The art of building trust

Chapter one of every ‘doing business in China’ handbook is about ‘building trust’. Lessons about spending time with your business partner offer good advice, but the question remains – what is the kind of behaviour or attitude that really helps build trust in business with China? We asked our trusted Club China Helpdesk experts to share their experiences.

Raymond Koot (Taiwan): “Look for the signs”

“In my business (semiconductors, ed.) I have learned that business partners will very much judge someone on how he deals with the first payments for supplies. What worked well for me so far is showing that I am capable of paying from the start instead of wasting time with lengthy discussions about terms. This shows your counterparts you mean business, which is something you can build on.

I have learned that many Chinese think Western businessmen are full of ‘blabla’, pretending to order million of products, wanting the best price and then ordering only a fraction of that number. Chinese are too clever for that strategy. Be real, ask for quotes for the actual quantities you have in mind. Indeed, honesty and straightforwardness go a long way!”

“If you want to find out if your new business partner can be trusted, look for the signs. You can probably trust someone who speaks openly and enthusiastically about his products, about assortment and about pricing. Don't trust the businessman who is overly careful and is hesitant about showing you his cards and what he has to offer. Trust your gut feeling. If it feels right, ask for references and do check them out. I generally advise against handling all this from a distance. I like to see people and talk to them. When I have doubts about the business or production of my goods, I get in the car and visit the company without making an appointment!”

Peter Pronk (Beijing): “Share your secrets”

There is no recipe to gain trust from your Chinese partner. In principle he or she will never trust you fully since you are simply a Western. However if and when you place your future in his or her hand and you are not afraid of going with your Chinese counterpart all the way you can get very far. As much as you should never trust your Chinese friend he or she will not trust yours. Be friends, be thoughtful to him/her and his/her's family, share secrets, never forget them when you visit!

Duco van Breemen (Shanghai): “Open up your network”

“When I was working in Hangzhou, I would regularly wine and dine local businessmen and government officials to build up guanxi (network). Drinking was a big part of doing business back then. And it still is, but much less so - particularly in first-tier cities. To build trust, you need to go beyond drinking, dining and gifting; you need to provide long-term value to your Chinese counterpart. For instance by opening up your network to him, by introducing potential business partners or by helping him gain access to new markets. This signals you are in it for the long run and that you are willing to invest time and effort in building up a relationship. Also, try to engage on multiple levels with the company: not just with the key decision-maker, but also with key-influencers e.g. engineers and managers. The golden rule is: the more you put in, the more you get back.”


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