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Selling to the Chinese consumer

Bryce M. Sanders, BS, MS

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China’s middle is class is 430 million and growing, and 50 million Chinese expatriates live in other countries. How do you apply Western sales strategies when selling to Chinese clients? How are both cultures similar and different? Sanders discusses strategies you can implement immediately to establish a presence in China or in the Chinese community in your own country.

My name is Bryce Sanders, and my business, Perceptive Business Solutions Inc., provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on my background. I’ve done the same type of job as you — I write a lot, including being published in the MDRT magazine “Round the Table,” and I’ve presented at MDRT twice previously. What you probably really want to know is, what qualifies me to talk about selling to the Chinese consumer?

My wife, Jane, and I love China. We made our first trip to Shanghai in February 2013. Since then, we’ve been traveling to Shanghai and Beijing about every four months. That’s 18 times before the end of 2018. And we live in New Hope, Pennsylvania. It’s about 24 hours in travel time from the time we leave the house until we walk into our hotel. We enjoy learning about the culture, and we meet great people.

I want to take a moment and be more specific to show that our interest is genuine and that we have seen more than the tourist sights. In Beijing, we were amazed to find a third-generation kite maker working out of a tiny storefront. On every trip, we visit Temple Restaurant Beijing, near the Forbidden City. This dish appears to be a small apple. [visual] It’s actually a ball of foie gras with a green gelatin glaze. And we are amazed to see the window washers who swing back and forth in an arc! [visual]

If I talk about Beijing, I must talk about Shanghai. On a Saturday, we go to see the hundreds of mothers with umbrellas who set up in People’s Park. It’s a city where the daily outdoor food market isn’t far away from the hotel with the jewelry vault shop and the yacht shop.

Back to business. We are going to start by looking at my final slide, “What we have learned,” from the point of view of “What will we learn?” We will learn that China has a rapidly growing middle class at home and that there are lots of prosperous Chinese living all around the world. We will learn how both the Chinese and Western cultures share many of the same values, but you need to understand the cultural differences. This leads into how the Chinese prefer doing business, which can be different from the Western process. Put another way, you can’t just take Western sales techniques and expect them to work with the Chinese consumer. For North American members of the audience looking for an easy-to-grasp parallel, we will look at the similarities between Chinese consumers and New Yorkers. Finally, we will look at several sales strategies you can put to work immediately upon returning home.

Summing the objective up in one sentence: We will learn how to sell insurance and investment products to the Chinese consumer at home or abroad.

Looking around, I can see some of you wondering, Am I in the right room? Is this session right for me? Four types of people should benefit from this:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling in China: You live and work in Shanghai.
  2. Western agents and advisors selling in China: Maybe you lead an office team.
  3. Western firms seeking to enter the Chinese market: The size and potential of the middle class will astound you.
  4. Agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home: Maybe you are Chinese or maybe you’re not, but you live in Vancouver or San Francisco.

Definition and potential of the Chinese middle-class market

Let’s start by looking at the middle-class market in China and its potential. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but the simplest definition of the middle class is that group of people living above the poverty line yet not possessing significant wealth. They are the class in the middle, or the middle class.

But you’ve flown all this distance to Miami. You want numbers. In 2016, the magazine “The Economist” described the Chinese middle class as households earning between US$11,500 and $43,000 a year.1 An extremely confusing report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gave the range between $16,000 and $160,000.2 In the U.S., the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has an arm that does research, considers the U.S. middle class as households earning between about $40,000 and $118,000.3 For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider Chinese households earning more than $11,500 a year as middle class.

This market segment is booming. I don’t have to tell you that. In 2002, when China’s population was 1.251 billion people, 5 million were considered middle class. Ten years later, the number skyrocketed to 420 million people, while China’s population grew by about 100 million people in the same period.

Can this growth continue? A “China Daily Europe” article projects the middle class will grow to 550 million by 2022.4 That’s only about three years away! An article in “The Sydney Morning Herald” talks about 850 million middle-class Chinese by 2030.5 Wow!

