Good question, and the answer may differ depending on what you are selling, so I’m going to answer broadly:
- Product – Is it optimized for local tastes? These tastes can also change from region to region, so know who you are marketing to.
- Sales and Distribution – with 1.4 billion people, there is a customer for any product in the world. The challenge is finding the right distribution channels to reach them and knowing how to manage these channels. Traditionally very fragmented, but consolidation and online [sales] have opened the national markets greatly.
- Marketing – [In China] this can be at times lazy. Sometimes, I walk by ads and cringe. Don’t just be a peddler, give people a reason to fall in love with what you are offering. This is changing and is more a legacy of the past when everything was new and you didn’t have to really market very hard – you just had to have the product.
- Organizational Speed – If your organization is slow, you are going to die a fast death. Learn to be fast and react faster to what is happening on the ground, because opportunities in China come in waves. You want to catch it and hold onto it as it’s forming – not only when it comes crashing to the shore.
- Bad Advice – Instead of spending two million dollars on consultants, why not get your product out there and test it out on a small scale. You’ll learn more with real data than with customer surveys (taken by random people at Starbucks). Many foreign businesses get sunk by avoidable bad advice. The market changes so fast here that your six month study is already outdated. A good question to ask potential help is “what have you created and/or sold in China?” If the answer is nada, then turn around and don’t look back.
- All the above can be best dealt with by having the right people on your team. Not just someone who speaks your local language, but people who actually know what they’re doing. Hire as if your life depended on it. It makes a big difference.