Nurturing relationships key for
NZ businesses to thrive in China

For many small and medium enterprises (SMEs), cracking the Chinese market is seen as the holy grail, but it 's a road fraught with risk for those who plunge ahead without good understanding of some of the fundamentals of operating within the world’s second largest consumer market.


One of the keys to success in China is understanding the importance of building relationships, which was the theme of a recent business workshop the Asia New Zealand Foundation held in Hamilton in partnership with ExportNZ .

The workershop  also covered e-commerce – outlining practical steps for successful online marketing in China.  

The Foundation's executive director Simon Draper said, “The workshop's content was designed to help New Zealand exporters take a more systematic approach to forming partnerships and nurturing relationships, which is key when engaging distributors in China.” 

Most attendees of the workshop were owners or managers of food and beverage companies (the sector that dominates Kiwi SME businesses exporting to China) but the beauty, service and professional services sectors were also represented.

During the group work, the participants shared their stories, maximising the amount of available knowledge in the room. Presenter Paul O'Brien, a former CEO of EasiYo, who has 20 years’ experience selling to China, shared his considerable experience working with SMEs, providing a relatable narrative against which participants were able to benchmark their own marketing strategies for China.

One of the attendees, Brett Shadbolt, chief executive of Censere, a services company that operates between New Zealand and China, said, “The workshop was practical and topical and it is good to see organisations assisting exporters and the coordinated and coherent way this challenging area is being addressed. It bodes well for the future of New Zealand exports.” 

Sharon Robertson of Export NZ said attendees responded “very positively” to the workshop. “Participants said it provided valuable insights into what to expect when exporting to China and into the different cultural expectations”.

Cross-border e-commerce in China

In addition to distributor engagement, the workshop covered e-commerce and outlined practical steps for successful online marketing in China.

Paul O’Brien explained how consumer markets in China are embracing online to offline (O2O) sales channels, which involves putting samples of products available online into retail outlets for consumers to try, scan QR codes and purchase.

O’Brien, who was also an in-house advisor to Douglas Pharmaceuticals, says, "In the health sector, for example, 40 percent of goods are now sold online, and online [marketing] in general is really hurting retail. There are 800 million Chinese online busy with cell phones."

Workshop participants were also able to compare the disruptive online route to market with traditional offline distribution arrangements to work out which method would work best for them.

O’Brien shared how New Zealand resource-constrained exporters of manufactured consumer products can market their products using digital marketing platforms, in combination with key opinion leaders (market influencers) in China, and the increasingly prevalent daigou route to market, which involves customers in China ordering through their contacts in New Zealand.

Partnership with University of Auckland

The workshop was one of series the Foundation has held around the country, including in Auckland, Tauranga, Napier and Hamilton. Asia New Zealand Foundation is the preeminent non-profit organisation in New Zealand dealing with Asian issues.

To deliver business workshops, the Foundation partners with the University of Auckland Business School, which has developed analytical tools based on its extensive case study research into the experience of New Zealand SMEs in China. The research was conducted by senior lecturer Dr Antje Feidler and MBA programme lecturer Dr Ben Fath.