Chinese living overseas

What about people with Chinese ancestry living overseas? It’s estimated that 50 million Chinese live in other countries. Here’s a chart. I won’t dwell on it but will pick out a few highlights:

Thailand 9.3 million people (14 percent of the population)
Malaysia 6.6 million people (23 percent of the population)
United States 4.9 million people (1.5 percent of the population)
Indonesia 2.8 million people (1 percent of the population)
Singapore 2.5 million people (75 percent of the population)
Canada 1.7 million people (5.1 percent of the population)
Myanmar 1.6 million people (don’t know the percentage)
Australia 1.2 million people (5.6 percent of the population)
Philippines 1.1 million people (1 percent of the population)

What investment and insurance products can be sold in China?

Now let’s look at what investment and insurance products can be sold in China. A lot depends on the firm where you work and the licenses you hold. Broadly speaking, there are eight product areas in each of two groups.6,7,8,9,10,11

If you sell insurance, you might be selling insurance in eight categories: traditional life, health care, automobile, property/casualty, universal life and critical illness insurance (called long-term care insurance in the U.S.). You might also be selling guaranteed interest rate insurance products and annuities.

If you sell investments, you might be selling individual stocks, mutual funds, fund of funds, real estate funds and hedge funds. You might be selling managed investment accounts, venture capital and private equity too.

What values are important to the Chinese consumer?

It should come as no surprise that the Chinese middle class shares many of the same values as middle-class consumers in other countries, yet they are often amplified.

  • Family. They come first. You provide as best you can for the next generation, and you care for the preceding generation. Your family name carries a reputation. You want to maintain or improve it, not bring shame.
  • Education. One of the best ways to help your children is by providing them with the best education possible. Parents will sacrifice to make this happen. They will move into an area with better schools. They will help their children study and celebrate their achievements. Most people still have only one child. They want the best for that child.
  • Parenting. To help children advance in their careers, in China, it’s normal for the grandparents to provide child care while their children go to work. The grandchildren may see more of the grandparents than they will of their own parents, especially when they are very young.
  • Retirement planning. Years ago, having a large family was the standard way parents provided for their own retirement. The Chinese government requires children to look after their aging parents, although actual requirements might not be spelled out. In general, as they get older, Chinese parents don’t want to be a burden to their children.

These next two aren’t values; they are behaviors. They are also important.

  • Embracing technology. Young people adapt to technology at a very fast pace. It’s not uncommon to do your grocery shopping online and have the groceries delivered to a personal storage box at your apartment. Credit card technology has been eclipsed. Most Chinese pay for transactions through their phones.
  • Social media. As expected, it’s hugely popular. WeChat is the Chinese equivalent of Facebook, Twitter and Apple Pay, all rolled into one.

How is the Chinese consumer different from the Western consumer?

Let’s assume you are selling in China to the Chinese middle class. You’ve been trained by the firm in how to sell, but your prospect isn’t the same as a prospect in New York, London or Vancouver.

Language

Mandarin is the official language in most of China. Cantonese is popular too. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? It gets harder because there are many dialects in China. For example, Shanghainese is not easily understood by people not from Shanghai. What do we know so far? In Shanghai, they might speak Mandarin or Shanghainese or both. There’s a third option, local Mandarin, which fits between Mandarin and dialects. Although English is spoken in hotels and businesses selling to Westerners, the average Chinese person isn’t fluent in English.

What’s the takeaway? Find out what language is most comfortable for your Chinese middle-class prospect.

The Chinese are proud of China’s accomplishments

Years ago, many Chinese felt China didn’t get enough respect on the world stage. Then came China’s rapid economic growth. Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics. Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022. It’s estimated that by 2020, China will have 21 of the 50 tallest buildings in Asia.12 Be sincerely complimentary of China’s accomplishments.

What’s the takeaway? Recognize that China has done a lot in a short period of time.

People want the best

Walk down Nanjing Road in Shanghai. You will see No. 1 Department Store, No. 1 Pharmacy and No. 1 Food Hall. Each designation means it was the first. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. The name might be trying to imply that first is best.

What’s the takeaway? Your firm is the best in certain areas too. People want to do business with the best.

Negotiation is expected

Although there’s the stereotype “For you I have a special price,” in many situations, prices are negotiated. This gives the consumer a degree of power, yet it can be managed if the person selling understands that concessions will need to be made on price. But this can be an issue because many insurance products have fees built in. Investment products often have fees that can be discounted.

What’s the takeaway? It’s part of the give-and-take of doing business. Negotiation is expected.

