One of the most helpful and enlightening sessions at the recent China Health Forum centred on delegates from two top UK companies talking about their experiences of doing business in China.
The three-day conference, in Beijing in August, was attended by around 15 delegates from nine UK companies who were supported by Healthcare UK. One of the main focuses of the event was digital healthcare – but more of that later.
Now it’s fairly well known that there are a number of challenges associated with trying to launch a business or a product in China. The challenges begin with the language barrier of course, and then there are a number of tricky cultural hurdles to be negotiated.
The language barrier can be a problem on the most basic level. I always make sure I have addresses carefully written down – in Chinese – when I jump in a taxi in Beijing for example. Not fool-proof, as I found to my cost when the address I thought I’d written down to the British Embassy turned out to be helpful instructions and advice to visitors.
The result was one baffled taxi driver, and a hasty phone call for help to a Chinese speaking friend.
The cultural differences are far more subtle, and not so obvious. But here are five lessons learned which I picked up from speaking to business people who have ‘been there, and got the T-shirt’ in China:
- It really helps to generate leads if you have someone in your team or, even better, in a top sales role, who can speak the language. It gives your organisation immediate professional credibility and a real advantage when it comes to the possibility of returning home with strong business leads.
- Never try to dogmatically provide your Chinese counterpart with an existing solution. You will always have to be open to understanding their individual needs and to accepting how your product will need to be adapted to the Chinese market.
- Never underestimate the importance of building relationships. To be able to do business in China it is vital to deal with the right person with the right amount of influence – and building up a trusting relationship with your connections is of utmost importance.
- There are, understandably, worries among many digital healthcare enterprises in the UK about protecting intellectual property. So it’s no good arriving in China with a product that can be copied by someone simply by looking at it on a computer screen. More intelligence must be built ‘under the hood’, then you’ll have a chance of protecting your intellectual property.
- Don’t expect the wheels to turn quickly. Business deals are rarely done in a hurry in China – and you’d be unwise to try to pressure your Asian colleague for a speedy decision.
From the conversations I had with delegates on our week-long trip to China to promote UK businesses in digital healthcare, however, I can say progress in certainly being made.
Healthcare UK has been doing its bit to help support, promote and market digital healthcare providers, and things have certainly improved diplomatically over the past couple of years. It didn’t do any harm to have the Prime Minister visiting the country in December last year, or to have health minister Jeremy Hunt leading meetings between UK healthcare providers and their Chinese partners earlier this year.
There is a genuine interest on both sides, even if some areas of regulation and policy are still unclear in the murky waters of digital technology. For instance, both sides are worried about questions of access to information held on databases, and how that data is and should be monitored.
These aren’t questions that can be answered quickly and simply, but the challenges should not put businesses off courting success in what has become the world’s fastest growing economy.
We’re all playing the long game – but at Healthcare UK it’s a game we’re pretty confident we can get a good result from in the not too distant future.
Maddy Bose, Healthcare UK’s digital healthcare specialist