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Industry Insights | 13 minute read

Spotlight on accelerated digital transformations hiring in Asia

December 22, 2021

CONTENTS

The APAC region has long been recognised as a high-growth environment for many investors and corporations and that hasn’t changed despite the pandemic. The market experienced a sudden jolt in 2020, which had a varying impact on many companies and industries. For some, the glass was half empty, while for others, the glass was half full. The most significant impact of COVID-19 is the accelerated digital transformations of many businesses throughout 2021.

The most common and necessary pivot among organisations is the ability to shift their business models from offline to digital. For the companies that are already entrenched in the internet eco-system, the challenges are to cope effectively with the surge in demand among the B2B and B2C audiences for better services and delivery of goods. The online world has also further ingrained itself in the lives of the population, with remote working opportunities now a key driver for candidates and employees alike.

Confidence in the region is high, and 2022 looks like it will be a year of growth, provided the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues and surges are controlled. In this report, we will look at the key trends observed in the sales & marketing recruitment space and the factors influencing sales & marketing professionals across the region.

[Blog] Read our past spotlight on supply chain hiring in Asia here

Hong Kong

As we edge closer to the new year, the business landscape in Hong Kong is looking positive, with a rise in the number of companies opting to open offices in the region. However, there is still an air of apprehension because of travel restrictions and potential outbreaks of COVID-19. In the last 12 months, record numbers of people have left Hong Kong, shrinking the talent pool considerably.

Hiring activity is robust despite the crippling skills shortages. Demand for experienced sales & marketing professionals, particularly in executive to vice president/director roles, is high in the region. It is worth noting that interview processes are slightly more robust and lengthier than in previous years, so although there is an appetite to hire, there is also an overriding desire to get it right.

Hot skills in China

Entrepreneurship:

Hong Kong is a leading destination for start- ups in APAC and is recognised globally. We have seen a real need for candidates with entrepreneurial mindsets who can change direction quickly or pivot depending on the needs of the company. Candidates willing and able to take on more than what is written in their job descriptions will do well in these types of fast-growing organisations, as will the ability to lead without title. Ownership, whether it’s a short project to launch a new feature or take a product into a new market, is something that clients are looking for, as well as having the passion to develop something from scratch.

Digital marketing:

The demand for digital marketing skills continues to increase, especially for candidates with experience in eCommerce and online marketplaces. As the shift from offline to online continues, senior marketing candidates who have experience in both sectors are highly sought after. And many companies with open sales & marketing roles in Hong Kong are seeking candidates that have experience within APAC as well as European and North American marketplaces.

Buy-side selling experience:

Sales & marketing candidates with a track record of selling to buy-side financial institutions are highly sought after right now.

Team leadership experience:

Sales leaders are in high demand, particularly those who have experience managing and coaching teams and can lead from the front with client ownership and deals.

 

Japan

As always, Japan faces one of the highest skills gaps in the world when it comes mid-to-senior level talent. In addition to the traditionally low levels of English fluency and exposure to international business methods, the talent pool for international businesses is even more competitive than ever at a time when everyone is looking for a change maker. There has also been significant movement in the jobs market in Japan in 2021 as a result of the shift in working styles brought by COVID-19, and more and more candidates are aware of just how many options are open to them.

Many people have taken on new roles so they can work remotely. The desire to work virtually was rare pre-pandemic; however, people have seen how it can help to improve work-life balance. People no longer want to attend long repetitive meetings or spend time commuting during the subway rush hour crush. Business leaders are starting to buy into the new world of work, which in turn challenges many of the archaic practices in more traditional Japanese business (a continuing reliance on fax machines, company seals on official documents etc.).

There has been a rise in the number of employers offering a hybrid approach to work – allowing employees to split their working hours between the office and home. This has been most welcomed by employees. Companies that have adopted, or are planning to adopt, a hybrid approach will find it easier to attract talent. We are also seeing people leave jobs in more traditional industries for agile and tech-driven roles and companies and a move to more online driven activities. There’s been a marked increase in digital marketing and video advertising spends and a focus on ramping up ecommerce capabilities and presence.

Hot skills in Japan

Digital strategy and execution:

Sales & marketing candidates with experience in helping retailers change direction from brick-and- mortar stores to digital have been in high demand for several years. However, the pandemic has meant such experience is even more sought after than before. Many of the giant Japanese retailers suffered historic losses during the early stages of the pandemic and may not recover. Department stores could become a thing of the past in Japan due to changing shopping habits, so those with digital experience will continue to be in demand for many years to come as companies transition and focus more on digital.

