What doing business in China and baseball have in common.

What people are saying about Mulberry Fields
“I have read through quite a few of your blog posts and have enjoyed them very very much. We do business in China and face many of the challenges you describe. Much of what you write resonates with me and there are some very helpful tips” -a kid’s apparel company in Utah.

I have been doing a lot of reading on China blogs and in periodicals this week. As is frequently the case I see a lot of articles about how to effectively do business in China and examples are always provided about China ventures gone wrong. In all these examples the root problem is that the person did not know anything about China and just assumed that because they were successful in their own country they could duplicate their success in China. For example, there was an anecdote in a Harvard Business Review article this week about a successful NYC real estate developer who thought he could sell some high-end property to investors in China. After all China is now home to some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The developer spent thousands of dollars on PR and even rented a large hall in Shanghai so that he could host a sales presentation. He then flew to China to make his pitch. Well, something went wrong because on the day of his presentation, only eight people showed up. Smart in NY did not translate to smart in China.

But it got me to thinking, why is it so hard for people, even really smart people, to understand and succeed in China? When I thought about this question the other day, the thought occurred to me that it is simply hard to comprehend something that you have little or no experience with. Even if that something has been described to you over and over again in the minutest detail, and you kind of grasp the concept, you really have to experience it yourself to be able to process the complexity and plan accordingly. There is a good baseball analogy for this. When you watch baseball on TV or in person you can effortlessly follow the trajectory of the ball as it leaves the pitchers hand all the way to the plate. It looks like the baseball is easy to hit. And I am sure many people who watch, but who have never played baseball, are thinking, “geez, that looks easy, why can’t he hit it ? “ But far from it. Hitting a baseball thrown at 90 MPH is generally said to be the hardest thing to do in sports. I believe it because when you are standing there at the plate that ball sometimes comes in so fast you literally won’t even see it. Belying its casual pace. baseball is in fact an incredibly difficult game.

And doing business in China is not an easy game either. I know that because I have been going there for 25 years and have the first hand experience of going to trade shows, meeting good vendors who turned out to to be very unreliable, meeting vendors whom I was not impressed with at first but who turned out to be solid, supervising production, inspecting orders, sourcing, getting good orders, getting bad orders, having vendors change prices after they have signed a sales contract, doing karaoke in Chinese with vendors, arguing with vendors, sitting for a factory for 3 days waiting for the rain to stop while a cancellation date on a PO slowly creeped up, etc etc. But there are many people who do not have this experience and, therefore, try as they might, they simply cannot comprehend the complexity of the culture and the sheer difficulty of the endeavor. When they do business with a supplier they met on a B2B site but have never met in person, and they fail to do any due diligence on this vendor and they do not inspect their order before it leaves China, it is just like they are watching baseball on TV and thinking it is an easy game.

So what is my advice to them? It is simple: go to trade shows in China, meet vendors in person, supervise your orders, inspect your orders, line up back-up vendors, get good orders, get bad orders, drink with good vendors, drink with bad vendors, argue with vendors, meet your vendor’s families, learn some Chinese, learn how to cook some Chinese food etc etc. In other words, get the experience. Or as the Great Helmsman himself used to say: 要想知道李子的滋味必须亲口尝一尝 ( yao xiang zhidao lizi de ci weir bixu qinkou chang yi chang) Trans: if you want to find out what a pear tastes like, you have to eat one.

I sometimes have what I call a “China Zen Moment.” This is when I see beyond specific topics like auditing vendors, product testing, trade shows, communicating with vendors, doing spec sheets etc etc and I am able to reduce China Sourcing to its simplest terms. Here are some of those Zen moments
How to win in China
China quality is not that bad
Doing business in China is easy
Don’t expect perfection
Locals too find the going difficult




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