In order for a Western company to be successful in selling its products or services in China it has to better understand a typical Chinese perception of Westerners. This would allow them to take advantage of certain positive perception factors and, at the same time, mitigate a number of negative aspects.
I’m going to examine such perception factors and the most efficient ways to deal with them.
Factor #1: Western Quality
One of the positive perception factors that a Western companies have been enjoying in China was a widespread notion that Western products are of generally better quality than the Chinese equivalents. Clearly, this reputation may not always be deserved but it definitely helps to Western companies to capitalize on this image.
Things have begun to erode, however, mainly due to competition between Western companies themselves and thanks to increasingly better quality coming from local competitors. Still, better quality image is something that Western companies should cultivate and nurture at any cost.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s all about the value, and if perceived quality premium is offset by higher price, “better quality” advantage may quickly evaporate.
One of the main concerns Chinese buyers may have about Western companies is how well they are established locally.
Factor #2: Clear and Straightforward Communication
It is generally acknowledged by the Chinese that Western companies tend to be clearer and more to-the-point about their products and services. Marketing material designed by Western companies, from a websites to datasheets and brochures with the intention to communicate its message as clear as possible, are typically more informative and visually pleasing .
Many Chinese companies put out a lot of information about themselves that they consider impressive to potential customers and tend to put less emphasis on the benefits that their products or services deliver. Chinese buyers often feel confused about what the offer is all about and do prefer clearer and more effective style in getting the information they need.
Western companies should continue refining their message to be clear and concise with the combination of well designed and visually appealing medium as it is being appreciated by the Chinese.
Factor #3: Established Local Presence
One of the main concerns Chinese buyers may have about Western companies is how well they are established locally. Are they going to be stuck with your products without service if things won’t work out for your company in China? How can you prove them that you are here to stay?
Those are not easy questions to answer for a company who is a newcomer in Chinese market. Established legal entity, local office and employing local staff are the very minimum that are required. If you can’t have that, working with a reputable agent or a distributor could be a way to put your foot in the door. Either way, local presence is something that Chinese buyer will definitely look into and it will become the absolute must if you are selling service-intensive products such as industrial machinery.
Factor #4: Understanding of the Needs
One of the criticisms that can often be heard about Western companies is their apparent unwillingness to properly listen to what their Chinese customer really needs. In their view, Westerners may commit too readily to high standards of performance of their products without taking enough time and efforts to understand what are the exact requirements.
Chinese buyers don’t expect suppliers to understand their needs immediately and prefer those who listen carefully to the problems that the business is facing. Only after those needs are identified through a dialogue, a well thought out solution can be offered. Suppliers who claim to have a solution before they have a chance to get the entire picture risk coming across as untrustworthy and naive.
Factor #5: Personal Connection
Admittedly, it is more difficult to Westerners to establish the same type of personal connection with their local customers compared to the native Chinese. However, making such attempt will be always looked upon very positively and can go a long way in gaining trust.
Unwillingness to meet your customers outside of work settings, something that some Westerners may feel uncomfortable with, will be seen as unfriendly and can prove fatal to your business. With the importance of guanxi, Chinese attach a lot of value to personal connection and every opportunity to socialize with your customers should be taken advantage of.