Specialty Fabrics Review June 2020 - 47

6. Slow down when you speak on the
phone. Chinese people are more reserved and
less assertive than Americans, and they won't
ask you to repeat yourself. They think it is
impolite or that it reflects badly on them. This
"face saving" behavior is common. "Chinese
customers often misunderstand or miss key
points when Western engineers speak too
rapidly," says Wang, the Dongguan agent. "I
have to do remedial explanation after they
leave China."
7. Don't rely solely on email exchange.
Follow up with phone calls as often as you
can to your agents, distributors and suppliers.
Emails get lost in cyberspace more often than
you think. "Americans like to write long,
pointed and detailed emails," says Louis
Chui, a Hong Kong employee of a U.S.
software firm. "They believe that telling you
everything in one long email is efficient....
What they don't know is that Chinese prefer
talking and negotiating." If you rely solely
on emails, sooner or later you'll run into
missing links and misunderstanding. I make
a habit of talking with our contacts in China,
sometimes daily. These conversations last 30
to 75 minutes per call.
8. Choose an extrovert. Besides being
China-friendly, your China liaison should
be a people person who is not phone shy.
And never assign China to someone who
gets easily frazzled.
9. Allow time to build comfort and
trust. Understanding and trust can be
built steadily but only slowly over time in
China and Asia, according to Bernard Miu,
Asia regional manager for a multinational
corporation. "Rushing in trying to tell your
Chinese counterpart what is on your mind
and expecting him or her to give you an
immediate response is counterproductive,"
he says. During normal times, I call contacts
in China even when there are no issues. I
want to cultivate a trusting relationship
over time so that they welcome my phone
calls. People dread hearing from you if every
phone call from you is about a problem.
Wang adds another practical tip: "Don't
talk to your agent and Chinese customer
as if they were children. Rather, allow
them to speak their minds. They'll give
you important market information if you're
just quiet long enough."

CHINESE CUSTOMERS COMPLAIN THAT
AMERICAN MANAGERS AND TECHNICAL STAFF
TEND NOT TO RESPOND TO THEIR EMAILS
PROMPTLY. THIS IS A REAL PROBLEM.

10. Respect and value their time. If
your business is located on the East Coast,
your China contacts are often 12 or 13 hours
"ahead" of you. Don't call them when it is too
late in their evenings. I call people between
8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. their time. If you
must call them close to midnight, make sure
ahead of time that they don't mind. If you
make your China partners feel that you're
treating them as professional equals, they'll
be more motivated to be honest with you.
11. Practice gift-giving, especially
during pandemic times. Gift-giving is a
common practice when doing business in
China. When you can't travel there easily, you
can send presents that bond a relationship. I
sensed recently that our agent would love to
have a one-of-a-kind mechanical device our
company makes. He sees in it a good teaching
tool to impress young college engineers. We
made one and shipped it to him as a company
gift. At the same time, hearing that I couldn't
get any face masks at my local Walgreens store,
he sent me a box of 100 Chinese-made face
masks via FedEx.
12. Avoid sending green-colored sports
caps or hats to Chinese men. Giving a "green
hat" to a man in China suggests that his wife
is unfaithful. Likewise, the gift of a clock in
China is not a good omen. The Chinese phrase
for giving a clock suggest that you want people
to have a short lifespan.
13. Be alert to Chinese sensitivity to
numbers. We recently needed to quote an
exceedingly low price to a Chinese customer
without revealing our manufacturing cost. We
quoted a made-up number like $13,876.90
per unit. These are good numbers. They
rhyme with growth, prosperity and good
luck. We avoided using the numeral 4, which
in China suggests defeat, failure and death.

Our customer knew it was a "fake" number.
They laughed and gave us the order.
14. Behave so that your agents
and partners will take you into their
confidence. China is far less transparent than
other countries with which you do business,
and you need to find people who can help
you know what information to trust. It is
essential to choose the right agent, distributor,
employee or partner. In the words of Xu, my
entrepreneur friend in Shanghai, "Facts in
China are like a bar of wet soap. They shapeshift, slip and slide away fast." For example,
imagine a Chinese company with a lot of
infighting. It is hard to know what the truth is.
The engineering department may be dueling
with the manufacturing department, which is
at odds with the sales team or the procurement
manager. Meanwhile, whatever decisions
they make can be vetoed by the corporate
boss. "The China market is a labyrinth," says
Xu. "We on the ground in China must figure
out what is the probable truth in this maze."
15. Don't kill the goose that lays the
golden eggs. If you find a good agent, hold
on to him or her for as long as you can. Don't
become envious or jealous if your good agent
makes more money in commissions than
you do as a manager or executive. Instead,
think strategically. If you can help your
agent become a millionaire, how many more
millions can your firm make?
James Chan, Ph.D., advises U.S. firms in marketing
American-made products and services to China and
Asia. He has guided more than 100 client companies
large and small since 1981.

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Specialty Fabrics Review June 2020

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