Chinese B2B marketing is an exciting venture to expand your partnerships, increase sales, and grow your brand efficiently in China.
In this article, China Gravy takes a deep dive into B2B marketing in China – from inbound to outbound marketing. We take a look at the leading B2B ecommerce platforms as well as social media platforms and reveal how you can connect with B2B partners – from suppliers to customers – efficiently.
Knowing how to navigate these B2B platforms helps you with
- sourcing products in China, and sell them around the world
- distributor sourcing, to sell your products in China
- market and competitor research
So, let’s get started.
About B2B Marketing
B2B marketing stands for business to business marketing and entails all marketing activities around connecting with business customers like partners, resellers, or wholesalers.
Unlike classical advertising, B2B marketing can be comparatively cost-effective. Most strategies we present below require a time investment but offer savings in terms of financial expenses, operational space, infrastructure, and resources.
The Chinese Wholesale Market
By now, everyone knows that the Chinese economy is booming. This also includes the B2B commerce market segment.
In fact, the transaction volume of B2B ecommerce in China has been constantly rising, surpassing 28 trillion RMB (~4.4 trillion USD) in 2021. Trends like live streaming are further amplifying the exorbitant growth of the Chinese online market.
So, how can you lift this amazing potential for your brand and business?
Chinese B2B Marketing
B2B marketing in China can assist you with many business ventures like selling your product to partners and intermediaries as well as providing B2B services to Chinese companies as an international business.
Principally, B2B marketing in China can be divided into inbound and outbound marketing.
- Inbound marketing: awareness raising and lead generation through SEM and WeChat
- Outbound marketing: research and business development on Chinese wholesale marketplaces and social media platforms tailored for business
These wholesale trading and social media platforms assist B2B companies that offer products to
- conduct market research on their niche in China (price comparison, etc.) to improve the sales potential of their own products
- find partners who sell their products in China
- connect with B2B customers (intermediaries, brokers, etc.)
Likewise, social media platforms can aid B2B companies that offer services to
- connect with agencies, e.g. real estate developers can collaborate with an immigration agency in China
Now, let’s take a look at the leading platforms.
As there are no official monthly active users dates available for Maimai, the 110 million refer to registered users.
While the business and networking platform LinkedIn is currently blocked in China (53 million MAU in 2021), it is still used by Chinese people outside of mainland China and by Chinese people in mainland China through VPN.
Its local counterpart Maimai is an up-and-coming platform that is only available in Chinese language and as a paid service. As such, it can be assumed that registered users are also regularly using the service.
Zhihu is the Chinese equivalent of Quora and has a highly reputable user base. B2B companies can benefit from this environment and search for products-services and connect with the suppliers to build partnerships. Likewise, they can establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry by answering niche questions.
Weibo is a microblogging site and Chinese Twitter equivalent, which is great to connect with industry experts and business leaders in their fields.
Whereas the above traffic refers to the estimated web traffic without mobile devices (most platforms are used as apps), this data is a great indication of which platforms are most used for B2B outside of China as Western companies typically access the website and not the app.
Baidu B2B is estimated to have 1.8 billion monthly active users, most of which comes via the Baidu search engine, so we’ve disregarded Baidu B2B in the above graphic.
Founded back in 1999, Alibaba basically started the digital transformation in China. Since then its Alibaba.com wholesale platform has become the largest B2B marketplace for wholesale goods in the world.
Its Chinese localized platform 1688 was also established in 1999 and has some advantages over its international parent company. The platform 1688 is only available in Chinese language and targets Chinese buyers as purchasers often need to take care of the whole fulfillment process. However, this can also be attractive to international buyers as it offers cheaper prices, provided they speak Chinese.
Even though Global Sources has been around since 1971, its print magazine drive approach missed the opportunity to go digital and acquire relevant market share. Yet, compared to Alibaba, Global Sources is known for a higher quality and reputation by carefully selecting suppliers and doing rigorous background checks as well as hosting international trade fairs and exhibitions.
Made in China was also launched back in 1998 and has a solid user base today. Its high reputation with excellent trade security and moderate price points makes it exceptionally popular among overseas SMEs.
