Case StudyCase Study
Chinese Negotiation Training on Sales Price
Chinese sales price negotiation and bargaining tactics yields hard knock school of training lessons to foreigners who make costly concessions.
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Sales Negotiation Overview
K. G. Marwin Inc. developed a particular technology in the 1980s, called the Trilliamp Process, that the Chinese government sought to buy and integrate into an ethylene facility in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province. Marwin’s successful sales negotiation resulted in a contract with Chinese Government, which in 1985 invited further sales inquiries from U.S. and Japanese manufacturers for production of the machinery. Marwin recommended the Japanese company Auger-
Marwin recommended the Japanese company Auger-Aiso as most capable of producing the turbines, while the Chinese invited two U.S. companies—Federal Electric and Pressure Inc., which manufactured through the large Japanese trading company Mitsubo—to compete for the multi-million-dollar sales negotiation contract.
To undertake the negotiations with the three prospective sellers, six Chinese officials and three representatives from the Bank of China were selected.
The Auger-Aiso chief negotiator was Todman Glazer, the company’s Japan branch manager from the United States who resided in Tokyo and was assisted by his Japanese colleagues. Glazer remembered the tight deadlines he had faced on previous trips to China; now positions had been reversed, with the Chinese facing the pressure and deadlines. He realised his training lessons of thinking like one’s opponent—seeing things as they do. This was the first potential sales deal with China in the ethylene market, and Auger-Aiso faced stiff sales negotiation competition from Mitsubo, which had already cornered sales in the Chinese oil-processing market.
At the first sales negotiation meeting in Beijing, the Chinese insisted that custom required the visitor—Glazer—to make the first sales negotiation presentation. This he did, even though he was trained to allow his opponents to speak first.
Glazer began by training his attention on the excellence of Auger-Aiso technology, explaining that the manufacturing would all be done in Japan to ensure product excellence. When the Chinese offered no indication of their position or sales price, Glazer’s negotiation training taught him to anchor with an upper-range price that would allow flexibility. The Chinese still made no comment.
In the afternoon, the Chinese heard sales negotiation offers from the combined Mitsubo-Pressure team, then Federal Electric. By the end of the day, Federal Electric had dropped out of the sales negotiation race, accepting that it could not compete.
Revolving Sales Negotiation Doors
During the first week of negotiations, a pattern emerged. The Chinese would meet with Glazer and his colleagues in the morning and ask for a price, saying that their competitors had already bid such-and-such a sale price, which was invariably lower than the last Auger-Aiso bid. They would meet with Mitsubo-Pressure in the afternoon and use the same sales negotiation tactic, causing the latter to drop its sales price. Moreover, each meeting would end with the Chinese saying, “We will call you tomorrow.”
But, because they never called, both prospective vendors became panicky and visited the Chinese office without notice to present an even lower bid. As the Chinese kept the vendors guessing and in the dark, Glazer understood how the Chinese had earned a reputation as master negotiators.
At the second meeting, sales negotiation tactics changed and there were different people representing the Chinese side. An antagonist would suddenly burst out in loud Chinese and harangue the Auger-Aiso side for some fifteen minutes, complaining about the quality of the machines they were offering. A protagonist would then intervene and, apologising for his colleague, saying he had been upset about the current sales negotiation situation.
Glazer regarded these outbursts as no more than rehearsed role playing from prior negotiation training, designed to make the protagonist (the good cop/guy) appear more trustworthy to the foreigners. But Glazer realised, all the participants had likely been trained in play-acting.
Then there was yet another change. The Chinese located the Auger-Aiso and Mitsubo-Pressure teams near the meeting room, in adjacent rooms. Mitsubo-Pressure would be called in and asked for its best sales price.
After the team had returned to its room, Auger-Aiso would be called in, told the latest sales price, and asked if it could beat this. When the prospective vendors could drop their price no lower, they would add something to the package. Auger, for example, added oil gauges for its turbines, effectively a three-percent add-on. Even so, the Chinese’s negotiation training meant that they still would not commit to placing a sales order.
When the Sales Price Is Right
Glazer could hardly believe that he had lowered his price twenty percent that week; to do so would have been out of the question in the United States. On the final day, Auger-Aiso made another sales negotiation offer—and, for the first time, the Chinese made a counter purchasing negotiation offer. Auger-Aiso accepted, and agreement was reached. A few hours later, Mitsubo-Pressure came back with an even lower sales negotiation price, but the sales deal had already been struck.
Glazer spoke later about how this was good training in just how difficult it was to compete with Japanese trading companies, explaining that U.S. companies had so many factors to bear in mind, including insurance and a variety of liabilities. Meanwhile, Japanese trading companies, which had vastly different legal parameters (within which) to operate, could more easily focus on getting sales negotiation contracts and closing sales deals. He believed that Auger-Aiso had been awarded the contract because it had been the preferred supplier right from the start.
Sales Negotiation Training Lessons
In most respects, the Chinese negotiating style for big-ticket items has changed little over the past twenty years or so. Vendors still go to China and submit to the pressures of intense sales negotiation bargaining, while the good guy/bad guy routine remains a training tool of intimidation. Although Glazer saw through the sales training tactic, it could still be the undoing of less-experienced foreign sales negotiators.
Glazer’s suspicion that Auger-Aiso was the preferred supplier from the beginning is plausible. Consider the case in chapter 3 of my book, involving the Japanese packaging printing press manufacturer Kumi-Chantdung, in which the successful sales vendor turned out to be the initially preferred supplier. The clever Mitra was able to intuit that his company was preferred, and so gained the upper hand. One can only wonder whether, had Glazer guessed that Auger-Aiso was the preferred vendor, he would have been less willing to drop his reservation sales price toward the end of the negotiation.
No mention is made of socialising or banqueting because more than one sales negotiation team was competing, as in another chapter 3 study of my book — which the present case most resembles—involving Benjamin, who was invited to submit a sales negotiation proposal for a huge Guangdong brewery.
It is also interesting to note that, compared with the Benjamin case, this case places less emphasis on the technical package and specifications, including installation, training and engineering support. This may be because, over the years since 1985, the Chinese have become more sophisticated in terms of quality requirements, whereas in the past price was the dominant factor, and its reduction the best way of giving face. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Chinese bought a great deal of technology that could not be applied and machinery that was inoperable without further training. From this the Chinese learned how to get the best package at the best negotiated sales price.
This negotiation case study appears in Dr Bob March’s excellent book ‘The Chinese Negotiator‘ and is republished with his kind permission.