Sunday, 2024 July 21

Alibaba’s DingTalk targets overseas expansion amid SaaS market slowdown

36Kr has exclusively learned that Alibaba-owned DingTalk recently designated international expansion as a strategic project. Several departments, including product development, solutions, sales, and marketing, have formed a joint team for this initiative.

Previously, DingTalk made small-scale attempts in the international market, serving hundreds of Chinese companies with overseas businesses such as JinkoSolar, Trina Solar, and Sungrow. Now, international expansion has officially been elevated to a strategic level.

When approached by 36Kr for confirmation, DingTalk said there are plans mainly to meet the overseas needs of existing customers.

Signs indicate that DingTalk has commenced recruitment for this purpose, having posted on social media platforms like LinkedIn that it is hiring in regions such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, with key positions being regional managers and solutions managers.

Screenshot of DingTalk Global Edition. Source: Alibaba

Companies face complex challenges when expanding internationally from scratch. These include overseas compliance, language and time zone differences, and the variety of communication platforms used in different regions. Replicating domestic processes and systems overseas also presents numerous problems—this drives the demand for international products and services.

DingTalk has been investing considerable effort into optimizing product experience and internationalization. According to 36Kr, companies expanding internationally can now use a unified DingTalk account system to manage both domestic and international teams. Additionally, DingTalk’s IM chat and video conferencing applications have added various international features—it now supports translation in 15 languages, including Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, and French. The DingTalk calendar desktop version has introduced automatic time zone conversion, providing intelligent time difference prompts when scheduling meetings.

A person close to DingTalk told 36Kr that DingTalk has partnered with ecosystem partners to establish an international service ecosystem. The DingTalk open platform offers applications in fields such as market and category positioning, customer management, cross-border payments, network security, and human resource management. For example, the platform led to a partnership between DingTalk and cross-border payment service provider Lianlian DigiTech.

Screenshot of DingTalk Global Edition. Source: Alibaba

DingTalk’s international expansion is a natural step in the evolution of the Chinese enterprise service market. Since 2015, the market has moved past its nascent stage, with collaboration platforms like DingTalk, ByteDance’s Feishu (Lark), and WeChat Work moving toward commercialization. However, the Chinese software-as-a-service market remains relatively small. After years of intense competition in the collaboration software market, the core domestic enterprises willing to pay for these services have essentially been covered, with few new demands emerging.

Given the slowdown in growth of the Chinese SaaS market, international expansion is one of the few clear paths forward. Since 2021, Chinese SaaS companies have accelerated their international expansion efforts, seeking growth in markets like Europe, the Americas, Japan, and Southeast Asia. This group includes established domestic SaaS veterans like Sensors Data, GaiaWorks, and ShareCRM, as well as new startups targeting the global market from day one, such as Agora, PingCap, AfterShip, and Airgram.

DingTalk’s entry into this space confirms this trend.

DingTalk’s international strategy follows the path of Chinese companies going abroad. A DingTalk insider told 36Kr that DingTalk’s international expansion will prioritize meeting the collaborative management needs of Chinese companies overseas, especially current leading industries like photovoltaics, lithium batteries, and electric vehicles.

The overseas SaaS market is crowded with giants, and competition remains fierce. Established players like Microsoft (Teams), Salesforce’s Slack, and Zoom have already captured most of the market share. For Chinese collaborative office software like DingTalk, despite having the backing of large companies, standing out in a market dominated by giants remains a significant challenge in terms of localized operations and overseas branding.

36Kr Global Writers
36Kr Global Writers
The tech ecosystem is roaring. Unicorns valued at billions of dollars have emerged worldwide, while venture capital and strategic investors are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing. 36Kr Global is committed to establishing ties between global stakeholders and providing the most vital information about China’s tech scene and capital markets.
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