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Many Multi-National Companies in China are making news for the wrong reasons recently.


First, it was global pharmaceutical giant, GSK, which was under investigation for widespead bribery, and even had a number of key management staff being arrested, or barred from leaving the country.  Sanofi Aventis and Eli Lilly were under investigation next.  Across the ocean, JP Morgan was being investigated for hiring the offspring of high-ranking officials in their China operations.


Given such high-profile investigations (and arrests), it seems like it won't be "business as usual" in China any longer.  In fact, it had been a common assumption that one needs to "grease the wheels" and develop guanxi in China, if you really want to make it big in China.  But can you actually sell a lot of products and make lots of money in China WITHOUT bribing?


Hence, this month's topics:

  1. Selling without Bribing in China; and

  2. Beware of Event Organisers that could Fleece You in China

This issue's main article is on "Selling without Bribing in China", and how some sales people (even from foreign companies) bribe their way to meet their sales targets, while other sales people win over their customers without any bribing.


In brief:

  • How do sales people in China bribe their way to get their sales?;

  • How do other sales people win their customers and make more sales WITHOUT having to bribe anyone?;

  • The key challenges for senior managers to ensure a clean sales force, and the potential risks of not enforcing selling without bribing.   Read on... ...

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Selling without Bribing in China


by c.j. Ng



Charlie thought he had his client in his hands.


He had fully grasped his client's situation.  His client, the Purchasing Manager, was in his late-20's, just had a house and a baby, AND his salary is awfully low.  Charlie thought that a person in such a situation would need or at least like to have some cash to upkeep family expenses.  No, in fact Charlie knew his client will need money. 


Since Charlie worked for a foreign company in China, he would not be able to bribe his client.  However, Charlie had it all planned out.  His company provides products to distributors at a much lower discounted price, than compared to the prices that end customers get if they were to buy directly.


Hence, there's enough margins from the distributor to fork out from the price differential and bribe the customer.  In fact, Charlie worked with a couple of "distributors" whose roles were NOT to grow the market for Charlie's employer, BUT whose sole purpose was to "help foreign companies do the things that these companies weren't allowed to".


Charlie knew that if he were to give his client enough money, that will be the key differentiator in a highly competitive industry.  He knew this customer "is in the bag".  He had the "guanxi" so to speak.


Unfortunately for Charlie, when the client eventually bought from someone else and not from Charlie.  Thinking that the competitor might have given more money than he did, Charlie tried to ask his client if what he "offered" was too low.


The client politely told Charlie that the competitor did not offer any bribes at all.  The reason they won the bid was because they paid more attention to the client's company's needs, and not his personal financial situation.  The client thanked Charlie for his "thoughtfulness", and told Charlie to keep in touch.


A few months later, a whistleblower exposed Charlie's "under the table" practices, and both Charlie and his distributor were arrested.  Charlie's boss was not spared either.  He was fines, and promptly fired from his job for not safeguarding the reputation and integrity of the company.


Can You Sell without Bribing in China?

If you were to ask a corrupt sales person why he bribes his customers, chances are the answers could be:
  • Because everybody is doing it;
  • Because every customer asks for it; and
  • If we don't do it, we will lose the business
However, there are some companies who are very strict with their policies and corporate governance, and ensure their staff do not have any opportunity to bribe their customers.
For these companies, it was found that:
  • Even if their sales people DON'T bribe their customers, they can still win sales;
  • These companies sell to both foreign and Chinese companies, and they are still able to win sales from all kinds of companies WITHOUT bribing; and
  • While having no bribes (or even gifts) may make the sales process tougher, such obstacles can still be overcome and generate sales!
Some explanations could be:
  • While some customers could be corrupted and expect some kind of kick-backs, most of them would put their boss's interests BEFORE their own personal interests.  That is, the acceptance of a bribe must be made ONLY if their boss's/ management's requirements have been met FIRST.  Hence, if you don't bribe but could meet your customers' expectations when your corrupt competitors couldn't, you can still get the sale;
  • Some customers also have very strict anti-corruption practices, and will buy from those who are just as strict;
  • Some buyers are concerned that if they were to be seen as corrupt and accepting kick-backs, it might hurt their future career advancement; etc. 
In other words, you CAN sell without bribing in China.  While you may not sell and make as much money if you don't bribe as compared to if you were to bribe, there will always be risks of getting caught and severely punished.
It is also interesting to observe that:
  • If a sales person started work in a company where bribing is condoned, that sales person will be compelled to believe he could not sell without bribing; AND
  • If a sales person started work in a company where bribing and other types of corruption is NOT condoned, that sales person will look into the different ways of selling without bribing the customer!

