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B2B: How to adapt culturally when targeting China


When you are a B2B brand targeting a foreign market, it is important to have a good understanding of the business culture in the target market.

This will help you to do business in the smoothest, most effective and most respectful way – by being able to adapt to local customs and avoid any embarrassing faux pas.

In this blog post, I will explore the business culture in China and how it differs from the West. The five categories I will cover are:

  1. Business attitudes in China
  2. Communication styles in China
  3. Meeting etiquette in China
  4. Presentation methods in China
  5. Marketing restrictions and regulations in China

Let’s dive straight into it!

1. Business attitudes in China

Hierarchy is crucial in China, with Chinese businesses tending to have a vertical, top-down structure. Elders and authority figures are respected, with senior members of staff taking the lead in decision-making, and subordinates being told what to do and accepting this. When having a meeting with a team in China, be aware that if you are speaking to someone from the operations team, they are unlikely to be a decision-maker, so you may need to wait for them to get approval from someone more senior.

You should also be aware that it is best practice to avoid jokes when doing business in China. In some Western cultures, such as the UK, jokes and humour are common in both daily life and business. However, this is not so appreciated in China, since there is the inherent risk when you make a joke that the other party may not “get it”, which would then make them feel like they have lost face. Dignity is very important in China, so the best way to avoid the risk of causing someone to lose face is to avoid jokes in a business setting altogether.

A common method of building a good business relationship in China is through offering discounts and free add-ons. The purpose of this is to build that all-important trust. By offering discounts and free add-ons, this helps both sides feel like they are on good terms, and this helps to establish a good, friendly relationship on which future collaborations can be built.

And finally, be aware that there is a common business attitude in China that can be summed up with the phrase: “client is God”. Whilst in the West, we tend to think of both parties in a business relationship as being equal, in China, the client is very much seen as more important. Whatever the client asks for, a Chinese company will usually do their best to accommodate them, even if this requires them to work overtime to ensure speedy delivery. As a Western company, you do not necessarily need to accommodate the client to such an extent, but it is good to know that a Chinese company will have this kind of expectation from their business partner, so it would be wise to manage this expectation effectively.

2. Communication styles in China

In China, people tend to be very direct and straightforward. They will express their opinion with a simple “yes” or “no”, and if they do not like your opinion or the way something has been done, they will not be afraid to say so! This may sound rude to Western ears, but it is not intended as such; they just express themselves in a very straightforward way.

Be aware that in Chinese culture, silence is not a bad sign. This is because actively giving positive feedback (like saying “this has been done really well”) is not common. So, if you are giving a presentation and your Chinese partners are keeping silent, this is simply a sign that they have no feedback or questions. They may be very pleased with your work, but instead of saying “very good” as per Western culture, they will just keep silent – no feedback is good feedback! If they are not happy with what you are saying, however, they will likely speak up and express their criticisms, but this is not them being rude; it is simply an example of their straightforward communication style.

Compared to the West, doing business in China is very much based on relationships, rather than strict adherence to a standardised procedure. So, whilst there may be a process, people may not always follow this, as they adhere to a more flexible way of working. This lack of standardised procedure may seem strange to Westerners, but it is very normal in China.

Related to this idea of flexible working is the concept that people in China are always on duty. Chinese working culture is sometimes described as “996”, meaning that people work from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. This is just the working culture in China; people are expected to be on duty all the time to accommodate their clients’ requests.

Turning to language, people definitely prefer to use the Chinese language over English. In big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Shenzhen, most people will understand and speak English, but to have the most fluent and smooth communication, using the Chinese language is definitely preferred. Having a member of your team who is a Chinese speaker, or making use of an interpreter, can therefore be a good idea.

And finally, I just want to quickly touch on the most popular mediums of communication in China. Email is much less popular in China than in the West. Instead, people in China are more into WeChat. WeChat is sometimes referred to as a “super-app” as it has a huge range of functions that basically includes everything. Because people tend to always have their phone with them, people using WeChat can respond quickly to any work messages. Also, on WeChat, it is possible to send audio messages and this is sometimes used in business as it is a quick method of communication. As a Western company, you do not necessarily have to follow this trend, but it is good to be aware that this exists in the business culture in China.

3. Meeting etiquette in China

When you first meet a Chinese partner or client, or at the start of an in-person meeting, it is common practice to shake hands.

For online meetings, be aware that having the camera off is quite common, so you do not need to question it if you cannot see your Chinese partner or client on a video call.

