Doing business at the tip of your thumbs

Mind if I get your contact information so that we can keep in touch?” Xiaoran asked one of the contacts at the end of our meeting.

Absolutely.” The head of the investment department replied, while taking out her phone, “Swipe me.

Swipe me? What does that mean? I quietly chuckled, picturing how a non-native Chinese may think of this conversion, if it were to happen in English.

Our contact was talking about WeChat. By “swiping”, or scanning a QR code her phone generated, we added her to our contact list. Even self-redeemed as a semi-proficient WeChat user, I was still shocked for two reasons:

  1. a WeChat QR code has almost replaced business cards in less formal meetings (instead of learning the proper business card handling techniques, we should be learning the navigation of this app);
  2. WeChat is now the unofficial, but most widely used communication method, for businesses, in addition to its personal uses.

Imagine a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, and PayPal – that’s WeChat. Next, imagine sharing all these accounts (in combination) to a person you either have never met or have just met for business purposes. Now, conduct a networking conversation with this person via text messages, emojis, and occasionally audio messages. That’s one of the characteristics of Chinese style business conversation.

Modern Chinese business style can be summarized in these two words: Intimate and Instant.

It’s intimate – no matter how good you are with finding information on Google, you still wouldn’t get into that person’s WeChat account. In other words, getting that WeChat info is crucial to building a modern business relationship. Because of our team “insider (Xiaoran), we managed to get in touch with a number of strategically crucial companies, ranging from Suning, the electronic devices retailer giant in China, to various third party operation companies who showed interest in setting up meetings with the client directly after we return.
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It’s instant –  I haven’t found anyone else this dedicated to work almost 24/7. In my personal experience, it took me 90 minutes to go around three level of contacts (friend of friend of friend) to reach the person who can potentially help us, and six hours later, when I got off the train ride from Nanjing to Beijing, I walked away with a notebook full of the information I was looking for.

In addition to being an interpersonal communication application, WeChat also doubles as a marketing tool. Multiple contacts suggested that we consider WeChat as a promotion/marketing/research tool.

Now I wonder: is it the Chinese business style that created WeChat? Or is it WeChat that created the new Chinese business style?

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