Making Sure Your Sales Force Does NOT Bribe


There are various aspects that companies will have to address to make sure that their sales people come clean with their sales strategies.  These are:

  1. Systems and policies;
  2. Values and behavioural standards

When setting the right systems and policies, companies will have to:

  • Ensure there are no loopholes that corrupted sales people, distributors or customers could capitalise on; and

  • Review existing sales and channel sales policies to make sure the system is not being exploited

Sales people will need to be briefed, trained or even indoctrinated on the do's and don'ts of the business, not just what to and what not to do, but also why they need to adhere to strict regulations.


Finally, it's not simply enough to enforce company policies.  Sales people will need to be equipped with the skills to handle some customers' kick-back requests, hopefully with the possibility of closing the sale remaining intact.


Sales people will also need to evaluate:

  1. Can I reject a customer if he is corrupt beyond redemption?;

  2. Can I educate a customer if he is still redeemable?; and

  3. Can I go around and deal with someone else in the customers' organisation (who is less corrupt)

And The Biggest Obstacle IS... ...


As you can see from the above ways to stamp out bribery in selling aren't that difficult to implement.  Yet, many companies are still struggling to ensure that their sales processes are clean.


So what's the challenge?  In a word: Will.  In other words, does the senior management of the company have the will to make sure things are done the right way.

Some issues bothering senior managers may include:

  • If we turn away those corrupted customers, can we still meet our growth targets?  Will we then lose out market share to our competitors?; and

  • If we were to rein in our top sales people and distributors, will they leave the company and thus crippling the company's sales results?

However, one aspect that senior managers need to consider is this: if you were to under-perform in your sales targets and market share as a result of selling without bribing, the worst case scenario is that you will just lose your job.


On the other hand, if you were to achieve sales targets by condoning corrupt practices, you may lose your freedom, your entire career and your dignity.  It's something worth considering since there are now some high-profile whistle blowing in recent months.  It may be high time to at least tighten the screws so your sales force come clean with you.


Need help in ensuring a sales force that does not need to bribe in order to sell in China? Simply e-mail or call +86-136 7190 2505 or Skype: cydj001 and arrange to buy me a mocha. All information shall be kept in confidence.

Power Breakfast Hour:  12 Sep 2013

Selling without Bribing in China

  • Why bribing in selling in China is rampant, and how sales people can learn to say "no", and still win the sale;

  • How the bribing is being conducted, and how companies can take steps to stop such practices; and

  • How to overcome the challenges that senior managers face when ensuring a clean sales force in China.

VENUE: Crowne Plaza Shanghai • 400 Panyu Road (near Fahuazhen Road) • 上海银星皇冠酒店 • 番禺路 400 号 (靠法华镇路)

DATE: Thursday,  12 Sep 2013

TIME: 08:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.




To make this a more conducive discussion, we are expecting a small group of about 15 people only. The room can only take in 18, so please register early to avoid disappointments. Please e-mail your registrations to


Pls. check out our web sites and for more inspiration.

Tips for Managers:

Beware of Event Organisers that could Fleece You in China

Christel Lee


China Print is predominantly comparable to drupa and, over the years, it has warranted substantial market attention. However, those who have been watching would notice a steady decline in numbers.  The current market situation has not made things better.

Organisers claimed on the show website that they expected to attract 180,000 visitors.  This number certainly is massive, however being present on-site it felt otherwise.  Booths were spotted empty in spite of company signs erected, while visitor numbers were significantly lower by the tail end of the third day.


The Good

It would be fair to say China Print has not quite lost its touch as an international exhibition. The crowd had sprinkles of visitors from India, Thailand, maybe Indonesia. For some, it was a big source of economically-priced equipment – think 'bargain centre'.


For those with business acumen, China Print was an extension of their profit margins. Renowned digital press manufacturer MGI Digital clocked a sale each day. This was the US firm's maiden exposure at China Print. Raymond Pena Jr. commented that for his company's first attempt at Asia, the response has been beyond expectations.