Finally, while Pinduoduo (733 million MAU in Q4/2021) is a B2C platform, it helps businesses with outbound B2B marketing as Pinduoduo is focused on group buying and, therefore, customers buy in bulk – similar to businesses.
Next, let’s take a closer look at B2B marketing strategies in China.
1. Chinese B2B Inbound Marketing
Having a Chinese website is the first step to market your business in the Middle Kingdom. Once this is set up, classical search engine marketing (SEO, PPC) is ideal for B2B ventures, because companies seeking B2B partners often simply consult search engines as a first step and social media as the second step. Possibly with the exception of WeChat, which is used by more than 1 billion people in China for literally everything.
To rank high on search engines in China, SEO for Baidu is the tactic of choice to raise awareness and as a co-benefit generate leads. Paid ads, PPC, on Baidu is great for lead generation, working exceptionally well for acquiring B2B partners and clients. Other strategies include online PR and WeChat branding.
Are you ready to get started with your Chinese website, Chinese SEO and PPC to lift the Chinese B2B potential? A China expert like China Gravy can help you with this.
Have an up-to-date Chinese B2B website
A localized Chinese website is the first step to connecting with business partners and end-consumers of your products and services.
Keep in mind the Chinese censorship of certain topics, use a .cn ccTLD (.cn or .com.cn) and host your website in China to get an ICP license or outside of mainland China without an ICP license for a lower budget.
Optimize your Chinese content for search engines (SEO) in China
The key strategies include
- Write content in Simplified Chinese
- A fast website loading time is a must together with avoiding links to blocked sites in China
- Write title tags with up to 32 characters and meta descriptions with up to 75 characters
- Slugs should be written in Pinyin instead of Chinese characters or English
- Implement a QR code to link to WeChat, e.g. on your contact page
- Get backlinks from high authority Chinese sites and social media to your website
- Make the crawling and indexing of your site easy, e.g. logical, hierarchical website structure, internal links
- Offer live chat support as Chinese online users will simple move to your competition if they don’t get their questions answered right away
If you want to generate leads for your B2B business, consider paid ads on Chinese search engines.
Run paid ads on Baidu & Co. (PPC)
Pay-per-click ads on China’s leading search engine, Baidu, are the best B2B marketing strategy to acquire new B2B leads.
If you still have an additional budget, you can also consider PPC ads on Sogou and 360 Search to generate even more B2B leads.
Just keep in mind that Sogou and 360 Search have a smaller market share compared to Baidu and therefore a lower overall search volume.
Placing PR articles in reputable online outlets like ifeng.com as well as on social media (especially Weibo) is one of the most cost-efficient forms of communication to develop the image and reputation of your company in China.
You can establish yourself and your company as industry and thought leaders in vertical niche publications, expand your network and upgrade your brand.
Branding on WeChat
Being active as a brand representative on WeChat with its more than 1 billion users in China is basically a must. If your B2B company is just starting out or doesn’t have an elaborate budget, you can focus on connecting with business partners, suppliers, and customers as part of outbound B2B marketing.
If you are a larger company and still have a little extra budget to spare, we highly recommend being active on WeChat. In order to do business in China and communicate you basically need a WeChat account anyways. WeChat is a great place for B2B marketing to emphasize your branding and raise awareness through your business account.
Get started by setting up an official WeChat business account to raise awareness of your company and expertise. You can do so by creating articles and posts to boost your business organically and collaborating with KOLs/KOCs to promote your industry.
2. Chinese B2B Outbound Marketing
For market research and business development, Chinese B2B outbound marketing on Chinese wholesale marketplaces and social business platforms is a great strategy.
Specifically, to find wholesale partners, distributors, and clients in China, outbound marketing is an excellent tactic. There are a variety of wholesale and social media platforms to connect with experts in your industry.
One can distinguish between service and product businesses and suitable platforms.