The personal network

People assemble and maintain a “guanxi,” or personal advisory networks. It’s their list of go-to people when they need advice or want to buy a service. Not all members are weighted equally. Longevity is a factor. An influential university professor may still be consulted for advice years after graduation. When you need a service, and a provider is within your network, it’s considered an insult not to approach that provider first. Another way of saying this is, “People prefer to do business with people they know and like.”

You might assume this is a Chinese concept with no Western equivalent. In your own life, you probably have a circle of people you know. This includes acquaintances, friends and close friends. Not everyone’s advice is weighted equally. Some people have unique expertise.

What’s the takeaway? The personal relationship needs to be built first before doing big business. This is often established over dinners with alcoholic drinks (“ganbei”) and followed by KTV.

Face

You don’t complain about poor service or insult a person in public. It’s a version of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is huge. Once someone loses face, the deal is off! It is about “giving face” and “losing face.”

What’s the takeaway? Be polite and show respect to everyone.

Lucky, unlucky numbers

Eight is lucky. Four is not. Buildings often don’t have 4th or 14th floors. Phone numbers often end with 8888. “Six” means everything is going smoothly. “Nine” means best wishes. An unlucky number is considered an omen.

What’s the takeaway? Notice phone numbers posted on billboards. Look at the prices in stores or on restaurant menus. They make use of lucky numbers. Your pricing should follow this practice.

Death

It’s considered unlucky to discuss it. People want to be lucky and live a long life. Chopsticks stuck into a bowl of rice signifies death. White roses and white garments are associated with death. Traditionally, wedding dresses have often been red, a lucky color. This is gradually changing. In major cities, the Chinese have adopted the Western custom of white wedding dresses; however, the bride usually changes after the ceremony into a traditional Chinese red dress for the reception.

What’s the takeaway? If people will get upset when you talk about death, find another way to get your point across.

Gambling

Although officially illegal, it’s traditionally been very popular in China. State-run lotteries are popular. In June 2018, online poker was banned.13 In China, investors and consumers might consider buying and selling stocks as a form of gambling, like horse racing.

What’s the takeaway? This can be an issue because investing is viewed from a long-term perspective in the West.

Luxury goods

Many Chinese prefer luxury goods. They have excellent brand awareness. They are showing their high-quality lifestyle, great taste for fashion and success. People may admire you if you carry the American Express Platinum or, even better, the Black Card.

What’s the takeaway? The quality of your clothing and accessories will be noticed.

WeChat

In China, WeChat is more powerful than email. This includes sending messages, files, transferring money and contact cards.

What’s the takeaway? It’s important to identify people’s preferred communication channel and utilize it.

What keeps the Chinese middle class awake at night?

All across the world, it makes sense to identify a need your prospects have, then propose a solution that involves their becoming a client and buying your products. Here are five areas of concern for the middle-class Chinese consumer. The first three are middle-class concerns anywhere you live in the world. The last two are more of a Chinese concern than a Western concern.1

  1. Who will look after them when they grow old?
  2. If they get sick, hospital bills may wipe out their wealth.
  3. Savings; low interest rates.
  4. Property rights, as 80 percent of middle-class Chinese own their own homes.
  5. Unregulated nature of alternative investments; Ponzi schemes.

The Chinese consumer’s attitudes toward investing

Earlier we talked about the Chinese transitional attraction to gambling. Shanghai’s People’s Park was a racecourse back in 1862. To many people, investing is a short-term activity.

  • There’s a need for education on the role of advisors and the value they bring.
  • If investing is considered gambling, that’s short-term thinking, a trading focus. As a result, many people who are investing are active traders doing online trading. It’s common to see subway riders checking stock prices on their smartphones.
  • Flipping is a problem. Fund distributors get people into a fund, then out when the next one comes along.14
  • In general, investors have a lack of confidence in financial markets because of insider trading and accounting scandals.14
  • The Chinese government has introduced enterprise annuities, which are similar to 401(k) retirement plans in the West. They haven’t become hugely popular yet.14
  • As in the U.S., there are stock market circuit breakers to try to minimize wide price swings. Trading stops if shares decline by a certain amount. However, companies can halt trading in their own shares for certain reasons.
  • A Chinese company might issue four different classes of stock. Class A shares are for Chinese investors only. Class B shares are denominated in U.S. dollars. And Class H shares trade in Hong Kong. Some Chinese companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq in the U.S.