The show was also a big showcase for manroland after the last couple of turbulent years. Ever since Langley Holdings' takeover and overhaul of management, the team has enjoyed some relief. manroland sold at least four machines at China Print as at its second day.


By the fourth day of the event KBA had sold over 21 machines as had Founder Electronics, one of the Republic's most famous digital players. The Beijing-based company, which debuted its latest digital presses, was swarmed by local interest.


Goss International known for its newspaper web presses' dominant market presence targeted three markets: newspapers, books and semi-commercial publications with the Magnum Compact. According to Eric Bell, Goss International marketing director, this combination of automation technologies makes the Magnum Compact press ideal for producing run lengths from as low as 500 copies through to 250,000+.


"Today's cost pressures on printed media mean that printers of every size and variety need to streamline production, reduce overheads, and keep their presses running round-the-clock," commented Bell.


Heidelberg AG and Hewlett Packard booths seemed to be the spots where most visitors congregated.


The Bad, and...


One appalling feature was the usage of 'tents' on site! It was said many exhibitors were given the impression their booths would be erected within the concrete building of the exhibition centre. However, three big tents were erected to serve as floor space. Ventilation was powered by generators with inflatable plastic tubes hanging below the roof.


Some exhibitors successfully masked the presence of others with big walls creating a false impression as the end of the hall, effectively resulting in loss of visibility at the show. Those who got the short-end of the stick could only lament they were "placed at the wrong booth"


What made matters worse was the fact that many exhibitors housed in tents were told to dismantle on the fourth day of the exhibition for security reasons. Those in exhibition buildings were told electricity supply would be terminated at 11am on the last day of the exhibition.


Organisers should have exercised more consideration before deploying marshals to send visitors out approaching 5 pm. Being asked to leave in the middle of a customer negotiation was a common complaint.


This could lead to a potential uproar accompanied with losses if those asked to leave by marshals happened to be big customers on the verge of a million-dollar deal, although not much hope was pinned on getting compensation from the organiser. It is, however, assumed much damage has warranted a price reduction on space for the next exhibition in order to attract those already-bitten.


The Controversial


A big international player surprisingly had a much smaller booth! This company was known to invest in super large floor space to cater to a wide display of equipment. Staff was seen commencing the dismantling of the booth on the fourth day of the show.


One worrying sight nobody could miss was the blatant disregard to safety at a tradeshow where paper predominated throughout the site. Visitors were seen lighting up beside presses despite numerous signs prohibiting the act!


Peddlers stood outside halls selling the China Print catalogue, similar to the thick listing of exhibitors given out complementary with registration last drupa. Buying from these peddlers entitled you to a 50% discount at RMB100 a book, in comparison to buying from the show organiser.


Major exhibitors commented their booths were not ready on the first day and many had to wear masks while last minute work was executed. It would not be surprising to hear that China Print's credibility has been significantly tarnished as a result of the shortcomings experienced by exhibitors and visitors alike.


To find out how you could get the most out of your event, trade show or conference organiser, you can e-mail or call +86-136 7190 2505 or Skype: cydj001


About Directions Management Consulting


Directions Management Consulting is the partner of LeadershipIQ in China and Asia. LeadershipIQ helps more than 125,000 leaders every year through the facts drawn from one of the largest ongoing leadership studies ever conducted is used to help companies apply resources where the best possible results be achieved.


In addition, Directions Management Consulting is a leading provider of sales performance, innovation and experiential learning solutions in China and many parts of Asia. is the sales performance arm of Directions Management Consulting specialising in conducting training, research and consulting services for sales managers and their team.


Raybattle is the strategic partner of Directions Management Consulting specialising in experiential learning events and management retreats.


Currently, Directions Management Consulting has served clients such as GSK, InterContinental Hotels Group, Unilever, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Philips Lighting, Carrier, Ingersoll Rand, Freudenberg etc.


Through collaboration with consultancies such as Forum Corporation, MTI, de Bono China, ProWay etc., the consultants in Directions Management Consulting have served clients such as PwC, Volks Wagon, Air Products, Evonik, Wacker, Epson amongst others.


Directions Management Consulting will increase its efforts to conduct leadership studies in China and other parts of Asia, so that more companies apply resources where the best possible results be achieved in this part of the world.


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