“How To Source Your Private Label Product In China, Without Getting Screwed By Alibaba Suppliers.”
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Understanding Mianzi and Guanxi When Importing from China
Some think that in the world of business, the only thing that speaks is money. However, when it comes to doing business in China, they’re wrong. Today, I want to introduce you to the concepts Mianzi and Guanxi.
Mianzi means Face, while Guanxi means Connection.
They are two vitally important Chinese cultural and sociological phenomenon. Both Mianzi and Guanxi are so intrinsic to Chinese culture, they shape how Chinese business is conducted.
As a China Sourcing Expert, I’ve helped many Amazon FBA Sellers in the west import products from China, whether they’re from the United States, Australia or Europe.
Now, if you own a Private Label Business, you might be wondering why Mianzi or Guanxi are relevant to you. To put it simply, it’s because whenever you speak to a Sourcing Agent, Manufacturer, Couriering Company, or Business Partner in China, they will apply these ancient Chinese customs to their behavior, whether they realize it or not.
So, while this may not immediately look like a China Sourcing tip. Trust me, it is.
If you do not understand the meaning of Mianzi and Guanxi, you are running the risk of missing great business opportunities, and even offending your Chinese partners.
Mianzi and Guanxi
I moved to China in 2013, and while I do not claim to be an expert in Chinese culture, I have lived in the country for the last six years. During this time, my professional and private life have been dominated by Chinese colleagues, business partners and friends.
Since moving here, Mianzi and Guanxi have stood out to me as some of the most different, but fundamentally useful cultural concepts. Understanding the meaning of both has empowered me to forge better relationships, and ultimately source better products.
For the uninitiated, Mianzi and Guanxi are two types of Chinese etiquette that directly translate into business. In my opinion too, they are very different to cultural practices, as we understand them in the west.
Both are very different and need to be addressed separately.
Guanxi – Connections
Let’s start with Guanxi. Simply, Guanxi means connection.
It signifies the importance Chinese society places on professional and personal relationships. Unlike in the west, professional and private spheres overlap much more freely in China.
It’s easiest to explain Guanxi with an example.
Say you have a relationship with a Head Teacher at a school. You may have a child, or a relative who you want to attend their school. Now, in China, if you were to leverage this relationship into an acceptance to study at this school, for either your children or relatives, it would be described as using Guanxi.
Importantly, the custom is applicable to all walks of life.
I’ll use a more relevant example this time.
As an Amazon FBA Seller, you want to get the best prices when sourcing your product. Your Sourcing Agent may have a good relationship with a Sales Representative that works at the factory you want to use. Because your Sourcing Agent and the Sales Representative have Guanxi, or a connection, you will always be able to get better prices from this factory.
Now, you could say this is similar to relationships in the west. Say your uncle owned a used car dealership, unless they really hated you, you’d probably be able to buy a discounted car.
The difference is that in China, it’s very common for people to strategically build up these connections over time.
That means, if you want something from someone, it is not uncommon to invite them to your place for dinner, give them a gift, or be extremely kind to them.
How to Use Guanxi
When I moved to China, personally, I found Guanxi incredibly jarring. Honestly, I thought it was a bit fake. However, I’ve now seen it so often, my opinion of it has changed.
Now I see this behavior as a trade. Instead, it is like scratching someone’s back, so they’ll scratch yours. The more you think about it, the less different it seems to helping one of your colleagues with work, in the hope that they’ll help you with your project. It’s just more blatant.
So, I started applying the custom in the operation of my business.
I do this by looking for people who already have a large and established audience, who will be interested in what I am doing.
I know that I cannot just ask these people to promote my training, or help me source better products, because there is no Guanxi. So, I invite them to appear on my podcast, I write guest blogs for their business, or even offer them a video training courses on how to find good products to sell on Amazon, so that they can have a more substantial impact on their audience.
Once the connection has been established, there is Guanxi, and I can leverage it to my advantage, asking to be introduced to their audience.
Ultimately, this benefits both parties, making Guanxi a win-win concept.
Mianzi – Face
Now let me introduce Mianzi.
As a custom, it’s very similar to Guanxi, except rather than being strictly between two people, there is normally a third party involved.
Again, it’s easiest to explain it with an example.
Let’s say one person is a waiter working at a restaurant. While they are on shift, their friend comes in to have a meal. While the waiter greets their friend, to give the waiter Mianzi, the Restaurant Owner will make a point of passing them the menu. This gives the waiter face, or Mianzi, in front of their friend.
Now, the difference between Guanxi and Mianzi, is that you do not use Mianzi to get something. You do it to improve your long term relationship with your colleagues and friends.
I’ll give you another example. Often, my girlfriend and I have friends over for dinner. If my girlfriend is cooking, before the meal is prepared, I sometimes tell our friend how good her culinary skills are. I’m not saying it because I want something. Her cooking’s great. But doing this gives her face, or Mianzi, in front of our friends
There are times when Mianzi, or face becomes unbalanced. In the sourcing world, this could be when a supplier has asked me to pay a premium for a specific type of packaging. This has taken some Mianzi, or face from me. To resolve the situation, the Sales Representative could invite me around for dinner to restore the balance.
Culture Is Unconscious
While it may not be obvious, this is important.
Even though you are not Chinese, the principles of Mianzi and Guanxi will still be embedded in your interactions with Chinese partners. So, there may be instances when you have aggressively driven down a price that the Sales Representative perceives that they have lost face or Mianzi.
It really helps to be conscious of this. If you are, you can proactively restore the balance with a well placed complement, or even a tip.
Just also remember that if you don’t rectify face, it can have a negative impact on your relationship with suppliers too.
Face it and Make a Better Connection
While this is only a brief insight into Chinese culture, I hope you’ve gained some insight into Mianzi and Guanxi. These concepts can have a positive impact on your Chinese business relationships as an Amazon FBA Seller.
Although learning more about Chinese culture may not seem like it will immediately improve your business, it will pay dividends in the long term.