Doing Business with Big Companies in China

In the Hutong
Watching the markets slide on CNBC
1105 hrs

I recently spoke to the China Entrepreneurs Council in Beijing on how a small firm (like mine) can do business with multinationals and SOEs tens of thousands of times our size.

Without regard to political correctness, I simply passed on (with some comment) the twelve rules of thumb we use to make sure we stay afloat. And so far so good – we’ve had no write-offs after nearly two years in business, having worked with 10 clients with over $1 billion in annual revenues.

Our Twelve Rules:

1. Know Your Non-Negotiables: Before you even make your next sales call, know where you will not compromise.

2. Don’t be a vendor: Be a trusted advisor – the first person they call when they have any problem.
3. Be a Vendor: Get yourself made an authorized vendor. You’ll get paid on time, and it will open up other opportunities with the customer.

4. Hire a “Guido:” Have one person in your company – not you – who is a collections artist

5. Run from large Chinese clients: Unless you can get 80% in advance
6. Seek customers who need to take risks They’ll be willing to bet on you rather than your bigger competition, and they want smarts and capability, not the low-risk/low-benefit solution.
7. Act big, Think Small: Have systems that will integrate into theirs, but never stop being nimble, grateful, and humble
8. Hold your head up… Don’t ever let them make you feel small. Walk away before allowing yourself to be treated badly.
9. …but don’t stick your neck out. Avoid the temptation to overcommit just to get or keep the business
10. Remember that “NO” is the most valuable word in your vocabulary: The more times you say “no,” especially on principle, the better you will do.
11. Your job is to get your customer promoted: Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM. Nobody ever got promoted, either. You repay the customer’s faith by getting the customer promoted.
12. Don’t drive a better car than the one your customer drives: Otherwise they’ll think they’re paying you too much.

About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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