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The use of social media among business-to-business sales professionals in China: How social media helps create and solidify guanxi relationships between sales professionals and customers

Keith E. Niedermeier (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Emily Wang (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Xiaohan Zhang (Beijing International MBA Program, National School of Development at Peking University, Beijing, China)

Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing

ISSN: 2040-7122

Article publication date: 14 March 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to explore the role of social media usage among business-to-business sales professionals in China. Specifically, the authors seek to define and explore the unique ways in which Chinese salespeople use social media, with a special emphasis on the role of guanxi. Guanxi is a complex cultural construct that revolves around the exchange of favors to build trust and connection for business purposes.

Design/methodology/approach

Three in-depth interviews of sales managers from two industries along with survey data from 42 pharmaceutical sales representatives were collected to gain an understanding of the general usage and attitudes toward social media in the sales process in China.

Findings

Results indicated that virtually all the salespeople in the sample were highly familiar with social media and integrated it into the sales process. Furthermore, all participants indicated that their companies were highly supportive of the use of social media with their customers. More importantly, salespeople in China view social media as a critical tool in building guanxi with their customers. Findings from this exploratory study are used to create a conceptual framework for understanding the important role of social media in building guanxi in China.

Research limitations/implications

While the sample is limited to three managerial interviews and 42 survey responses, the data indicated a near universal acceptance and use of social media among Chinese salespeople. Most importantly, social media appears to be the modern gateway to the ancient and culturally unique construct of guanxi that is absolutely indispensable to successful business-to-business sales performance in China.

Practical implications

The structural challenges within China make trust and emotional connection essential to any potential business relationship. Trust is at the core of guanxi. Any firm hoping to succeed in China must understand guanxi and the use of Chinese social media to help build it. This study adds to the knowledge and understanding of guanxi and begins to elucidate the uses of social media as a tool to build and maintain it.

Social implications

Social media appears to be the modern gateway to the ancient and culturally unique construct of guanxi that is absolutely indispensable to successful business-to-business sales performance in China. This study deepens our understanding of not only guanxi but also how the modern phenomenon of social media is affecting it.

Originality/value

This is one of very few studies to investigate the use of social media among salesforces in China. More importantly, the authors know of no other study linking social media with guanxi.

Keywords

Citation

Niedermeier, K.E., Wang, E. and Zhang, X. (2016), "The use of social media among business-to-business sales professionals in China: How social media helps create and solidify guanxi relationships between sales professionals and customers", Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 33-49. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRIM-08-2015-0054

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited