The Relentless Marketer: Word-Of-Mouth Wizardry




By Bill Robinson

Satisfied customers can propel the smallest company onto the international radar screen. Just ask Lim Jui Khiang.

Lim Jui Khiang knew it was time to strike out on his own. After 11 years of developing marketing strategy for IBM Singapore, he saw the multimedia technology wave on the horizon, and he was ready to ride it. By developing software and services for that marketplace, he reasoned, he could create a nice niche for himself. "I saw that aggregated technology and creative skills were going to be very important -- and nobody was in our territorial marketplace providing what I wanted to provide," he says.

Hiring six people, Khiang founded Adroit Innovations Limited in 1993. His team set to work creating applications for training and financial organizations, such as a program that automatically updates savings passbooks. Today the company has more than 110 employees; after a June IPO on the Singapore Exchange, it netted $23 million to finance growth, investments, and technology development.

How'd Khiang do it? Word-of-mouth publicity.

As he knew from his years in the corporate trenches, clients' recommendations are one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to spur a company's growth. So he set out to make sure his customers were so satisfied that they would spread the word to other potential clients. "We have relied on our innovative solutions and quick work to act as proof of our abilities," says Khiang.

If attracting new work meant putting his ego aside and forming an alliance with a rival or bigger firm to get the job done, so be it. He soon found himself subcontracting jobs for Sun Microsystems and Hewlett Packard. "Acknowledging our limitations and promoting our strengths was an effective marketing tool for us in the early years," he says. "We practiced 'coopetition' long before it became a buzzword."

Khiang's honest approach paid off. Enthusiastic clients sent him enough business to keep his advertising costs to a minimum. Even as a publicly traded company, he says, "our approach to building clientele has been largely through referrals."

Khiang's challenge is to keep Adroit Innovations growing at the fast pace stockholders expect. Since 1996, the firm has been heavily involved with all things Internet-related, such as interactive applications; it is now jumping into the B2B market, particularly e-fulfillment. "We continue to market the company by hooking up with solutions providers, for example, in the areas of customer relationship management, fulfillment and optimization, and content managers," he says. "And we are always looking to 'builders' like ourselves, to lead them thorough the e-business maze." That might mean incorporating a leading edge search engine into a client's content-rich site or the use of advanced content-management solutions.

It's not good enough to be familiar with the technology, says this relentless marketer. "You have to be able to leverage it for profit."