Demand generation:

We are seeing a steady rise in opportunities for those sales & marketing professionals who have both digital and demand generation experience.

Sales:

As digital transformation builds speed, even within the realm of the famously analog national government, and more and more tech related start-ups enter the Japan market, technically savvy sales people of all stripes with English language ability are highly sought after, from hunters and business development specialists, to account managers, and customer success professionals focusing on renewal and up selling.

 

Singapore

Singapore’s economy has made a good recovery from the contraction it experienced in 2020. This is mainly because of the country’s aggressive vaccination program rollout, its COVID-19 containment measures and government support for both businesses and households. The Ministry of Trade & Industry even upgraded its GDP growth forecast for 2021 from between 4 and 6% to between 6 and 7%. On the international business front, Singapore is still very much viewed by many MNCs and Asian conglomerates as an ideal place to locate regional offices for the following reasons:

  • The Singapore government’s pro-business policies that are designed to attract foreign investments.

  • The country’s reputation for its strict adherence to establishing effective governance and regulatory framework for businesses.

  • Singapore serves as a gateway to South East Asia (SEA) markets with its talent pool of mostly bilingual white-collar professionals and their

  • regional experience.

The pandemic, however, remains a significant near-term risk and is causing some uncertainty over the medium-term growth outlook. In terms of hiring, the consensus remains that of cautious optimism. Like most industries in the wider APAC region, sales & marketing roles are evolving to include more digital skills as part of the overall job scope.

Candidates with commercial experience and a strong understanding of online services (and ecosystems) remain in high demand. Senior hires with proven track records in developing omnichannel strategies and execution are among the most sought after. For professionals who are falling short of such experience, upskilling becomes a critical mission for them to pursue actively in a bid to stay competitive in an intense job market.

Hot skills in Singapore

Product management:

As Singapore’s vibrant tech ecosystem continues to develop, we have seen a growing demand for product managers. Strong analytical, interpersonal and communication skills are integral for candidates in these roles.

Digital marketing and enablement (as a discipline):

Like other regions in APAC, demand for digital marketing skills is higher than it has ever been in Singapore. This is because of the rapid pace of digitisation brought forward due to changing consumer demand when lockdowns were enforced at the height of the pandemic.

Digital transformation:

The pandemic pushed companies to adopt and embrace digital technologies, so the momentum of digital transformation needs has increased. Companies are seeking project managers and programme leads to oversee their digital efforts. Candidates with strategic change and technology skills are highly sought after.

Business development and partnerships:

Singapore remains a top business hub for global investment. As the number of companies and start-ups setting up shop increases, so does the need for talent with business development skills to expand their presence in the region.

 

China

China is still very much the growth engine for many multinationals (MNCs). Several high-profile global companies have revealed aggressive expansion plans for China, with some targeting growth of three to five times their current figures. China has long been a digital leader in the consumer space and the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated digitisation in the country. We have seen several organisations increasing headcount as they boost their digital capabilities.

Competition for talent is fierce - not just among MNCs. There is now an emergence of local Chinese brands providing new, innovative offerings to consumers. An increased number of companies have shifted their strategies to ensure they are also catering to the appetite of Chinese consumers by localising products. For example, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are now developing new products in China for Chinese consumers versus bringing in products from overseas, which is the approach they had favoured previously.

The appetite for premium and luxury items is still strong among Chinese consumers. With limited overseas travel and a growing desire for quality products, the luxury sector is robust, even beating previous growth records. The same applies to luxury skincare brands. This has led to a new direction for non-luxury/mass brands, with many currently undergoing “premiumisation” strategies.

We are seeing more and more candidates with higher salary expectations. With more vacancies than candidates available, companies are compelled to offer higher starting salaries. We see experienced candidates receiving multiple offers, and as such, companies need to move quickly to secure qualified talent. Hiring at speed is especially important for roles that require niche skill sets, such as those in a digital capacity. There is a very narrow pool of available talents in this space, and hence companies will need to do more to attract these talents.

Many candidates want to work for companies that have committed long-term to the Chinese market, provide autonomy and have growth plans in place so they can progress. They also want the ability to widen their scope with higher salaries and job titles that reflect advancement.

