If you are going to generate a warm lead in China, it’s going to be on WeChat. Sure, email is a possibility, and might work some of the time, but it’s also formal and distant — the opposite of warm. WeChat is unparalleled access to someone’s pocket in China, and it’s how business is done in China.
So, the first step, if you are not already using it, is to start using WeChat. In China, you might not be friends with all your WeChat contacts, but if you are not even contacts on WeChat, you are definitely not friends. And friendliness is the key. In the West, it might be appropriate to reach out directly and show your company’s product portfolio but in China, that’s a recipe for failure. Instead, you need to present a holistic explanation of why you are in business, a transparent story that portrays you as a person, and a clear through-line of why this has led you to contact them, specifically.
At LITAO, we typically spend a significant amount of time — up to a day — doing background research before we even reach out. We look at social media (WeChat’s search function is useful), company websites, online stores and LinkedIn to learn as much about a company and its needs before we send that first WeChat friend request. By understanding their pain points, and where our products might address those, we establish trust with the company, and prove that we are not wasting their time.
Then comes the introduction. We primarily get here by referrals, which can be developed several ways. If you are new to WeChat and to Chinese business, it can be helpful to contact your country’s embassy in China, and ask them if they manage any WeChat groups for their citizens (most do). Once you’ve been added to the group, asking for referrals in your native language is a great way to generate a few leads.
If you are already familiar with WeChat and China, you know the importance of groups. WeChat allows anyone to start a group of up to 500 people, and the WeChat universe is populated with an infinite number of groups on every topic imaginable — some industry associations manage several hundred groups alone. However, groups are not searchable, so again, you are back to referrals. Consider using your WeChat Moments as a whiteboard.
Asking your network if they can add you to the type of groups that would be a good fit for your business. If you are at an exhibition, ask every new contact if they have any groups that would be good for you, and if they can add you.
Once you are in the group, you need to prove your worth. Offer insights or commentary that only you, with your knowledge, would be able to add. And then, ask for referrals.
Let’s say you’ve done all that, and you have a referral to a specific importer that you think would be a good match for your company. How to approach?
At LITAO, it’s a best practice to lead with who referred you to your new contact, and then go into the “because”. This is a key transition in communication that shows you understand what your new contact does and how you may work together.
I’m in touch because I can see from your portfolio that you do a great job with Category X, and I know we would be great partners as well.
Be friendly, be personable and don’t hesitate to offer genuine compliments about the importer background, portfolio or personal interests — all of which you’ve already researched. “I see you carry Brand X, which is one of my favorites” will show that you understand their business and can connect.
From here, it’s important to understand that you are building a friendly relationship. In China, it’s never “just business”. Your new contacts want to understand you as a person, your motivations for doing what you do, for selling what you sell, and for getting in touch before they will even consider doing business with you. Remember, it’s holistic. You are selling more than a product; you are selling yourself as a friendly, dependable business partner.