Cross-cultural sales into China

26th May 2020 |   Robert Chapman

This study, adapted from a 2018 University of Portsmouth Business School MA Sales Management dissertation, explores the adaptive sales model and its suitability for cross-cultural sales into China. The author was surprised at the lack of cross-cultural awareness and understanding in global sales and communication, with even established exporting enterprises lacking an ability to fully engage and communicate effectively with their global partners for a successful outcome. This has driven him to focus his research into what he believes is a highly engaging and stimulating area, and one that is crucially important for all successful global sales and exporting enterprises.

Cross-cultural sales into China


This study contributes to both sales and cross-cultural research by exploring the “Adaptive Sales Model and its Suitability for Cross-Cultural Sales to China”, answering a call for more international sales research, and the impact of culture in developing markets such as China. In addition, with the impending Brexit1 the United Kingdom is expected to face significant challenges to its global trade and prosperity. With the UK government focused on developing and implementing ambitious new trading relationships with important countries such as China, intensifying global trade will render the sales function a critical component in achieving these aspirations. The timing of this study is highly important to add to the knowledge base, offering understanding of how a UK-based seller and Chinese-based buyer dyadic interaction can result in successful sales through cross-cultural adaptive selling.

The research methods used for this study also answer a call for more interpretivist qualitative research into sales and marketing, to explore and provide a deeper understanding related to the study. In addition, it contributes to answering a call to reduce the existing heavy reliance on research from the United States, by purely focusing on a UK seller to Chinese buyer dyad, delivering a more global perspective.

This study found adaptive selling to be suitable for cross-cultural sales to China. However, only certain facets of the adaptive selling process were found to be significantly influenced by the Chinese cultural context – with the motivation facets shown not to be directly influenced, contrasted by the facets relating to the capabilities and behaviours required for adaptive selling, found to be heavily influenced by the Chinese cultural context. New emergent themes were discovered in the study, including how a positive perception of the UK had an associated positive effect on Chinese customers. In addition, the use of modern technology and social media were found to be highly important for business communication, with trust and the use of a local interpreter and partner both being critical to sales success.

This study contributes to the field of sales and marketing, by exploring and identifying the dual barriers in the form of the buyer-seller and cross-cultural dyadic interaction2. In addition, it offers insight into how these barriers can be broken through in order to achieve cross-cultural adaptive sales success.

1 Editor’s note: This study was completed prior to both Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis.
2 Editor’s note: Dyadic interaction refers to interactions between a pair of parties, in this case salesperson and customer.

The concept of Adaptive Selling can trace its origins back over 40 years to marketing research related to personal selling, and how a salesperson can influence the customer’s preferences (Weitz, 1978, 1981). The literature has confirmed adaptive selling is the crucial link to sales effectiveness and success, through the ability to understand, interact and engage with the customer (Marks, Vorhies & Badovik, 1996; Spiro & Weitz, 1990; Weitz, Sujan & Sujan, 1986). Intrinsically linked to this is the dyadic interaction between the salesperson and the customer, which is influenced by the salesperson’s knowledge structure acquired in previous sales interactions, and the use of this knowledge to make adjustments in future sales encounters, with this ability increasing with experience (Marks, Vorhies & Badovik, 1996; Spiro & Weitz, 1990; Weitz, Sujan & Sujan, 1986).

Chartered Manager at Chartered Management Institute

Robert Chapman is an experienced sales and customer service professional with over 20 years’ industrial experience. He has held senior sales and management positions covering the Asian and North American regions. He has a strong interest in cross-cultural global sales and customer service, and is an exponent of cross-cultural sales and communication advancement. He is a Chartered Manager with the Chartered Management Institute. He holds a First-Class Honours degree in Engineering Management from the University of Lincoln and an MA in Sales Management with distinction from the University of Portsmouth, where he was the successful recipient of the Professor Neil Rackham Bursary Fund.