tokyo team members attended some of these in person, with the client team joining remotely. In other cases, everyone attended by video conference.
Of the six Japanese companies we met, four are interested in evaluating our client’s services further, with one already progressing to NDA stage.
There’s no doubt the coronavirus is disrupting western businesses and throwing some big challenges into companies’ paths.
But it’s largely business as usual for our teams in Asia. And the Virtual Roadshow has proved a highly practical way around the restrictions on international travel. There are even some time and cost efficiencies in handling remote discussions without the need for intercontinental travel.
In short, many of our western clients are highly focused on protecting their business in these turbulent times. And — like our precision medicine client — they’re finding it’s far better to press ahead with a virtual approach to targeting Asia’s recovering economies than to wait until everything returns to normality.