Understanding the Chinese way lays ground for new business

John Jenkinson, international trade adviser at the Department for International Trade, argues that showing a basic knowledge of local language and culture in China demonstrates to potential clients that you have gone above and beyond basic due diligence

Our regional dialects are nothing if not distinct. A mark of our history, our heritage and our culture that brings a sense of familiarity to all those who are a part of the region.

It is a part of who I am, and when someone not familiar with the area learns how to correctly shout encouragement at the local football team, I appreciate them all the more for it, and for their efforts to understand the region, its identity, and me.

When overseas for business or pleasure, I try to adopt a similar attitude, to try and understand the basics of a region’s history, language and culture in a way that shows that as a visitor, I appreciate where I am and the people I meet here.

This does not go unnoticed, and in business, this little effort can go a long way.

While living as an expat in Sichuan, China, I learned much about corporate and local hospitality, the optimum time to engage someone with a business proposal or request a meeting, and how to negotiate with those around me. All these activities were influenced by Chinese culture, and the culture of the specific region I was living in.

To give a business the best possible chance for success, it is also important to take note of these cultural elements. China can be a fantastic place to do business, and there are many opportunities available for businesses who prepare well, allocate sufficient resources and reach out to specialists for support.

Take a look at Cottam Brush, suppliers of world class brushes and technical solutions for industry based in Hebburn, UK.

By visiting China and experiencing Chinese culture, interacting with those in industry and having help from native Mandarin speakers, Cottam Brush was able to use their experience and understanding of the cultural aspects of doing business in China to adapt their successful in-house design work and package it as an offer to Chinese businesses.

By focusing on the needs of the Chinese domestic market and considering the current design philosophy and operational climate of Chinese SMEs, Cottam Brush has added a new service tailored for the Chinese market, and consequently a new revenue stream for the business.

If you are looking to engage with an international market over the long term, due diligence should not just cover market intelligence and those you would like to do business with, but also include the very language and culture of those with whom you are looking to do business.

This does not have to be a big task. You do not have to learn Mandarin or memorise every significant date in a country’s history. To start, I would suggest:

• Learn common phrases, particularly greetings and polite terms of appreciation.• Find a popular, traditional dish from the area you are visiting and try it. Food is a big part of a country’s culture and always brings people together, as well as giving you some common ground in conversation.

• Brush up on basic history to avoid any sensitive topics that may cause offence to those who have invited you to their country.

In my view, this extra research into a country’s history, language and culture is not optional or extra-curricular, but rather a necessary part of any business’s international strategy and a critical step as you look to engage with an international market. No matter how advanced or wonderful your product or service is, people will always buy from people they trust, and who have made the effort to understand their business, and their needs.

Showing an appreciation and knowledge of local language and culture demonstrates that you have an understanding, that you have gone above and beyond basic due diligence, and most importantly made a real effort to get to know those you do business with as people.