What is in this article?:
Unlike most other deployments, Wakelin traveled to China before the rollout and spent a week explaining the benefits of the program and how to use it.
“In this culture, it’s just imperative to make face-to-face contact. People need to look you in the eye and establish trust in person, and I think making the trip was absolutely essential to getting buy-in and compliance.”
Indeed, he was a virtual Marco Polo for a week in China, at one point taking a 12-hour overnight train between Beijing and Shanghai, where he explained the benefits of the program and how to use it not only to IBMers and the sourcing agencies, but to hotel companies as well.
“In countries like China, India, and parts of Latin America, you can’t take for granted buy-in and compliance on the supplier side,” he says. “A hotel could be part of a preferred chain but that doesn’t guarantee that it will always reply to an RFP.” This is particularly true of properties in smaller cities where RFP protocols are not well established.
Wakelin says there was also a steep learning curve with the two sourcing agencies, (which were contracted well before rollout through IBM’s procurement team in China). “The process of getting a meeting request, sending out
an RFP, collecting responses—it was all totally new to them. Overall, there was a need for a lot of hand-holding to help make the transition.”
A broader challenge had to do with cultural norms: It’s impolite to say “no” to a request in China, even in a business context, Wakelin points out, so you have to be careful how you frame your questions. Instead of asking if a project will be done by a certain date, ask for a date and time of completion. It also helps to explain things in lots of different ways, so that you can be sure nothing is misunderstood.
During one presentation with regional hotel managers, for example, Wakelin drew a picture of a rocket ship and planets, with the rocket representing the RFP program and the planets hotels. “Humor can build rapport and it helps people remember better,” Wakelin says.
As for the challenge of language, the sourcing tool in China uses English, which is “not a big problem in the big cities,” he says. For the meeting request form, a Chinese translation was added to help facilitate hotel responses, particularly in the less-developed areas. However, as the translation stipulates, all replies to the form must be in English.
“We need to be able to roll up all this global data to create reports for upper management, so having data in multiple languages would make that too difficult, too time consuming." He adds that the StarCite tool has very good functionality in converting local currencies into U.S. dollars for reports that go to management, so currency management was a non-issue.
Midnight Classes, Greenwich Meantime
Why did IBM choose a U.K. employee to manage the roll-out of its SMMP? “The time zone here is more conducive to working a global rollout,” Wakelin says, noting that he had nonetheless gotten up in the middle of the night a few times to conduct education sessions with teams in Australia and New Zealand.
Wakelin, who’s 40 years old, worked at IBM for just 18 months working in external relations before being asked if he’d like to interview for the position he currently holds. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity, even with the odd hours.”
He traveled all around the world after leaving college, and has been to every continent in the 15 years since then, but his trip to China for IBM was his first time in the country.
Looking back, what would he do differently if he had to do the China rollout again?
“Well, meetings and events are such a complex commodity, far more complex than transient travel management, so there’s always room for tweaking,” he says. “But mainly I think spending more time with global hotel chains and aligning them with our process before going live, that’s probably the main thing. There’s a lot of turnover in Asia at hotels, so it’s challenging.”
Overall, though, Wakelin says he’s very happy with the China rollout and with compliance. “The Chinese culturally are conformists, and if you take the time to develop a relationship with them, they will honor that relationship.”