How I lost a deal over a few inches?

If there is anyone who is familiar with the Chinese business market in all its quirks and nuances it is the Israeli business man, Avi Huberman. Avi roamed around offices and meeting rooms in China before anyone in Israel even dreamed of setting foot in this enormously huge land, holding an impressive record of thousands of hours engaging with Chinese business men as an entrepreneur and an industry man specializing in business cooperations with the Chinese market.

I know Avi for many years now and decided to host him on my blog.

“Avi, do you take sugar in your coffee?”

“One and a half please, Mikhal. Let me tell you a little story that clearly demonstrates the differences between the western global business world and the Chinese one.”

“Please do, Avi, I am always up for a good story.”

“A couple of years ago I attended a main event in honor of a very important agreement signing, held in one of the biggest central hotels in the city, in a very big fancy room on the top floor. The view up there was absolutely spectacular overlooking a river illuminated by sailing vessels and surrounded by skyscrapers which were also illuminated with impressive lighting. I was sitting next to a very big round table along with 30 guests, all dressed up and formal. I knew only very few of them. Around us there were 10 waiters and waitresses running back and forth in uniforms generously loading all the best of food and beverages on our table.

Anyone who is a little familiar with the Chinese business world knows that in China there is no such thing as an event without ceremony and speeches.

And so began the part of pouring a glass of wine to make a toast – “Gānbēi”, the Chinese equivalent for “Cheers”. The company CEO, who was also the host, got up and made a toast in Chinese, which was quickly translated to Hebrew by the translator sitting beside me, and then he held up his glass followed by everyone who did the same while cheering “Gānbēi”.

All of us poured another glass of wine and then I realized it was my turn to make a toast. I didn’t have a choice but to stand up, all 5’9 of me, and congratulate for the opportunity presented to us and for the agreement and mainly expressed my appreciation to the hosting manager for supporting the signing of this agreement. The 5′ tall host stood up and then I, without thinking too much, swung the glass in my hand towards him gesturing another toast…

Silence reigned in the room.

The atmosphere changed all at once, as all the guests faces suddenly turned sad. I had a feeling something went wrong but I couldn’t understand what it was exactly.”

“What happened? What did you do?” I ask.

“I was merely taller, Mikhal. My glass of wine was raised higher than that of my host and so I embarrassed him in front of his people, and that is an unforgivable sin in China. It meant that the deal we were working on for so long, nearly two years, just went down the drain, as strange as it may sound.”

“Wow! Where does this come from?”

“Respect your elders, your boss, your teacher and your governor are principals held in China for the last 2,500 years. Confucius bestowed the order; a clear set of rules of behavior between father and son, a governor and his governed, a teacher and his disciples.  It is the obedience and modesty that prevent dishonor.”

“I must say Avi, it sounds like a pretty stressful situation. How can you even prepare for such meeting with other Chinese business men whose set of codes is so different from ours?”

“Well Mikhal, there are some basic things one needs to know and I’d be happy to share some tips with you and your readers from my own personal experience and from others who met more than one or two Chinese people in their life. Are you up for it?”

“Of course”

So here are Avi’s tips to prepare you for a meeting with business men in China:

Identify the “boss”

Right at the very beginning of the meeting while exchanging business cards, your main mission is to figure out who is the guy leading the team. In the past it was usually the older man of the group, but these days it may very well be one of the younger guys there who serve as the “boss”.

When introducing the company and during your presentation make sure you address your speech mainly at him and see that he gets most of the attention. You can even try to incorporate him in the conversation in order to make him feel he is the one running it.

Don’t spare on flattery, shower him with complements endlessly until he finally believes their true. Therefore, make sure to profile him beforehand through the contacts, the data resources and any other way you can use.

Set a goal for the meeting

When preparing for the meeting it is very important to set a specific goal for it – be it an introductory meeting or one held in order to present a business initiative, a product or service – a meeting by itself is not enough.

You have to set a goal: another meeting in China with the mayor, a joint meal, a tour in the factory etc.

Social Annunciation

At the meeting, present the social annunciation you bring to the Chinese people. Do not present the financial advantage and how you are going to maximize the company profits. Remember, the Chinese people are operating in a collective society and they appreciate dearly all that is considered to be a contribution to the foundation and advancement of the social fabric. The Chinese society is not an individual capitalist one that considers maximizing company profits as a top priority.

Speak with confidence and passion

Yet do it calmly and without raising your tone of voice. Talk slowly and use the word “we” instead of “I”. The Chinese people consider body language a very important factor and would sometime arrive to a meeting accompanied by a body language specialist, therefore maintaining a calm peaceful body language is much more important than the actual content of the project.

These meeting are usually held in the presence of a Chinese translator, you can ask to bring one in your behalf. The time it takes to translate what you just said is a perfect opportunity to think and prepare your next sentence. Prepare your presentation sentences in advance and do not deviate from your written text to maintain the order as planned. Do not be spontaneous, that way you will be more accurate and precise. Say a simple sentence, wait for translation, turn your look to the “boss” as he might address the commentary, and keep on to the next sentence.

Why should they close the deal with us?

We’ve already established that maximizing profits is not the main issue, so it is important to plan and present the organizational structure of the company. Present the leading people of the project/transaction managing team and their work experience by using pictures and title.

Provide gratification documents, Thank you letters etc. Remember, the Chinese business man puts an emphasis primarily on relationships and fostering it (sometimes it takes time And a lot of patience) and only then on building the foundation for business, and that too is done by stages. You always have to test their pace and let them feel as if the time management is in their control.

 A few rules for the presentation

-Use words you consider important in order to indicate and highlight.

-Use Chinese translation in the transparency.

-Use appropriate colors for the presentation and correct morphology of the letters.

-Use bigger size of Chinese symbols and script as oppose to the English ones. For instance, make sure that the Chinese flag stands out as oppose to the Israeli flag etc. If you use an image of planet earth, make sure China is in the center.

-At the end of the presentation you can scan the room and look at everyone but never forget that your look starts and ends directed to the boss. You may turn to the boss and ask “Do you have another wise idea you would like to add?”

-Never in any case ask “Did you understand me?” this is a very typical question for an Israeli but for a Chinese person it is considered an insult. And just as my deal went sour so can yours.

“Wow, thank you so much Avi, this was fascinating and educating, I’m sure this would be of great value for people who work with the Chinese market”

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