Cultural differences in doing business

Let’s assume you are a Westerner planning on doing business in China. It’s been said that you can’t “cut and paste” sales techniques. What do you need to know? Let’s start at a high level. China is known for socialism with Chinese characteristics, yet for people doing business, China’s economy might be described as “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” In the past, Great Britain and the United States had their periods of unrestrained capitalism. China is going through a similar period.

Work ethic

Broadly speaking, people in China work longer hours and more days than is common in the West. Although for most middle-class consumers, it might be a 9 to 5 workday with weekends off, they don’t have five weeks of paid vacation like some European countries. Austrians have 35 days off. Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy are close.***15 You may find that the Chinese wonder why Westerners are not expected to work harder.

Making money

The private sector generally thinks short term: “What have you done for me lately? or “Are you making me money?” Negotiating on price might mean you make less per transaction, but you make it up on volume.

Let’s talk a little more about making money. Running a business at a loss to gain market share isn’t something the private sector often does when selling to the Chinese consumer. If something isn’t doing well, you cut your losses. If two competitors are going after the same client, this is very well the case. Think Didi versus Uber. They go at it until one goes out of business or gets taken over by the other one.

Lack of safety net

Businesses that aren’t doing well might just fold. It puts people out of work. There aren’t long periods covered by unemployment insurance as the person goes hunting for another job.

Not a consumer-driven economy, yet

The Chinese economy has primarily grown by selling products overseas or investing in large infrastructure projects in China. In contrast, about 70 percent of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending. Chinese consumers are busy saving, not spending, at this point. However, the majority of Chinese consumers don’t have much money to save.

Professional respect

The firm where you work and your title all contribute to how you are perceived in the business community. The university you attended also fits into this category. Respect also extends to the giving and receiving of business cards. It’s your business face. It’s often presented with two hands. You accept with two hands, turning it over and examining both sides. Place it on the desk in front of you. Putting it in your back pocket is similar to sitting on their face. However, China is a technologically advanced society. WeChat connections rule over business cards.

Business entertaining

Getting to know each other before doing business is a major part of doing business in China. This lengthens the sales cycle. You are also investing in the relationship.

You get what you pay for

The Chinese are in business to make money. They also want the deal. Let’s say your company sells housewares in the U.S. If you want to order spoons, and the price you offer is below the price they want, they might still agree, but the spoon you get is lighter and smaller than you expected. They will deliver a product where they still make money but perhaps not the product you expected.

Gift giving

It’s part of social and business etiquette in China. Often the gifts are small. You are showing a sign of respect. This is more acceptable between two people working in the private sector. It’s important the item is nominal lest it be considered a bribe. This has been an issue for government officials.

How does this apply to me if I’m selling something?

You are in the business of selling insurance and/or investment products. In the West, many investors pay for financial advice, provided by a middleman, the financial advisor. Traditionally, “your word is your bond” was the guiding rule. People would place orders and make payment by settlement day, in five days, later shortened to three days. China’s middle class doesn’t go back to multiple generations who invested previously. Here are seven things you should know:

  1. Eliminating the middleman. The Chinese often prefer to deal direct, not understanding the value that someone who arranges the transaction brings to the table. Once they have established contact with the source, they don’t see the need for an intermediary.
  2. “I got a better deal.” The deal isn’t done until you have money in hand or a deposit that isn’t refundable. In China, the deal isn’t considered done until there’s cash on the table.
  3. It must be down on paper. In the West, “your word is your bond” is a traditional rule in the financial markets. In China, everyone’s expectations should be spelled out on paper ahead of time. Even then, the contract is a dynamic document, a starting point.
  4. There is no court of public opinion. In the West, when a company gets into trouble, the focus is often on getting your story out first and controlling the narrative. This doesn’t work in China.
  5. Nation of rules, not laws. This is important because going to the courts to settle a commercial dispute isn’t as easy as it is in the West. If something goes wrong, it’s better to admit guilt while hoping for mercy instead of trying to talk your way out of it.
  6. Delicate negotiations are done over tea or coffee. Both parties face each other in a private situation, sharing food or a beverage. Both parties are on the same level. It’s a sign of fraternity.
  7. Bottom price. Because losing money isn’t an option, there’s a level below which the other side just won’t go.

Is China a nation of New Yorkers?

