Just read a post by Andrew Hupert, entitled, 5 Negotiating Lessons from Sec. of State Tillerson’s Beijing Trip [link no longer exists]. Hupert, who I count among the foremost experts at negotiating with Chinese companies, uses Tillerson’s recent Beijing trip as the springboard for explaining five tips on how foreign companies should negotiate with Chinese companies.
Before I get to the five tips however, I want to highlight what I see as one of the best, one of the most realistic, and — most importantly — one of the most accurate descriptions on what it is like to negotiate with a Chinese company:
We’ve seen it before. The Chinese side raises their glasses of Mao-tai and proposes a long relationship of mutual understanding and joint cooperation. The western side “gambei’s” and then makes their own polite toast about “long term cooperation, success, and prosperity”.
Now, at this point the westerners feel they are done with the preliminary small talk, and are ready to begin the opening phase of the REAL negotiation.
The Chinese side feels they are running the new partnership, co-own the intellectual property, and will make all substantive decisions about operations, hiring, and distribution.
If you for any reason do not believe the above accurately reflects how the typical Chinese company views its dealings with foreign companies you should memorize the above and then in one year of dealing with China ask yourself again whether it is accurate or not, because it just is.
Now on to a some of the Hupert five.
That treacherous opening Chinese toast. Hupert notes how Tillerson, “like many western execs before him, . . . doesn’t seem to understand what the Chinese believe he’s agreed to. This is true. Our China lawyers almost never document a China deal without there being at least one issue on which our Western client believes the China side has agreed to something to which it has not. There are many explanations for why this always seems to be the case, ranging from cultural and language differences to the China-side penchant for agreeing to something to get something in return for that agreement and then retrenching from the previously agreed upon item after it has already succeeded in getting concessions from the Western side.
Manage the agenda, and then focus on individual deal points. Western negotiating protocol is to focus on the key negotiating goals, but Chinese negotiators “always” have a larger agenda. Or as Hupert puts it, “too many western executives fighting internal deadlines and hoping to satisfy their HQ sacrifice big-picture strategy for short-term deliverables.”
Watch the timing mismatch. “Don’t make real concessions now for longer-term promises.” Western companies too often believe that if they make xyz concession to their Chinese counterparty now, their Chinese counterparty will make the next concession the next time around. Wrong. Where we see this a lot is with Western service companies cutting their rates to Chinese customers to “get into China now” and “build loyalty, all with the plan to raise their prices later. Problem is that the Chinese company for whom you just cut your prices will view your loss leader pricing as their ceiling, not as a floor and it will move on to another naive Western company for its next contract. Or as Hupert puts it
You’re in the same boat – but who is the captain and who is the crew? Hupert concludes his post by highlighting how different perspectives so often can lead to problems down the road. Hupert uses the example of how it is “relatively easy to get a Chinese negotiator to agree in principle to a cooperative partnership,” but how that “cooperative partnership is viewed by the two sides will be very different. “Both sides tend to walk away thinking that they will have the power and authority to protect their interests and further their positions. In practice, however, Chinese tend to feel that they will call the shots on issues pertaining to China.”
For more on how to negotiate with Chinese companies, check out the following: