Women to Watch China 2013

Sally Xiao Takes Bold Risks for Dell Amid Slumping PC Market

Company Aims to Open 10,000 Sales Outlets in China In Three Years

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Sally Xiao, Dell's marketing executive director in Greater China, describes herself as a "risk taker."

Sally Xiao
Sally Xiao

It's an important quality when navigating a tough environment. PC sales are in steady decline industrywide. But China is Dell's second-largest market after the U.S. and a strategic focus, with plans to double its 10,000 sales outlets in the market within three years. Most of them will be in lower-tier cities, where Dell aims to establish stronger brand recognition.

That task largely falls to Ms. Xiao, a 41-year-old Beijing native who has shown a knack for marketing innovations in her four years at Dell. She previously had a marketing role at Motorola and before that was an account director at Ogilvy. Her first marketing job, though, was promoting underground Chinese rock bands for a record label.

Among her signature campaigns is Dell Piggy Bank, which cleverly blended social media and e-commerce.

Using Renren, China's equivalent of Facebook, it allowed college students to pick the Dell computer model they want and save up for it in a virtual piggy bank. Friends could help them earn discounts toward the purchase by clicking their support, watching videos or sharing Dell information on their social media pages.

"Consumer behavior has changed a lot. But how can we redirect social behavior into social commerce? That was my challenge," Ms. Xiao said. Within one quarter, the campaign generated $3 million in revenue, along with marketing accolades.

Chris Tung, CEO of digital marketing agency IM 2.0, which worked on the campaign, said it was characteristic of Ms. Xiao's vision.

"She fought for resources for us because she believed in the idea," he said. "A lot of people in corporate would pick a safer route. But she chose to take risks."

A campaign for XPS, Dell's line of high-end personal computers, also taps into new media. Ms. Xiao recruited a dozen celebrities and opinion leaders to star in online videos linking them to the new computer's attributes.

Some of the most popular ads featured Hong Kong actor Edison Chen, who is making his comeback after a sex scandal in 2008. Ms. Xiao said her decision to use controversial figures was vindicated when her boss in Austin, Texas, questioned her use of Mr. Chen without even knowing why he was an edgy choice.

"I said, 'See, even you start to know this campaign.' That's exactly the effect I want," she said with a laugh.

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