Doing business with China

I’ve been discovering recently that cultural and language barriers are making it difficult for me to sell a private IP network to a Chinese coal mining company who are starting to build a bit of an empire here in Australia and looking to make themselves lots of money.

After about 3 months worth of emails, phone calls, proposals, and customised pricing, the company had seemed to give us the impression that they wanted us to build them a network, but they’d never actually said yes and wanted to sign the contracts. A meeting finally happened today (after weeks of trying to get one), and I held out a little bit of hope that after going through some points they wanted to cover, they might just sign the contract that I’d brought along.

I was wrong.

I would say it was a good meeting, and we covered lots in the two hours… but as to when they’re going to go ahead with it, it’s anyone’s guess. And apparently that’s fairly commonplace for Chinese businesses.

My boss came along to the meeting to give us a bit of “higher up” Telstra representation, just to remind the customer that they were pretty important to us. Interestingly, she’d just completed a unit on doing business with Asian cultures as part of her Masters in Business course by correspondence. After the meeting, she shared with us (the Telstra people) that everything that had happened in the meeting was much to be expected – the delay in signing, the laughing when they’re asking serious questions, etc. She told us that she’d learnt that apparently companies will focus a lot on entertaining you and dragging it on and on, when actually they made the decision to go ahead quite a while ago. It was comforting to hear…

It was just an incredibly interesting lesson in how hugely different cultures are in relation to doing business. Most “western” companies I deal with will be reasonably quick to make a decision, and certainly wouldn’t string something like this out this long.

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