ACSME Roundtable April 2019

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The theme for our April Roundtable was “Exporting to China” and attracted a diverse and committed group of SMEs with an interest in China, either to export their own products or services to China, or to support others (clients, friends, colleagues) in their export journey.

Not surprisingly, the discussion moved rapidly to the crux of the challenge of exporting to China which is to source and secure a trusted partner on the ground who can assist you with local relationships, distribution and logistics on the ground. Finding this partner, and forging a long term relationship based on trust, mutual respect and common interests is a critical success factor in building an export business in China and requires time, patience, empathy and genuine intent.

Some of the points made have been made many times before at ACSME Roundtables due to their importance in relation to all dealings with Chinese investors, suppliers, partners and clients, and were as follows:

  • Focus on the relationship not the transaction. The Chinese will only do business with people they trust who are usually members of their own family, personal connections and friends. To break into this circle and enjoy the trust and respect of the whole network takes time and requires a genuine commitment on your part to invest in the relationship.

  • As an extension of the above point, to do business in China you need to “Take Three Cups of Tea” which reinforces the need to go slowly, one step at a time and appreciate the journey from “stranger” to “friend” to “trusted partner”. I have written an ebook on this topic, Three Cups of Tea, which is free to download from my web site.

  • Building the relationship takes time and is difficult, but maintaining the trust is hard aswell. ‘Trust’ is a fragile commodity. It can easily be broken if you take it for granted or behave in a way which could suggest that you’re either “going around”, excluding or side-lining your Chinese partner. Cultural misunderstandings, language nuances and unintended actions can all contribute to breaking trust from which there’s no going back. One slip and the trust is lost forever. Of course, nobody ever tells you that they don’t trust you any more. They’re far too polite and proud to do this. But you’ll find out the hard way!

  • As a result of the above, it’s difficult enough to build one trusted relationship in China, no matter more than one! That’s why you must do your research and due diligence to ensure you’re not “putting your ladder up against the wrong wall” (a favourite saying of mine!) and are dealing with the right people. If it turns out you’ve invested two years of your life making friends with people who are just being polite, and can’t help you achieve your objectives, and are actually hoping you can help them achieve theirs, you’ll be disappointed (though we all need all the friends we can get!) so be cautious, ask open questions and be careful about making assumptions. Just because you can’t speak the language, or don’t fully understand the culture, it doesn’t mean you should leave your normal business instincts and values at home!


Our OpenTables are designed to be interactive, fun and engaging for all participants. There is no designated topic or theme. Instead, we invite ACSME members and guests to come along ready to discuss their burning issues, challenges and/or opportunities, ask questions, seek advice, offer support or make introductions, and network with other ACSME members and guests. Whether their questions and issues get addressed or not, everyone leaves with valuable insights.  Register now for the next ACSME Roundtable on Tuesday, 7th May at 12.30pm.

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