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8 PR, Marketing and Sales Lessons I Learned While Living in Southeast Asia


For those who know a bit of my personal life, I currently live in Southeast Asia (Hoi An, Vietnam as I type this). And since then, I have learned a lot about business, especially when it comes to marketing and sales. Because if you walk into any town around here or even step outside, you will be accosted by people wanting to sell you something. Just by observing and tracking our buying patterns compared to the vendors' selling techniques, I've learned quite a few lessons about marketing and sales that every business owner can (and should) use in their business: 

Be there to offer your product or service in the right place at the right time.

As we boarded our minivan from Dong Ha to Hoi An, we were accosted by a lady selling snacks, candy and drinks for the ride. With no convenience store or mom-and-pop shop nearby and a 4-hour drive ahead of us, she knew that we were primed to want something from her.

Lesson learned: Don't lose out on money because you aren't there when your client or customer needs you the most (natural skin products in the winter, a personalized fitness training program in the spring). 

Pro tip: If you aren't currently selling your services and products online (but you're offering them), just go ahead and put them up. That way, if a potential client lands on your website (whether that's by your doing or a referral) and is blown away by your content and expertise, they can instantly pay you without having a contact form or an email as a barrier.

Make your clients feel exclusive and special.

When my mother-in-law and sister-in-law came into town to visit us in Chiang Mai, they wanted to buy some high-end purses. Once we went to the Night Bazaar to look at the inventory, a shop owner inquired about what exactly we wanted. As soon as she heard we wanted a certain product, she whisked us away to a private room with security cameras, shiny objects and fancy purses. She spent the next 45 minutes answering our questions about the products and letting us try on anything we wanted. I felt so exclusive that I wanted to give her my money, too!

Lesson learned: If your clients are paying you the big bucks, go out of your way to make them feel like they are appreciated.

Pro tip: This doesn't mean spend all of your money buying them gifts. Send them a card or small gift for their birthday. Share something nice with them on your client anniversary or around the holidays. These gestures are great ways to build a client relationship that can last long after the initial sale.

The amount of sales or discounts you give out is directly related to the type of audience you attract.

In Southeast Asia, it's expected to haggle at the night market. We've gotten our fair share of deals in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang because we had a system: once we receive the asking price from the vendor, we cut that in half and negotiate from there. But guess what, we weren't the customers that they wanted. Because if we didn't like the deal, we would simply go somewhere else to find a better deal for a similar product.

Lesson learned: If you offer sales and discounts on your products and services all of the time, your potential and existing customers will come to expect that from you. They will always look for a deal, and you will always have to fight to meet your bottom line. You will only get bumps in your business when you offer sales, and then you'll feel compelled to give out discounts all the time so you can see those increases in your bank account.

Pro tip: Instead of discounting something at full price at certain times of the year to up your revenue, try doing this to increase excitement and sales. Offer your product or service (when you first put it on the market) as free or super low in price (but don't market it as a discount, just share it as an introductory price). How do you come up with this price? Think about the time you spent (or will spend) for the product or service and the value that it provides (does it save time, help others make money, help people lose weight?). Then, send an email to your list or share on social media that the price will go up in a certain time period (24 hours, 72 hours, 1 week), so it creates urgency on the buyer to purchase at that price. After that, don't ever reintroduce that product or service on the market at a price lower than the initial one.

Don't annoy your potential customers and clients, because they will never convert that way.

Vendors in Southeast Asia are persistent, sometimes in a very annoying and painful way. In Luang Prabang, we couldn't pass a tuk-tuk in peace, because the driver would ask us if we wanted to go to the "waterfall" (Kuang Si Waterfall). In our first week of being there, we were asked at least 8 times a day. SO ANNOYING. Guess who we went with when we finally needed a tuk-tuk for the waterfall? None of the vendors that had asked us before. We went to a tuk-tuk driver we'd never seen before and told him we wanted a ride. 

Lesson learned: Don't bug your potential customers through unnecessary or annoying emails asking for a sale (even if they have expressed interest). They will start to tune you out (or in my case, become irritated) and will not buy what you're selling nor recommend it to others.

Pro tip: If someone has expressed interest in buying your product or working with you, direct them on how to do that but also provide them with value. Chances are, you haven't developed that "know, like, trust" rapport with them, so even though they may be vaguely interested in what you're offering, you have to give them time, give them value and not be a pest.