American agents and advisors in the audience might say, “That’s fine for Chinese people living in China, but my prospects are second- and third-generation Chinese, born and living in San Francisco. This doesn’t apply to them.” To a degree, it does. You may live in another country, but many people are taught by their parents to appreciate the value and traditions of the country of their ancestors.

Others might say, “I’m a Midwesterner. We talk slowly. We are polite and gracious. We hold doors open so others can go through first. We are the last to leave an elevator. Is working in China living in a very different culture?”

For these Midwestern Americans, an analogy might help. You know all about New Yorkers. You’ve seen many TV series based on life in New York. Think about “Seinfeld,” “Taxi,” “CSI: NY” and “Blue Bloods.” How do those characters behave?

  • They are brusque. They want the “get-to-the-point” approach.
  • They have a unique take on “family first.” If you shared an anonymous success story about how you helped someone, native New Yorkers wouldn’t think, How wonderful for that person! They would think, Can he do that for me or someone in my family?
  • You can move away, but if you lived in New York, the “New Yorker” never leaves you. Years later, if you are faced with a crowded situation to get onto a train or get through customs and immigration, you have a sixth sense to find the shortest line or get through a crowd.

If they were to say, “Suppose my clients were all high-energy people, always in a hurry, with short-term time horizons (What have you done for me lately?), short attention spans and a desire to negotiate the price down,” what would be a good American parallel? The Midwesterner might think about selling to the stereotypical New Yorker.

The Chinese consumer isn’t a stereotypical New Yorker. There are cultural differences. However, people who live in a city with a huge population, travel on mass transit and find themselves in crowded situations tend to act the same, regardless of where the city is located.

Eleven strategies for selling face-to-face

We’ve established that middle-class consumers around the world share many of the same values. We know what’s important to the Chinese consumer. We know how they are similar and how they are different. Now, how do you sell to them and close business while respecting the culture and traditions?

Strategy No. 1: Promote the reputation of the firm

Who is the audience? This is appropriate for any age, wealth or income category.

This is useful for:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

Since many of these ideas are good for people living in China and selling to Chinese middle-class consumers, let’s refer to them as the “Big Two.”

Here’s the approach: Sell the firm first. Talk about its history in terms of longevity and connections for historical projects in the home country (financing railroads). Explain the high safety rating. Talk about categories where the firm is an industry leader, No. 1 in assets under management and number of years doing business in China. Point to your big building. Talk about your credentials.

What’s the message you are delivering? We are the best. I will bring the resources of the firm into your living room.

What’s the big mistake to avoid? Ignoring the firm, just selling yourself.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? People want to do business with the best. We are the best.

Strategy No. 2: Negotiating on price

What’s our scenario? Who is the audience? The prospects want to buy. They are negotiating for a better deal.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

It’s also useful for agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Here’s the approach: Position the insurance product with fees built in alongside the investment product where discounting is allowed. Negotiate on fees paid overall but deliver the savings entirely from the investment product where discounting is allowed.

What’s the message you are delivering? “I understand negotiating is the way you do business. I am happy to comply, but it must be done within the structure I am allowed to use.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Offering to make a cash payment because you can’t discount a fixed price product.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “You want a discount; I’m giving you a discount.”

Strategy No. 3: The family legacy

What’s the scenario? Who is our audience? You are speaking with older people who have substantial savings.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

It’s also useful for agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Here’s the approach: Talk about long-term investing. Use charts showing how stocks as an asset class have outperformed all other assets. In the U.S., this is often referred to as a mountain chart. Although stocks may have outperformed other assets over time, the stock market doesn’t move in a straight line. It has ups and downs. “You can make investments that provide an income for you now and will leave a legacy for your family after you have gone.”

What’s the message you are delivering? “You will have income. Your name will live on into the future. People will remember you as a successful, wealthy person.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Mentioning death. It’s unlucky to talk about it.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “Future generations will remember and respect you.”

Strategy No. 4: Independence in retirement

What’s the scenario? Who am I talking to? You are talking to middle-aged people with money.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

It’s also useful for agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Here’s the approach: Talk about insurance products that provide income during their lifetime and their spouse’s lifetime too.

What’s the message you are delivering? “You will have independence to live the retired life you please. You will not be a burden to your children. Your children can concentrate on their careers, being all they can be.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Creating any doubt their children wouldn’t follow tradition and won’t care for them.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? Retirement typically meant the younger generation cared for the older generation. You are changing that.

