Belfast Telegraph

Soft sell our best chance of getting foot in the door

As Northern Ireland's finest continue their charm offensive around the world's second biggest economy, the deals are trickling in but maybe not in the flood that some had expected, especially for such a high profile trip.

Between Carrickfergus company Yelo and Glenarm Organic Salmon we've had two reasonably-sized deals but none of the barnstorming ones that would single-handedly pull us out of the economic mire.

But like fidgety children on Christmas Eve we need to calm down and learn some patience.

Doing business in China, and indeed in many other parts of Asia, is not as simple as doing business in other parts of the world, such as the United States.

It requires a less aggressive and more measured approach which allows a relationship to be built between a potential buyer or investor and you, the supplier.

But don't take my word for it.

This is what UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) has to say about Chinese business culture: "Just behaving modestly, patiently and politely, while not suspending one's business judgement, is certain to provide a good foundation for successful business in China."

For anyone from the American school of business where aggressiveness is championed, such an approach will come as something of a shock but heeding this type of advice is vital for any business wanting to get their foot in the door with a Chinese buyer.

"You can expect your first, and possibly your second, visit to China to achieve nothing other than getting to know several possible candidates for business partnerships.

"This may seem a slow and costly way of getting started, but it is worth remembering that taking time to cultivate personal connections as the Chinese do is an excellent opportunity to get to know the people you will be working with."

And the next piece of advice from UKTI may help explain why there is such a large political delegation in China: "In China, getting to know someone face-to-face is often regarded as the only way of finding out whether a person is trustworthy.

"In general, the Chinese set great store on building personal relationships before entering into a business partnership, often saying, "Let's first become friends, then do business".

So while it's easy to pour scorn on our politicians' trip to China, there's no doubt that they're hitting all the right buttons when it comes to targeting an economy with huge potential for our exporters, adhering to the customs of the country they're visiting and selling Northern Ireland's features and benefits like trained sales people with a target to meet, but in a patient manner.

Let's hope they've made plenty of friends because we've plenty of business to do.

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