Don't be the fallback guy (or gal). Be the leader in your industry.

When I lived in Chiang Mai, I found the Pad Thai Mustache guy and he literally changed my life with his delectable and affordable pad Thai. I knew his schedule, and he always knew my order (pad Thai with pork in an omelette egg). We communicated with the few words and nonverbal actions we could, and his pad Thai was the bomb (seriously, if you go to Chiang Mai, look him up). 

However, he had to relocate his stall in early 2016 after the police forced him to move. At first, I thought he was on vacation (he was that popular...he probably makes enough to vacation every month!), but then once it was confirmed by the other pad Thai lady a block away from him (who was my fallback girl) that he had to move, I became upset. I went to her out of necessity our final days in Chiang Mai, until I found him off of Nimman soi 9 the day before I left. Needless to say, I put in my last order immediately (and told everyone else within earshot).

Lesson learned: Pad Thai Mustache guy was that dude. He made the best pad Thai off of Nimman, and the lady down the street was an okay runner up. If you want loyal fans, you have to be the best at what you do (and make your product/service so good that people want more and more.)

Pro tip: If you aren't seen as the industry leader yet, why not? Look at your successful competitors and check out what their audience has to say about them online. Examine your current product or service and see how you can make it better. Better yet, reach out to your existing customers and ask them how you could make your product or service better. Make sure you're making the improvements necessary for your business growth.

Want to up your sales? Brand yourself differently and create an offer that's different from your competitors.

Near the night market in Luang Prabang, there's a strip of stalls where you can order baguettes and smoothies. Guess what? Everyone sold the same thing at the same price. We frequented those stalls and never ordered from the same person. There was no reason (in our minds) to be loyal to a stall because they didn't brand themselves to be unique or offer anything that the stall next to them didn't.

Lesson learned: If you want to stand out, you have to be different from your competitors, plain and simple. Your USP and your branding must set you apart from others so that you stand out in the eyes of your potential customers/clients.

Pro tip: Check your website language: is it in your voice or does it not sound like you? Check your products/services. Can you get this anywhere else from anyone else? How is it different from what's being offered in the market? Don't go on the deep end to distinguish yourself; rather, add touches to your online presence that will help people remember you.

Know your target audience inside and out.

So many people around the world (not just in Southeast Asia) miss this key concept. For example: if I've been drinking beer for 5 hours, I don't want anything sweet, so don't offer me donuts (instead offer me something salty). If I said I have been traveling the world for 8 months and I only want to see one museum (rather than a full day's tour of multiple sights), then don't sell me on the more expensive option that includes an entire day of tours I don't want to take. Okay, #rantover.

Lesson learned: You are wasting your time and your money if you don't who you are selling to and how to sell to them. 

Pro tip: Next time you have a conversation with a potential customer, make it about them and not about you. Also, don't take everything for face value (because sometimes they'll tell you what you want to hear), take notice of nonverbal cues and get them to talking about themselves (people like doing that). You'll learn more about how you can help them than you would by guessing any day of the week.

Recognize when to up-sell or cross-sell your existing clients and customers.

I cannot tell you how many times we've been approached by a vendor and they do one of two things. They either a) try to up-sell us on a product that we had no interest in buying or b) try to cross-sell us on something completely different that we didn't want. For instance, while drinking pre-dinner cocktails the other night in Hoi An, a lady came to our table selling us postcards. Then, we said we didn't want any, she tried to sell us tiger balm. Then after we rejected that, she tried to sell us jewelry. She literally was selling anything in her pockets.

Lesson learned: Understanding where you are in the journey with your customer (whether it's a potential or existing customer) is key to up-selling and cross-selling them.

Pro tip: When should you sell other things to your customer? When they are a) already primed to buy or b) already a happy and satisfied repeat customer who you think will benefit from what you're offering based on their order history. If they are on the checkout page, you should show them other things that they might like or want to buy: chances are, they will buy it then (this includes up-sell and cross-sell items). However, you can always cross-sell items to existing customers if you're smart about it. So if you are selling an e-book, a course or a new product, you can share that with the existing customers who have purchased related products and communicate the benefits of buying that new product or service.

I learned so much more about PR, marketing and sales that I couldn't pack into this blog post. So if you want more intel on how you can grow your biz using these tips I learned in SE Asia, sign up to receive the free email with four more lessons and tips below

Which tip do you think you need to implement in your business today?