Strategy No. 5: Investing is complicated

What’s the scenario? Who is the audience? Younger people with money or cash flow.

This is useful for all four groups. We start with the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

We also include agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Now we add Western firms seeking to enter the marketplace in China.

Here’s the approach: Talk about how, over the long term, equities outperform other asset classes. Show the tapestry chart, indicating how leadership changes across different market segments from year to year. “You need expert advice to help guide you.” Investors need to think long term. They need to add money when performance looks bad and reallocate when things are going well. This takes discipline.

What’s the message you are delivering? “I am trained in this area. I have the resources and worldwide advice of my firm available to me. I will put this to work for you.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Implying short-term investing is a good long-term strategy for building wealth.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “Your chances of doing well are better if you take the long view. You need experts on your side. Investing is long term; gambling is short term.”

Strategy No. 6: Planning for the unexpected

Here the audience is young to middle-aged people with money.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

It’s also useful for agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Here’s the approach: Explain that money grows best when it’s invested for the long term. “But you don’t know what the future holds. Opportunities come up. You want to buy property. Your grandchildren are accepted to a better school. Your children want to start a business. Many securities can be used for borrowing. Insurance policies with cash value often have a borrowing feature or can be used as collateral.”

What’s the message you are delivering? “Plan for the future while having the opportunity to take advantage of short-term opportunities by borrowing against your policies and investments.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Any suggestion that they can get all their money out anytime, without penalty or market risk.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? People want the flexibility to access money in case of emergencies.

Strategy No. 7: “Guanxi”

This is the scenario: Your firm has a sales force of young, well-educated people who attended good schools and have an active, social media presence.

This is specifically useful for one segment of the audience: Western firms seeking to enter the marketplace in China.

Here’s the approach: You want to be the go-to expert in your field for the network of your friends. Build your network. Stay in touch with your teachers. Use a drip market to establish your product knowledge and connection to a respected firm. Become a subject matter expert.

What’s the message you are delivering? “I am here to help you when the need arises. I am qualified to give you good advice.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Using guilt; implying friends are required to do business with other friends. They are not.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? When you have a need, it’s an insult not to speak to a member of your “guanxi” first.

Strategy No. 8: “I am China; I’m proud of our accomplishments”

This is your audience: young people who understand how China achieved its prosperity.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

Here’s the approach: China is making its presence felt throughout the world. Position international investing as a parallel version of China’s investment strategy. China has the Belt and Road Initiative. China invests in companies, technology and firms around the world.

What’s the message you are delivering? International diversification helps when some markets are rising and when others are falling.

What’s the mistake to avoid? Implying they can avoid any losses at all. Sometimes that’s not an option.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “It’s a strategy that’s working for China and is admired. You should do the same thing.”

Strategy No. 9: Confidentiality

Who’s your audience? Younger and older people seeing the impact of brand advertising in China.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

Here’s the approach: Some businesses promote their products and services by telling the world who their customers or spokespersons are. The financial services industry doesn’t do that. We don’t talk about our clients, except when the information is public information, such as managers of university pension funds.

What’s the message you are delivering? “Everyone is interested in everyone else’s business. We don’t talk.”

What’s the mistake to avoid? Implying confidentiality extends to the government. It doesn’t, regardless of the country you are in.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “Your identity and wealth are private. You want to keep it low key. We help do that.”

Strategy No. 10: Data protection

Who is the audience? Younger and older people with an online presence.

This is useful for the “Big Two”:

  1. Chinese agents and advisors selling to consumers in China
  2. Western agents and advisors selling to consumers in China

It’s also useful for a third group: Agents and advisors selling to the Chinese community at home.

Here’s the approach: The internet is not a safe place. Is your data safe? How do you know?

What’s the message you are delivering? China implemented the Cybersecurity Law in June 2017. It is national-level legislation. This aligns with the Personal Information Security Specification that became effective on May 1, 2018. The Security Assessment Measures also govern the transfer of data overseas. There are also guidelines for cross-border data transfer.16 In addition to complying with Chinese law, we also follow our own country’s guidelines to keep client data safe.

What’s the mistake to avoid? Implying there is zero risk of hacking. There’s always a risk. Companies seek to protect data as best they can.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? “The product here is security. We are using the best technology possible.”