Hot skills in China

Retail and luxury

Commercial experience: 

Companies in the retail and luxury sectors are seeking consumer marketing professionals with commercial experience to help them keep up with growing demand from buyers.

Experience using electronic customer relationship management and extended producer responsibility systems: 

The use of technology in the retail and luxury sector is up as companies turn to tech to speed up processes while improving the customer experience.

Experience in managing WeChat stores: 

Although retail and luxury brands are still very much brick-and-mortar, they still want to capitalise on the growth in eCommerce.

 

FMCG and new internet consumers

eCommerce: 

Candidates with experience in eCommerce marketing, especially those who understand Alibaba regulation and other eCommerce platforms, are in high demand.

Consumer insight:

Due to evolving customer needs, job seekers that can quickly understand younger consumers are highly sought after.

Demand generation: 

Consumer marketing professionals with a track record in driving new traffic and expanding new channels are in demand as companies aim to increase their reach.

Digital savvy: 

Because consumer habits have changed, more companies are investing in digitisation. Candidates with a digitised mindset are in high demand as a result.

General management: 

Consumer marketing professionals with a strong in-depth understanding of the digital landscape in China are highly sought after. They must be able to balance and integrate offline and online as Chinese consumers still value the experience of visiting a shop in-person.

Social media: 

Frontline salespeople do not have to rely on the traffic in physical stores. Salespeople are now using the likes of Douyin/TikTok and other digital platforms to sell their products, thus achieving their sales targets. This trend grew in popularity during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic when shops suffered a significant drop in footfall.

 

Key industries hiring in APAC right now

The sectors hiring the most sales & marketing professionals include the following:

  • Fintech: Organisations that specialise in payments, digital banking and crypto are hiring at scale right now.

  • eCommerce: Many platforms, brands and retailers are expanding because of soaring demand from consumers and are increasing headcount as a result.

  • Start-ups: Technology-driven, product-focused and agile companies are experiencing hiring surges. The companies that offer flexible, remote work opportunities are find it easier to attract candidates than those that don’t provide flexibility.

  • Luxury retail brands (most relevant for the China market): Many are capitalising on the opportunities from the pandemic and are expanding their physical store numbers and eCommerce channels to cope with the surge in consumer demand.

  • Healthcare-related retailers: There are various openings in commercial roles, especially in brand marketing, eCommerce and digital. There is also an increased demand for data-driven roles, including big data, consumer insight and so on.

 

What are sales & marketing candidates looking for?

Salary expectations

Candidates with well-developed skills and proven track records in the digital space possess a more robust appetite for salary increases when considering their next job moves. However, some candidates have received marginal salary increases in comparison. As a result, they are seeking opportunities that allow them direct exposure to sharpen their digital skills, build their experience and expand their networks within the online ecosystem.

There is also another group of job seekers who are joining start-ups and are willing to take lower base salaries (sometimes even a pay cut) because they are taking calculated gambles on the stocks or employee stock ownership plans given by the companies. This group of candidates operates more on a high risk, high rewards mental framework, banking on an eventual IPO of the organisation. The companies that offer flexible, remote work opportunities are find it easier to attract candidates than those that don’t provide flexibility.

Company culture

Company culture is more important to candidates, as is flexible working options and unlimited annual leave, which is more evident for millennials and those who fall into the GEN-Z category.

Unlike before, candidates are no longer seeking the prestige and security traditionally associated with large MNCs. There has been a shift towards (well-funded) start-ups, as well as smaller niche players instead. This is partly because of the allure and the success stories coming from Silicon Valley and the spotlight on the high growth tech ecosystem, which has been bubbling within Asia for the last couple of years.

Flexible working

Candidates are also seeking a better work-life balance. This stems from the additional time they had to spend on work tasks during the pandemic because they didn’t have to travel because of restrictions.

In short, there is still an air of caution among sales & marketing professionals who are considering a career move. They will be evaluating the overall macro and micro factors of the opportunities at hand before making the leap forward.

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About Karen Yap

Karen is a director in our sales & marketing and technology practices in Singapore. She specialises in mid to senior-level mandates with a focus on the consumer lifestyle, technology and professional services sectors for global multinationals and locally-based conglomerates across Asia. Karen has 12 years of executive search experience. Before joining the recruitment industry, Karen worked in business development for a UK professional services firm in Shanghai, China.

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