Connectivity, collaboration, and creativity are essential to businesses that aim to thrive in this modern age – by way of taking full advantage of the treasure trove of networking platforms the world-wide-web presents. Being a business owner and savvy is one thing, but being at the very forefront of the numerous platforms available and having the manpower to connect virtually any business in Southeast Asia is another ballgame altogether. As you may imagine, doing so takes years of experience, and hours of manpower to collect the latest up-to-date data. We’re pretty sure, if you’re an SME owner, you would have heard of PanPages as one of the best avenues to help spread word about your products and services, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
***Interview by Angelo Manuel***
To find out more about Malaysia’s pioneers in online content management, and to better understand the scale of their operations, 360 Celsius pays a visit to the PanPages headquarters in Bandar Sunway, and speaks to some of their head-honchos – Fong Wai Leong, Group CEO, and Christopher Ng, Director, Product & Market Development.
How was CBSA founded? Where did you start, and where are you today?
Our history began with the introduction of the early PanPages (then soley a print publication) in 1989 – introduced by our founder, Kenneth Tan under the title Industrial Guide. You could say it was a ‘Google’ for businesses sorts before the advent of the Internet in the region. Building upon this legacy and wealth of data, going online was the next logical step, and PanPages.com was introduced – allowing seamless access to valuable contacts for all our users.
But that doesn’t mean that the print editions of PanPages were phased out, in fact, the ‘old school’ directory still has a 200,000 strong circulation regionally, and we don’t see it disappearing anytime soon – as many still love the convenience of having a hard copy on hand. On top of that, we have some 7 million traffic hits monthly, accessing our database of nearly 8 million product and service providers. To dispel any misconceptions, we focus primarily on the SME market in the region, as these are the businesses that are in most need of affordable, effective communication, and we take pride in doing our part to help fledgling businesses thrive via the borderless world which is the Internet.
Tell us about your partners.
We are currently exclusively partnered with Alibaba.com (B2B platform) in Malaysia and partnered with Google in Malaysia and Indonesia. Working with these partners tremendously extends our reach – by way of allowing us to publish SME content on a wide array of utilities and networks, while giving these products and services the advantage of not getting lost in the endless search results presented on search engines. With regard to showcasing content online, business owners seek integration, and consistency in their messages, we help them do just that by placing them on the most relevant utilities and networks, allowing anybody who’s searching for any niche product or service to easily find a variety of options to suit their needs.
To dispel any misconceptions, we don’t profit from being ‘middle persons’ when deals are made between end users and businesses in our database. Negotiation and communication is completely up to the third parties, which mean that our role here is to provide the best platform for businesses and consumers to find each other.
Share with us the challenges you face when connecting suppliers and buyers.
The biggest challenge we faced was in developing a platform which delivers a pleasant user experience on top of comprehensive and accurate content – which is key to a lively buying and selling community. Besides that, our team is constantly adding to our database, and this is not a simple matter of sourcing contacts online. We go so far as to categorize all entries in our database by their locations, so as to provide literally anybody who seeks their services every detail they need to know to make contact and do business as promptly as possible. After all, time is money.
In addition, we have teams to constantly monitor statistics on all the platforms we integrate so as to best advice our clients and determine the best avenues for their SMEs to be found. This is also important since the landscape changes rapidly and unpredictably at times.
Currently, the platform we provide in the form of PanPages connects a database of millions of SME sellers – the largest in South East Asia. An initial challenge was to establish our presence throughout the region, and to do so, we have successfully established bases of operations in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Through each of these networks, we have added millions of SMEs to our database, with the highest number naturally in Indonesia, which is fast becoming one of the biggest hubs for businesses in the region. Looking to the future, we will continue our focus on SMEs in Southeast Asia, as we still see tremendous untapped potential, and there is still plenty to done in the locations where we have established strongholds.
What technologies do you employ and which platforms work best for SMEs?
As a content publishing company, one of our most important tools is cloud computing technology which allows us to operate at ease throughout Southeast Asia – and easily reach those who seek our services on any platform at their convenience.
Currently, Facebook and Twitter are the social platform of choice for most B2C and C2C interaction. While we do use these platforms to extend the reach of our clientele as well, PanPages alone is best suited for B2B and B2C operations. Depending on the nature of a service, we will use other mediums as well. To cite an example, to best aid a business that needs to show potential customers how a product or service works, our best bet will be platforms such as YouTube which allow them to do just that.
In a nutshell, tell us the benefits PanPages can offer an SME.
First and foremost, we offer affordable online presence. As mentioned, we understand that SMEs are most in need of this with many still lacking the reach and budget to use the mediums the ‘bigger fish’ have access to. To help them get started or extend their reach, we offer a simple, yet comprehensive rollout plan, taking care of the ‘a-z’ where placing your information online is concerned.
It is also our mission to give our clients peace of mind with regard to the numerous platforms their content is published on, which is a time-consuming process. Furthermore, we reward them for being part of the growing PanPages community by sharing with them our experience and understanding of the latest SME marketing strategies as they unfold.
How do you measure the effectiveness of you online thrusts?
One of the main benefits of placing a business online is that almost everything can be measured – from traffic, search words, to search patterns and ROI. We believe ‘swarm intelligence’ is the next big trend businesses need to look out for.
What this buzzword implies is that force-feeding information to consumers is fast becoming an obsolete strategy.
Thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, end-users and consumers have more of a say than ever before on how brands choose to evolve, and failing to pay heed to consumer needs in this day and age is undeniably detrimental to any business. Social media is a double edged sword, and it is in embracing the valuable feedback and trends consumers present you online that will help you best calculate you next big business move.
What’s your take on social media replacing traditional mediums?
Undeniably, social media is the new way of communicating and connecting and is here to stay. However, we won’t discount the idea that traditional mediums have the potential to evolve into more niche forms. In fact, PanPages is positioned to be part of the social media ecosystem.
With our hard-copy of PanPages still highly sought after, we’ve learnt that the print medium still has its advantages over the high-tech devices currently available. It will never run out of batteries, and you can easily present useful information you’ve found to your partners without having to worry about a stable internet connection.
To conclude, any pearls of wisdom to share with SME owners?
Target your customers well, find a way to reach them, and engage them in a conversation. Also bear in mind that consistency in your message is extremely important online. Do not upload conflicting content on different social media avenues as this will confuse otherwise potential customers, and give them reason to doubt your credibility unnecessarily.
BY KENNETH LIM