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Recently I was in a fairly substantial negotiation with a Western company (more on this in another post). The deal took months and nearly fell through in the 11th hour. Looking back, had I simply applied some good old fashioned Chinese business strategies, the deal would never have been so difficult.
Here’s four strategies that almost all Chinese businesses use in China that can make all of us more efficient and effective in the West.
Get Drunk with Your Most Important Clients/Customers/Vendors etc.
In the West, when we’re having drinks with an important client or customer, we typically are cautious about how much we drink. We fear saying something we shouldn’t, ‘letting loose’ too much, and overall embarrassing ourselves and being unprofessional. And it is exactly for these reasons that in China most important business deals at some point have the key decision makers getting obliterated (the more throwing up, the better) together.
Getting wasted with someone breaks down barriers down in a few hours that could take months or years in sobriety. Issues and discussion points that we would be hesitant to be candid with otherwise all of a sudden flow freely. There’s no beating around the bush — the bush is firmly trampled.
The key in Chinese business drinking is that everyone is equal participants in the path to drunkenness. You go shot for shot — literally. Drinking to this level can be difficult to execute with an unsuspecting Western business partner but the situations present themselves often. Going to a game with a client? Why not get 2 or 3 beers for the quarter instead of 1.
Asian culture is typically more reserved and less direct than Western culture and hence the higher demand for the use of ‘truth serum’ but we can all use a dose of candidness in our business relationships and deals.
Go Out for Lunch or Dinner…
There’s few commonalities across all people, cultures and backgrounds and food is one of them.
Going for a meal with key contacts often builds a bond and trust better than going for coffee.
I cannot recall the last time I went to China and ANY business meeting did not include going out for lunch or dinner. It’s critical the meal is outside of the office (no ordering in pizza) to remove yourselves from all of the pretenses that an office entails.
Enjoying a good meal makes everyone happy and you get that person’s undivided attention (turn your phone on silent!) for the duration of that meal. It’s a level of closeness and bonding that you can’t achieve in a boardroom.
…And Never Discuss Business Over a Meal
In Chinese business culture, business rarely gets discussed over a meal. Lunch or Dinner is a time for small talk about your family, interests, current events, etc.. In other words, it’s a time for rapport building and getting to know the other on a more personal level.
Lack of rapport was one of the things that almost killed my 7 figure deal. Every call and discussion with the buyer would open with some obligatory “how’s your father doing?” but we never had the opportunity to build rapport and, subsequently, trust.
Think about your most important clients, customers, and vendors. How much about that person do you know? Could you name three of their interests? Or where they grew up?
Bring a Gift
Gift giving in China is huge. If you’re visiting someone in a different city or country, you ALWAYS bring a gift. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re visiting is trying to win your business, you still bring a gift. And generally, not just a token box of a chocolates but something fairly substantial in the $50–100 range. The more thoughtful the better, i.e. a high-end outfit for the person’s 2 year old daughter.
Yes, the person getting the gift is going to feel indebted to you and there’s some element of bribery going on. However, giving someone a gift (again, hopefully it’s thoughtful) shows someone that you thought about them, if even only for a minute, and not just their business.
This article isn’t meant to be a bash on Western business culture — there’s a reason a Western business education is so sought after in Asia. However, Chinese business culture, crafted over several millennia, has several strengths we in the West can use in all of our business dealings. Hopefully you’re able to bring all or some of the strategies discussed here to your business.
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