I recently made a whirlwind trip to China, spending time in Shenzhen for the EASTxWEST Forum. It was a conference aimed at facilitating better business relationships between Australia and China. My first time visiting this amazing country opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist for collaboration between such close global partners. I want to share my thoughts on a key to success in this part of the world that can become a guide for all that we do.
One of the most critical parts of doing business in China is the way in which you first build a relationship. This is actually something I believe should be the foundation for every business interaction, no matter where you are in the world. The fact is, building a business relationship in China is a time honoured tradition and a critical process taken so seriously that your ability to squander opportunity vastly increases if you choose to disregard it.
I was fortunate enough to meet some successful and influential people during my trip. They were shining examples of this relationship based business process. The level of respect the most successful Chinese business person had for those we may assume too junior for them to even worry about was inspiring. I saw introductions that would have you believe an assistant was the life blood of an entire organisation. Then, in one introduction someone made of me, it felt like I was already an academy award winning film producer. Some may say all this is just part of a game, said with tongue in cheek. I challenge this, as what I saw was a test of one’s humility and honesty, two critical facets of business in China. How you respond to an introduction, or introduce someone yourself, plays a huge part in representing your character.
To explore this further. If you compared a contract from China with a contract from Australia for exactly the same business deal, the Chinese one would be three pages and the Australian one close to 100 pages. The agreement the Chinese are looking to make with you lends more weight to their ability to trust your character, your commitment to deliver and your humility in recognising that everyone should be benefiting from the arrangement. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
So much of how the western business world operates is fast paced and distrusting. When it comes to making a deal things need to happen quickly and all negative outcomes covered. The relationship building process is pushed aside with minimal consideration, despite often being the part that raises any red flags. Yes it might take a bit longer, but building a relationship has been a part of so many business cultures for generations, a true gateway to entry for anyone looking to succeed. The long term benefits for a business willing to take this approach in China are unfathomable. The Chinese middle class are hungry for access to new markets. They see Australia, particularly when it comes to food and tourism, as one of the most sought after locations on the planet.
In China I met Australian business owners and government officials that have already put in the time and effort to build relationships with Chinese counterparts, hearing stories of the significant success they are having. Yet others could not grasp this method of entry to a market as being a way that a country or economy, particularly that of Western Australia, can grow.
It might be a punt for some, but I think there is enough evidence to say that our relationship with the Chinese will define the success of our state, and even our country in the future. We aren’t the only ones with this opportunity either, the rest of the globe recognises the value in having a presence in China and so this is an act now situation.
We share a time zone, hold so much of what they desire and need to look elsewhere to secure our own futures. If we accept traditional practices, put the time in and recognise the value of building strong relationships there is an unknown abundance of possibility on tap. No matter your business size consider what you have to offer to our neighbours in the north, as leaders of both countries are working to develop even stronger ties through free-trade agreements and an open dialogue.
Consider the traditional Chinese approach to business, not just in your work with them but in all that you do. Spend some time on building relationships first and see how it improves your chances for greater success in the future.