Guide to Doing business in China 101 – Sales & Marketing

So many business executives and entrepreneurs said to us “I wish I had met you before I started doing business in China. It would have saved us from making so many mistakes!”

Based on the questions they asked us about different aspects of business operations, we have put together some really simple but practical tips so they can serve as quick guides for those new to doing business in China, but also a reminder for those having some experience but facing new challenges in business expansion in the Middle Kingdom. These cover sales and marketing, sourcing, HR, culture and language, commercial, IP protection, and more. In these practical guides you will also find readily available business services and solutions on our digital platform


How long does a sales process take in China?

It varies and of course depends on your products or services. But generally, you should not expect quick sales.  The Chinese are more likely to do business with people once they have built up some kind of trust, so you should view your first few visits and meetings as relationship building; getting to know each other.

In most cases, it takes effort and time to convert any enquiries from China into sales. However, there are occasions when your technology solutions or products may be sought after in China, and Chinese customers may be desperately trying to get hold of them. In this case, you should seek expert advice on how to handle the interest.

With current difficulties to travel to China, a quick introductory video call would help you to start the commercial conversation and establish the communication and mutual trust rather than keep waiting for the scheduled visit. This will help shorten your sales process considerably and may be the only way for the foreseeable future.

If you know which organisation you want to meet, but do not have the contacts to start with, assistance to identify them is readily available on such as  arranging your first meeting for lead generation in China.

Should we tailor our product design for the Chinese market?

If China is a significant contributor to your overall sales and profitability and there is a strong cultural influence in your type of products, then it is worthwhile to consider designing your products for the Chinese market. This could include everything, from your logo to your branding.

Burberry and Gucci have a number of China-exclusive designs every year, and General Motor’s huge success with Buick in China over the past decade or so has proved the value of understanding the local customer and localisation of product design.  This is true even in the entertainment industry, where Western blockbuster films have been made to be more appealing to the growing Chinese audience by adding Chinese ethnic actors and containing Chinese locations!


How should I carry out my brand communication in China?

You can start with Creating a Chinese Brand Name.  This is not a simple phonetic translation of your brand, but an exercise that should aim to clearly communicate your brand’s meaning in the context of the Chinese market.  In China, due to a range of cultural differences, any brand communication should take into consideration the preference of a Chinese consumers’ taste, including being politically sensitive, among other things. Do your research and get to know your consumers in their environment.

Marketing in China is all about digital nowadays even if you are in B2B space, as the country is now transforming into the world’s most digitised economy. Creating your Digital Strategy in China will enable your business to successfully reach and develop a strong foothold in the Chinese market faster than those organisations that wish to just pull off using an ad hoc approach.

Do I need to have a Chinese website to sell to China?

You do not need one to sell, but it will help by a long way. If you are selling directly online to customers in China, you can have your whole Chinese site mirroring your main one. You need to make sure you can collect money in Chinese currency, so have a currency transfer mechanism in place and arrange local logistics.

Otherwise, just localising a few pages on your main website into Chinese will help to get your key messages across to anyone browsing from China.  Chinese website localisation typically involves translation, usability alterations and consideration of particular cultural likes and dislikes. If you will do that in house, then you can follow our five-step guide to create a Chinese website for your business.

You can also consider setting up a cross-border online store for China on major Chinese platforms such as TMall and for the Chinese eCommerce markets.


Do our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts work in China?

No. All are banned in China, along with all Google services including YouTube. Local platforms are by far the best to use and they dominate, with Wechat, Weibo, RED, and bilibili replacing the ones you are more familiar with. Even Dropbox does not work most of the time in China.  The only exception is Linkedin, which operated its social networking app till recently when it decided to exit that part of its business from China.

If you are looking to reach out to Chinese consumers via social media then you will need to engage with these Chinese channels and it is best to get the right help. For example, you can consider Setting up a Tencent Video Account for showcasing your company and product videos in China, and Setting up a Douyin Video Business Account for Chinese consumer facing products.

There are so many social media channels in China – which one should I use?

WeChat is probably the single most important channel you should understand first. It boasts an active monthly user base of 1.3 billion globally in 2022.

Known as “Weixin” (meaning micro message) in China, it functions like a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plus marketing, sales, advertising and CRM functions for businesses, as well as mobile payment. About 780 million users are on the social networking section WeChat Moments while the content network WeChat Official Account has 360 million users. However,  overseas companies can have various types of WeChat accounts and each account comes with different functions and restrictions, so you need to know about what’s available and compare these before Creating a verified WeChat Overseas Official Account.

You can read more about using WeChat for marketing here.

If you like to learn all the tricks of using WeChat for business marketing & sales in China,  then you may find a crash course video recording also helpful.


What is the most effective way to do market research on the Chinese market?

You can always start with a market overview desk research in English (unless you can read Chinese), and you may find a lot of information available online. However, to get to the important issue such as whether your product will be acceptable to Chinese customers – it is not that straightforward.

Here some primary research would be advisable besides market overview desk research, where you should arrange for interviews and focus groups so people can give you their own opinions.  You can do this through calling your own contacts in China, or hiring someone locally on the ground to talk to your potential customer(s). The latter is probably better due to the time difference.

How do I do due diligence on a potential Chinese partner?

If a Chinese company is listed in China, you can easily find public information on them. For a private company, some credit information companies may hold basic profiles on them and you can obtain these through a company registration report, particularly if the company exports.

You can always have some form of tailored commercial due diligence done, by doing an online search in Chinese in combination with specialist interview calls with its customers, suppliers, staff and even its competitors.  Your Chinese partner may well expect this, but it is best to do it discreetly, so that no one loses “face”- a very important aspect of doing business in China.