8 reflections on carrying out market research in this remarkable country
B2B International set up an office in China eight years ago. At that time China was the fourth largest economy in the world (measured by its GDP) and today it is number one. As we approach our eighth birthday in this remarkable country we share with you 8 thoughts about carrying out market research in China.
- There is not one but two Chinas
We know that China is one country. However, there is sophisticated China, (largely the East of the country), and a still developing China. Sophisticated China accounts for around a third of the population and even more of the GDP. Restricting the research to “sophisticated China” can make for efficiencies when Western companies commission research in the country.
- Many Chinese companies have not bought into the benefits of market research
The market research industry in China is new. In the West, market research is an established tool and widely taught in business schools. However, even in sophisticated China there is still a widely held belief that a low-cost product, made to an acceptable quality, is all that is required for business success. Market research is often used by Chinese companies to find potential customers rather than to guide strategy. Relative to the size of the economy, the market research industry in China is small and this has prompted some Western market research companies to withdraw, unable to generate sufficient business.
- Business-to-business purchasing in China is hierarchical
It is ironic that in a country whose society cherishes equality, business hierarchies are important. Every Chinese company has “a Big Boss”. Decisions on selecting suppliers are not given to just anybody; they are usually the responsibility of someone quite senior. Whereas in the West there may be half a dozen people in any company who can answer questions on supplier choice, in China there is often just one. Getting hold of that person can be difficult.
- Good interviewers are hard to find
Good interviewers are hard to find in any country. It is a tough job dialing 80 to 100 telephone numbers every day in order to obtain 3 to 4 successful interviews. Persistence and tenacity are the requirements for productivity while emotional intelligence and listening skills are important for drawing out the correct answers. Questioning skills are not in the DNA of a culture that sits within an authoritarian state; interviewers need training and encouragement.
- Business-to-business market research panels need careful watching
As in the rest of the world, Chinese market research panels are growing in importance. However, the bona fides of Chinese respondents are not always what they seem, especially in business-to-business surveys. Researchers need to reject between a third and a half of the completed interviews from some of the business-to-business panels to ensure reasonable quality.
- The interests of clients who use research in China are varied
Most large Western companies have subsidiaries in China. If research is commissioned to help one of these subsidiaries, the Chinese clients tend to be more interested in the tactical deliverables while the Western clients have an interest in strategic findings. Making sure that the interests of all clients are achieved is a tightrope for researchers delivering Chinese market research results.
- Technology is getting there
Around a half of the household population of China and virtually all businesses are linked to the Internet. Chinese people embrace technology and use mobile phones in research surveys. Chinese internet access is controlled by the State and quite often the system creaks and collapses.
- Online communities are a good source of intelligence
Good business-to-business directories in China are hard to come by. However, blogs, bulletin boards, chat rooms and instant messaging groups are widely used. Some of these communities can be used to locate a business audience and provide interesting insights and contacts.
To learn more market research in China, click the link below to go to our China Market Research page.