For anyone in sales in the West getting past a "gate keeper" (GK) has become a real art. In the past you had to deal often with a receptionist who could help or hinder you in your path to a decision maker (DM). I am sure we have all been there and have developed a variety of techniques for getting past this often tough barrier.
Sales people want to get in front of a DM to present what they have to offer often to have the best chance of creating a sale. More recently GK's have become more sophisticated and often you are now dealing with the DM's personal assistant who has a significant amount of influence and often is tasked with short listing projects for a busy DM to consider.
In China things are much the same but also significantly different. In China there is often a very formal and often long chain of command. People on the bottom rungs have virtually no access to those somewhere in the middle, let alone the top and so putting your information in front of a DM is much more complex and needs a lot of thought and above all patience.
Chinese DM's rarely get involved in early stages of negotiation. They give the job of dealing with most projects to their assistants who will often have assistants of their own. Gauging the motivation of each person in the chain is an essential skill.
Lower level employees are invariably risk averse and so they are not likely to put forward anything that is in any way challenging. This is because most do not want to be the one who gets the blame if something goes wrong (or might go wrong) Also there is another motivational factor. They want to appear good in the eyes of their immediate superior.
Remember that you may be dealing with someone who is several rungs down the ladder and your offer has to go up every step. There is unlikely to be a shortcut directly to the DM.
In the West most of us have played the game "Chinese Whispers" where you start with a simple message and pass it around a circle. The last person then says what message they heard and it is invariably a lot different from the first simple message. The same applies to making an offer - unless you are really clear and provide some guidance, what is put in front of the DM may not be wha you offered. Worse than that though, is a situation where the benefits and values that your offer could bring to a company are completely lost. You always have to consider that the GK may not be a strategic thinker. He may not appreciate the benefits of your product. Equally he is less likely to champion your product if he sees any personal risk to his own position.
So do you need a different approach. Again a yes and no answer. You have to have a managed sales process, much as you would have in the West, but you need to be much clearer about benefits and making sure that these are seen as such. You also need to be patient and realise that in China this is a standard process and has to be worked through. It is far from easy to short cut it.
One way we have found to work well is to show that you support the GK and help him to look good in the eyes of his immediate superior. Providing a presentation that he can use - and claim as his own can be a real help in getting the right message across. Never assume that what you have promoted has been fully understood or appreciated. Be prepared to go over things several times and make sure that the GK has bought into the idea. Finally never underestimate the power that the GK has to support or destroy your project.
Chinese business culture is a lot different from the West and so gaining an understanding of it and also getting support from a consultant who has real experience in the market makes a big difference to the likelihood of success
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