By Tim Lindeman and Michelle Zou
One of the first steps in doing business in China is establishing relationships with potential partners and customers. To do this, you will want to meet people face-to-face. A trade show is a great venue to attract a crowd and to have many conversations in a short period of time. This article outlines the reasons why foreign technology companies should include trade shows in their China go-to-market strategy and provides recommendations for choosing the right shows and getting expert advice.
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About Guest: Michelle Zou is Founder and CEO at Pacific Technologies Consulting Group (PTCG), a strategic consulting firm that helps American companies expand their China operations. Prior to starting PTCG, Michelle spent many years in the tech industry, working for Microsoft, IDC, and EMC. Michelle is also Vice President of the Seattle US-China Business Council and host of the podcast In China with Michelle Zou.
Trade shows are a low-cost, low-risk means to gain intelligence about the China market and engage in business development
Participation in trade shows is a great way for foreign technology companies to engage with the China market. They allow you to get great value for your time and money, and support both market research and sales efforts.
Many Chinese trade shows provide opportunities for technology companies to showcase their products
Most trade shows in China have some level of technology focus. Comprehensive shows offer high-tech sections while specialized shows focus exclusively on technology or the applications of technology in a specific industry.
Trade show marketing in China requires a different approach compared to other countries
While trade shows in China largely resemble trade shows in other markets, they also have unique Chinese characteristics. Taking a little time to learn about these differences will help you make the right decision about which show to participate in and will also help you to get the most out of the opportunity.
Why Trade Shows
Trade shows provide a low-risk and cost-effective method for testing whether China is a good market for your high-tech products and services. They also give you an opportunity to spend time in China and gain a sense for the environment you are going in to. You can use trade shows to:
- gather market intelligence
- network with government officials
- gain media exposure
- find investors
- and find customers and partners
In this digital age, trade shows remain an important real-world venue for business development. This is especially true in China, where people place a particularly high value on face-to-face relationships.
Trade shows are suitable for tech companies of all sizes and stages of market growth. There are many trade shows in China that cater to tech companies. And they offer options for all budgets.
Gather Market Intelligence
It is much easier and cost-effective to gather market intelligence at a trade show than to do a comprehensive consulting project. When you attend a show, you can listen to lectures and forums, walk the exhibition hall, and learn about the different technologies and solutions already available in the market. If you are an exhibitor, you can engage potential customers and partners in conversations around your offerings.
Some of the insights you can gain include:
- how big the market is
- if your products and services are a good match
- who the competitors are
- who the right kinds of partners are
- and whether it makes sense to open an office
Network with Government and Industry Officials
In China, it is always good to have a working relationship with the government.
Many of the larger trade shows in China have in-depth cooperations with industry associations and Chinese government agencies. Foreign governments, chambers of commerce, and other international organizations also often have a presence at these shows, where they promote the interests of foreign businesses.
Have conversations and build relationships with these government and industry officials. They are knowledgable about the industry and can introduce you to potential partners and customers. Chinese government agencies can also inform you about investment incentives and help you navigate some of the regulatory requirements.
Gain Media Exposure
Chinese media frequently cover trade shows to stay up to date with the latest technological advances. Some of the larger shows attract intense media coverage in both newspapers and on television. Smaller industry or technology focused events also attract significant media coverage.
In addition to formal media, China has a growing number of social media influencers that specialize in various technology sectors. These influencers also frequently attend trade shows for speaking opportunities and to find content to promote.
Be on the lookout for media and influencers, and talk with them so they can cover your latest and greatest products. Attract media attention by:
- speaking at forums
- making formal press announcements
- and arranging meetings in advance with journalists that cover your technology or industry focus
Many technology-focused trade shows have special exhibits for innovators and startups. These exhibits attract a lot of attention giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet with all kinds of people, including investors, and potential partners and employees. Some shows also offer opportunities to participate in pitch competitions with cash prizes.
Find Customers and Partners
Likely your most important goal in attending a trade show is to find potential customers and partners. Chinese businesses have much to gain from attending trade shows. They can learn from leading experts in their industry, scout out the latest technologies, and maintain relationships with vendors, peers, and government officials.
Chinese delegations at the shows are there ready to sign contracts to buy. And some are looking to find the right products from foreign companies.
Chinese vendors are on the lookout for foreign technologies that they can OEM and offer to their customers. System integrators and IT resellers are also seeking new technologies to add to their solution portfolios.
Types of Trade Shows in China
There are many different types of trade shows in China that cater to technology companies. The table below organizes these shows into four main categories.
Figure 1: Chinese Trade Shows with Technology Focuses
Choosing the Right Trade Show
The types of shows that work well for your company in other markets may not work well in China. It is important to consider who you are trying to meet and what shows they are likely to attend. Unless you offer a narrowly-focused technology, it is generally a good idea to start with more comprehensive shows. By doing this you will gain a high-level understanding of the China market which will help you to identify your focus industries and technology categories. Later, you can gain a deeper level of understanding by participating in a more focused event.
Before choosing a show, consider talking with people who have experience participating in trade shows in your focus area. You can start by contacting your country’s chamber of commerce in China or speaking with the foreign commercial service branch of your local government. These offices offer free advice and may be able to provide a short list of trade shows to consider. If you are looking for more specialized advice, you can consider working with a consulting company that specializes in helping foreign companies participate in Chinese trade shows.
Make trade shows part of your China go-to-market plan
Get to know the China market quickly by going to a show. Meet with a variety of potential partners, customers, and industry experts. And use these face-to-face interactions to start forming relationships that will help you grow your China business.
Know your audience and choose a show they are likely to attend
Although you may not be completely sure about your target market, try to identify the types of people you are interested in meeting. If you can define your audience narrowly, choose a focused show. Otherwise, choose a more comprehensive show where you can interact with attendees from diverse industry backgrounds and learn which target industries and applications are best for your company.
Learn from others with experience before you go
Reach out to others who have expertise promoting foreign technologies at Chinese trade shows. Learn from their successes and failures so you make better choices the first time around. And if you need help, partner with a company that can do some of the work for you.