As I have mentioned previously, it is best to avoid jokes during a business meeting in China. Meetings tend to be very serious – people start talking about business straight away, which can feel intense, but is very normal.

Another way in which Chinese meetings can feel quite intense relates back to my earlier point about positive feedback being expressed through silence and negative feedback being expressed verbally. So, for example, if you are presenting a report to a Chinese client, they may remain silent throughout the presentation because they are listening, but then at the end of the presentation, they may start pointing out stuff that can be improved because they are strongly driven to do things better and get better results. This does not necessarily mean they are not happy with your results; it is just the mindset that everything can be improved in order to get better results – so do not be upset if this happens.

Because of the flexible working culture in China, meetings can commonly be scheduled at the last minute. They may want to just quickly discuss something and therefore set up a last-minute meeting for this. Whilst this may not be very common practice for a Western company, and may even sound quite disorganised, it is normal in China. Do not be afraid to tell a client no, if this is not convenient for you. It is good to communicate your expectations upfront, so that both sides are on the same page.

And finally, if there are older or more senior people in the meeting, be aware that they expect to be treated preferably compared to lower-level staff, so make sure to be extra-respectful to them and to take their viewpoints into extra consideration, since seniority is very important in China.

4. Presentation methods in China

When putting together presentations for a Chinese audience, it is good to focus on the data and to put this data into an infographic format. People in China like to see proof of what you are saying, and prefer to consume infographics rather than long text.

Clarity and simplicity are important, so try to visualise everything as much as possible. For example, if you want to compare two results, it is better to use a table to do this, than to write two paragraphs. Avoid blocks of text as much as possible.

5. Marketing restrictions and regulations in China

Be aware that there are many restrictions when it comes to online activities in China. If you want to open an account on one of the online platforms in China, especially as a foreign entity, it can be quite complicated. You will need sufficient documentation and this must be uploaded for the platform’s legal record. It can be quite a faff when communicating with the platform’s team, so you may find it beneficial to work with an agency like Webcertain who can assist with this.

Some social media platforms do not allow ads from businesses in certain industries, such as medical, pharma and finance. Because online activities are highly monitored by both the social media platforms and the Chinese government, the platforms’ teams will be very strict when it comes to these industries. If you are in one of these sensitive industries, it is good to communicate directly with the platform team.

When it comes to marketing content, there are extremely strict rules on the use of certain keywords. For example, you cannot say you are the “best” at something, so if you tried to include this in your marketing content, the keyword “best” would likely be detected by the platform and you would be informed that this is not allowed. Try to avoid sensitive keywords, since they would likely be detected and your account would receive a warning.

Be aware that Chinese platforms do not usually publicly release reports or updates on user data. Due to the limited nature of these official updates, this can make things difficult if you want to find out a benchmark for a campaign or get hold of any metrics. This is quite a significant difference when compared against Western platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, which frequently release their official data online for everyone to access.

When it comes to getting technical help, the Chinese social media companies’ customer service teams are often not as helpful as their counterparts at Facebook or LinkedIn. They can be hard to get hold of, making it hard to seek official help. However, there are plenty of forums online where users come together to discuss problems, so be aware you can make use of these instead.

And finally, make sure that your website actually works in China. It should be fully localised, and you will need to make sure that your website’s host is not blocked by the so-called Great Firewall of China.


I hope this blog post has given you a useful overview of the B2B business culture in China and how it differs from the West. If you follow the tips given in this blog post and are respectful of the local customs, you will be well on your way to doing business with your Chinese partners and clients in a smooth and effective way – good luck!

Want to learn more?

This blog post is based on a webinar I co-presented about how B2B brands should adapt culturally when targeting China, Japan and South Korea. You can watch the webinar recording here.

Need support with doing business in China?

Our international digital marketing experts are experienced in the Chinese market. If you need consultancy or support for targeting China, just get in touch with us today and one of our friendly team members will get back to you.

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Sivan Hu

Social Media and Influencer Marketing Specialist at Webcertain
Sivan is a Social Media and Influencer Marketing Specialist at Webcertain. She holds a degree in Product Design and early on realised her particular interest in market research. As a result, she pursued a career in audience marketing, helping clients develop customised social media strategies and campaigns to win customers’ recognition on social platforms, using her exceptional research and analysis skills. Originally from Shanghai, China, Sivan now lives in the UK, and her cross-cultural background has taught her to appreciate the value of individuality. She firmly believes that understanding the target audience’s needs is the key to creating personalised and emotional content that truly resonates with customers.

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