Selling in China – what works and what doesn’t
Like all markets, China plays by its own rules. Some sales approaches that work well in your own country might completely fail in a market as unique as China – on the other had some might work really well. So, is it just a question of trying everything that works at home and analysing the results to determine what the best approach might be in China or are there any sales techniques that are generally better regarded than others?
Here’s a quick overview of what we have found succeeds in China when working with a range of major global clients across multiple sectors:
- Exhibitions: Exhibitions and conferences seem to be held in much greater regard in China than in the West. Attendance at key exhibitions should form an integral part of your sales and marketing plans if you want to be seen as a serious player in the Chinese market. Attendance at exhibitions for a number of years in a row shows you are in the market for the long-haul and can be taken seriously as a potential partner.
- A good China-friendly website: A well-structured website in Chinese which clearly outlines your products or offering is essential these days. With over 400 million online users, China is a digital economy with a capital D. Potential clients will visit your website before meeting you and will form an opinion based on how China-friendly your site is. Don’t just take your existing site and translate a few pages – get some professional advice from people who really understand digital in China.
- Local sales representatives: China is a massively relationship oriented country and key relationships need to be nurtured over a few years. This relationship-building process is difficult to manage from a distance. It pays to have local people on the ground who speak the language, know the culture and who can react quickly to client demands. Should these local representatives be employed by you or should you work with a local distributor? That is your key decision and you’ll probably need advice to help you make the right choice from a tax, compliance and growth perspective – don’t make an uniformed decision as it will cost you in the long-run.
- Quality: You are unlikely to be able to compete against local companies on the basis of price so you will need to compete on quality. All of your sales and marketing materials should be heavily quality-oriented. Western companies are valued in China for the superior quality they represent and you need to display pride and confidence in your product. If there are three things you should emphasise to potential Chinese buyers they are quality, quality, quality.
- Telesales: Although communication via the phone is important – this is usually for making initial contact, arranging meetings, gathering background information etc. It is unusual to try to ‘sell’ over the phone as the sales and relationship-building process are so tightly interconnected. Phones are useful but only up to a certain point. Regular face-to-face contact is the key to success.
What lessons can we draw from this and what advice do we give to clients? China is potentially a highly lucrative market which could redefine the future direction of you company if you get it right. However, China needs time, patience and cashflow – the sales cycle in China can be long and you need stamina, management bandwidth, local knowledge and cash to achieve lasting success.
If you’d like to go into any of these issues in more depth please get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org