Guanxi: How The Best Sales Leaders can Learn from Eastern Strategies


Guanxi, pronounced /guānxì/, the basis of Chinese business relationships, can teach us how to build stronger, longer lasting, and more beneficial connections with others. There is no direct English translation for Guanxi.

But across China, Guanxi is what pushes salespeople out of slumps, moves stuck deals, and leverages relationships.

And good salespeople in the Western world have been taking note.

So What is Guanxi?

Guanxi isn’t a secret handshake, passcode, or clandestine tool … it’s actually very simple. 

Guanxi is reciprocal connections over long periods of time.

Unlike traditional western networking full of plastic name tags, light conversation, and eventually a direct "this is what I want" ask, Guanxi is a different work relationships paradigm. It values long-term, personal relationships over single-purpose connections. Short-term handshakes are replaced with long-term obligations. Transactional asks are replaced with a trust in future repayment. Individual aims are replaced with a desire to help those that have helped you. 

With Western culture's demand on short-term quarterly returns, the slow, generational idea of Guanxi might seem out of place. But it might just also be the secret sauce you need as a salesperson. 

Why Guanxi is Important

Based in confucian thought, favors should met with favors, gifts met with gifts, and there are less boundaries between personal and business connections. A long-term client relationship or business loan might be initiated years before with finding a dinner reservation or offering an introduction to a colleague. 

Guanxi is about basing connections in long-term mutual obligation instead of shallow transactions.

In Western thought, there is a clear delineation between "Making Connections" and "Making Friends.” Overlaps of the two are looked down upon out of fear of nepotism, corruption, late night customer calls, and much else. But in China, it is expected that a supplier might be sourced from someone who found the buyer a job years ago.

Guanxi isn't about nepotism or corruption. It's about helping others as much as you can, for as long as you can, with the knowledge that they will help you in the future. Help doesn't have to mean signing on as a client or offering better prices – favors could be a variety of valuable services, like an introduction to a big prospect or a key partner.

At its core, Guanxi is about basing connections in long-term mutual obligation instead of shallow transactions. It's about helping more than you are helped. It's about not thinking about only your own needs with interactions. It's about being okay that a favor might not be repaid for months, even years.

How Guanxi Can Make Everyone a Better Salesperson

"How can I offer something valuable to develop a long-term, beneficial relationship?"

When talking to prospects either at a conference, through a referral, or during a cold call, too often we jump to "I want X. How can we make this happen as soon as possible?" It feels one-sided, predatory, and forceful. It makes the other side avoid phone calls, feel uncomfortable, and view any attempt at a personal relationship as a means to an end.

If we look at making connections in the Eastern mindset of ‘how can I offer something valuable to develop a long-term, beneficial relationship?’, we would find that trust, honesty, and sales would develop smoother and organically.

When Meeting Someone New, Try to Change Your Perspective:


With Guanxi, we invest our time in worthwhile people who we know will repay us in the same way. Relationships also don’t feel so shallow or tit-for-tat. Most importantly, we all give as much as we get.

Want to learn how to get inside the head of your customers? Check out our 9 Point Perspective Worksheet. You'll understand not only how to make connections, but also how to better empathize with them.

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