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Technical Challenges for Business in China: How One Company Partnered with Salesforce for Success

Igal Levy
Mar 27 - 7 min read

This blog post summarizes a Dreamforce 2018 session delivered on September 27, 2018. To watch that session, check out this recording.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is of huge importance to global companies. But it is a complex and sometimes frustrating market from a number of standpoints. In their talk titled Performance Optimization: The Greater China Region and Beyond, Salesforce Master Enterprise Architect Jeff Cheng and Salesforce VP Kartik Chandrayana addressed two of the main challenges faced by customers attempting to build a presence in China.

The first challenge concerns geographical regions where infrastructure is underdeveloped and reliance on it can be problematic. Multinationals attempting to conduct business in these areas face a number of obstacles, including but not limited to latency, limited network access, geo-tagging (mapping) capabilities, and ill-suited apps for capturing data. The second challenge involves trying to use traditional applications and processes in areas where poor network performance impacts outcomes.

Syngenta Finds Its Way

For a customer example, Jeff talked about the experiences of Salesforce customer Syngenta, an international agrochemical and seeds company.

Almost 25% of Syngenta employees or channel partners are active Salesforce users, and the company relies on Salesforce to manage critical aspects of its business in Sales, Service, and Partner Relationship Management. Syngenta had been a long-time global Salesforce user, and in 2018 also chose to deploy its Salesforce capabilities within its China region. Every day, over 700 Syngenta representatives host events and meet with the company’s top distributors, retailers, and growers in rural areas. These visits provide opportunities to gather information on product utilization and farming conditions, record geolocation data, and take photographs.

The Challenge of Gathering Data

Before rolling out Salesforce, Jeff explained, representatives would enter data into Microsoft Word and Excel while in the field, and attempt to upload their files for transcription into Salesforce if and when a consistent signal became available. This time-consuming and error-prone approach also required manual entry of Chinese postal addresses and pasting of photographs. Collecting Geolocation data in rural areas was also not possible with the tools they had. At best, the process was inefficient, and at worst, data was incomplete or riddled with duplicates — and sometimes even mistakes — hampering Syngenta’s ability to execute in a mission-critical market.

Under David Li, Syngenta’s China CIO and Head of IT and Digital, and Bing Maletz, Salesforce Program Architect supporting Syngenta globally for the last 3 years, the company successfully went live with Salesforce during the early part of 2018. The rollout dramatically improved Syngenta’s ability to execute in China. While many factors contributed to that success, a major component was provided by Salesforce AppExchange partner Formyoula. The Formyoula application replaced a manual data-collection process for event management and customer meetings, providing additional technical capabilities that included the following.

  • Caching of data, and automatic asynchronous sending of data when a signal was detected
  • A flexible format for data entry with fields that mapped to Salesforce objects
  • Native device integration for seamless photo insertion, digital signatures, and geotags
  • A custom cross-referenced object for Chinese addresses with a type-ahead feature to auto-populate multiple fields
  • Maps by Chinese company Baidu to effectively fill in for Google Maps
  • The capability to run on iOS, allowing Syngenta to standardize on Apple devices and simplify app distribution

With Formyoula, Syngenta was able to directly connect data gathering at the point of contact with the resources provided by its Salesforce org. And, by standardizing on iOS, it could leapfrog having to navigate the complexity of the many Android app-store providers in China. This also allowed Syngenta to standardize its DevOps and change-management processes for continuous development moving forward.

Connecting with QR Codes

To solve the issue of remotely connecting with leads and customers, Syngenta turned to WeChat, the ubiquitous Chinese mobile communications app. With almost 1 billion active daily users and availability in much of China, WeChat is the most effective means of reaching people en masse.

To ensure that data collected via WeChat was processed and integrated correctly, Syngenta needed to integrate its outreach with its Salesforce resources, just as it had done with representative visits. That’s where QR codes came in. “If you’re not familiar with QR codes in China, they are everywhere,” Jeff said, explaining the choice. To actualize that vision, Syngenta turned to another Salesforce AppExchange partner, Charket. Charket enables Syngenta Salesforce administrators to centrally manage customer outreach events within its Salesforce org, using Campaign object as well as other Salesforce capabilities.

QR codes are used in event invitations delivered by WeChat to identify each event, and for each product featured at these events. Data is captured immediately when recipients accept QR-code-based invitations within the WeChat app, or when they check in at the event physically as the QR code is scanned. Data is also captured whenever an event attendee scans the QR code of a product featured at an event. All captured data is synchronized and associated with Salesforce lead, contact, and campaign records.

With these tools and strategies, Syngenta was able to apply a systematic end-to-end life-cycle management approach to its marketing, lead generation, event management, and sales and service operations, significantly enhancing and optimizing its go-to-market execution.

Optimization: From the Application to the Network

Kartik focused on how optimization impacts user experience. No one enjoys watching download bars or spinning balls, or worse, experiencing a dropped connection. Or, worst of all: losing data. The application and the network represent two factors that can have immediate impacts on user experience.

Good application design, explained Kartik, takes into account the conditions under which the application will be used. Where network latency is an issue, for example, building in patterns such as lazy loading, asynchronous processing (to offload or defer work), caching, and image optimization can have a significant positive impact. Well-designed applications also provide alternative resources to replace those that can’t be used well in the target environment. In the case of Syngenta, the Formyoula application took into account the conditions encountered in the Chinese countryside, such as the lack of consistent network connections.

Salesforce Edge Takes the Latency Off

But even with a well-designed application, network latency can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Since Salesforce currently has no data centers in China, the data centers used by customers there are remote, sometimes an entire hemisphere away. That’s a complex challenge to overcome, but Salesforce has developed a number of approaches to mitigate customers’ latency issues.

One successful approach involves peering with local telecom companies to bring connection termination points closer to customers. In China, a Salesforce partnership with China Telecom, the largest Chinese telecommunication provider, has led to dramatic improvements in latency numbers.

The most ambitious project Salesforce has pioneered to reduce network issues is an intelligent optimization engine known as Edge. Testing connections from China to various data centers around the world also shows significant drops in latency, with a whopping 33% improvement when connecting to the relatively close data center in Japan.

So far, Edge has been piloted with only a select number of customers. The good news for the rest of Salesforce’s customers? Edge will be rolled out to a network near them in 2019.

Partnering with Salesforce for Growth in China

In China, effectively meeting conditions on the ground is critical for businesses seeking success, but they must consider both the technical challenges and the different ways in which Chinese customers and partners operate. Strategies that might work well in other parts of the world could be useless or even detrimental if employed in China. The wrong strategy can lead companies to a slew of wrong decisions that hamper their success, followed by time wasted searching for a path out.

Yet global companies continue to expand in China to access its market and create mutually beneficial business relationships. Can they avoid the costs and failures suffered by doing so in ways unsuited to China? Syngenta’s experience has shown that in partnership with Salesforce, and with software from the right AppExchange partners, companies can find a road to success in China.

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