Strategy No. 11: Socially connected young people

Who is the audience? Businesses planning to enter or expand their presence in the China market.

This is useful for: Western firms seeking to enter the marketplace in China.

Here’s the approach: You need a sales force tied into a robust internet and social media presence. You want to hire well-educated young people with family and university connections. You need to train them on why your product is the best.

What’s the message you are delivering? Both word-of-mouth and your internet presence are very important.

What’s the serious mistake to avoid? Sales skills are unimportant. Social media skills are the only ones that matter. You still need to sell face-to-face.

How does it align to Chinese consumer values? Fully use technology and the human element to sell your product.

Conclusion

What are today’s key lessons, the conclusions we have reached?

  • China has a rapidly expanding middle class.
  • There are many wealthy Chinese throughout the world.
  • The Chinese and Western middle classes share many of the same hopes and anxieties.
  • It’s important to understand the market and respect cultural differences.
  • People are eager to do business, but you need to play by their rules.
  • Understand the New Yorker and you begin to understand the Chinese.
  • You have 11 strategies that can be adapted to the Chinese market.

Endnotes

  1. “225m Reasons for China’s Leaders to Worry,” The Economist, July 9, 2016, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2016/07/09/225m-reasons-for-chinas-leaders-to-worry.
  2. https://www.oecd.org/dev/44457738.pdf.
  3. Tanza Loudenback and Skye Gould, “How Much Income You Have to Earn to Be Considered Middle Class in Every US State,” Business Insider, September 14, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/middle-class-income-us-state-2017-9.
  4. http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2017-08/04/content_30346904.htm.
  5. Bob Carr, “The Killer Fact About the Chinese Middle Class,” The Sydney Morning Herald, July 26, 2017, https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/the-killer-fact-about-the-chinese-middle-class-20170726-gxj1z7.html.
  6. https://personal.hsbc.com.cn/en-cn/wealth/grow-money/.
  7. https://personal.hsbc.com.cn/en-cn/investments/.
  8. “Opening U.S. Investments to the Middle Class,” CNBC, June 21, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/advertorial/2017/06/21/opening-u-s-investments-to-the-chinese-middle-class.html.
  9. Evelyn Cheng, “Chinese Investors Are Putting Their Money in a Lot of Places. That Rarely Means Stocks,” CNBC, August 15, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/15/chinese-investors-are-picking-other-assets-over-stocks.html.
  10. Daniel Ren, “‘Fund of Funds’ Seen as the Saviours of China’s Mutual Fund Sector,” South China Morning Post, September 20, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/2112036/fund-funds-seen-saviours-chinas-mutual-fund-sector.
  11. https://personal.hsbc.com.cn/en-cn/insurance/.
  12. Wikipedia, “List of Future Tallest Buildings,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_future_tallest_buildings.
  13. Wikipedia, “Gambling in China,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambling_in_China.
  14. Theresa Hamacher and Robert C. Pozen, “In China, Big Opportunities for Investors, if Mutual Funds Find a Way In, Brookings, July 11, 2012, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/in-china-big-opportunities-for-investors-if-mutual-funds-can-find-a-way-in/.
  15. Alexander E. M. Hess, “On Holiday: Countries with the Most Vacation Days,” USA Today, June 8, 2013, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/08/countries-most-vacation-days/2400193/.
  16. http://knowledge.freshfields.com/en/Global/r/3824/where_are_we_now_with_data_protection_law_in_china_.

References

Blott, Thomas. “HSBC Finally Gets Approval for China Securities JV. Reuters. June 30, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/hsbc-finally-gets-approval-for-china-sec-idUSL3N1JR3VV.

China Insurance Sector DBS Bank Report, November 1, 2017.

https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-pov-china-further-opens-up-financial-sector-III-en/$File/ey-pov-china-further-opens-up-financial-sector-III-en.pdf.

Sanders

Bryce M. Sanders, BS, MS, is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. For 16 years, he has taught financial advisors how to identify, meet, cultivate and convert prospects within the wealthiest 5 percent of their local market. He was a successful financial advisor at Merrill Lynch for 14 years prior to entering management. Sanders has presented at two previous Annual Meetings and is regularly featured in Round the Table and more than a dozen business and industry journals.

 

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