Companies that trade and offer products via ecommerce will find the following platforms helpful to connect with B2B partners. The China B2B trade can be differentiated between domestic wholesale marketplaces and cross-border B2B sites. The leading platforms are:
International & cross-border B2B sites/portals
- Alibaba: available in English, easy to get started, all-encompassing fulfillment services, comparatively high prices
- Global Sources: fewer suppliers but overall higher quality and more reputable compared to Alibaba
- Made in China: available in English, large focus on trade security, popular among foreign SMEs
B2B marketplaces in China
- 1688 (Alibaba): available only in Chinese, basic fulfillment services, but cheaper prices in comparison, targeting Chinese companies, but also attractive for international businesses to get cheaper prices (provided they speak Chinese and can take care of the fulfillment process)
- Baidu B2B: only available in Chinese, high traffic from the Baidu search engine
- Pinduoduo: popular group buying platform (bulk B2C buying); while the website is available in English, the app is only available in Chinese language
On the other hand, businesses that offer services will be more successful on the following social media platforms to acquire affiliate partners and customers:
- Zhihu: search for products-services and connect with the suppliers to build partnerships
- Social Media for Business: LinkedIn and Maimai for business contacts and exchange
- Weibo: microblogging service to connect with more than 570 million monthly active users including businesses
- WeChat: use your personal WeChat account to find and connect with new business partners and clients
Using Chinese B2B Wholesale Platforms
All mentioned wholesale platforms are great for international B2B businesses to research their niche, products, competitors, prices, and more.
Company flagship stores on Alibaba, 1688, Global Sources, Made in China, Baidu B2B, and Pinduoduo allow businesses to easily connect with manufacturers and clients to make business transactions.
For easy and hassle-free research, most suppliers have videos of their products on these wholesale platforms and even offer live streaming events for potential buyers to get to know them and their products. Besides, potential buyers can check costs and compare local and international prices as a basis for margin calculation or price negotiations.
Once you find a potential B2B partner, distributor, or client, make sure to research the company, for example on Baidu Aiqicha, to find out if they are who they claim, e.g. registration date, share capital, possible lawsuits. You can also see who’s behind the company (investor, etc.).
Now, let’s take a closer look at the abovementioned Chinese B2B wholesale platforms and social media apps.
Market leader Alibaba has more than 20 years of experience in digitally connecting businesses with suppliers for sourcing products in China. Interestingly, Alibaba with its market positioning and power has a unique role in the global market. In fact, Alibaba is the world’s largest B2B marketplace for wholesale goods.
In fact, the digital transformation of B2B industries in China began more or less with the foundation of the Alibaba Group back in 1999. Today, Alibaba connects more than 150,000 small businesses (suppliers, manufacturers) with over 10 million registered buyers from around the world.
A “Western” version of Alibaba has yet to be established. But actually, there’s no need for that as Alibaba – unlike many other Chinese online platforms – offers international payment and fulfillment services. This includes payments with international credit cards and worldwide door-to-door delivery of the goods.
The registration process of an Alibaba account is easy and straightforward. Most importantly, it doesn’t require a Chinese phone number or address, making the account setup process super smooth.
Next, let’s take a look at Alibaba’s domestic wholesale platform 1688.
Besides Alibaba.com, the B2B market leader also established a similar site called 1688 back in 1999. The big difference is that 1688 focuses on the local Chinese B2B market whereas Alibaba targets the international market.
In general, 1688 has lower prices and it is only available in Chinese whereas Alibaba is only available in English.
In case you are wondering, 1688 conveys the idea of a steady stream of wealth and good fortune. In Chinese, eight is a lucky number that is often connected with wealth. It is very common, for example, in phone numbers, addresses, and prices.
All in all, 1688 covers all major industries, including raw materials, industrial products, apparel and accessories, and more.
Next, let’s take a look at Baidu B2B.
This B2B platform is easy to use, e.g. with extensions that allow users to chat and start queries with potential partners. Baidu B2B allows buyers to search for products, access a detailed product description page, and directly buy it or request further information from the seller. The functions are similar to the Alibaba B2B platform.
Next, let’s examine Global Sources in detail.
Started in 1971 as an Asian Sources magazine, Global Sources launched the first international trade marketplace in 1995 – four years before Alibaba. Today, Global Sources is a leading B2B multichannel media company based in Hong Kong with online and offline services.
By offering their services in English language, Global Sources makes it easy for international companies to find and connect with Chinese suppliers, manufacturers, and trading companies.
While Global Sources may have fewer suppliers and factories compared to Alibaba, Global Sources is known for a higher quality and reputation compared to its larger competitors. In fact, Global Sources has a community of over 1.5 million international buyers in over 240 countries compared to Alibaba’s more than 10 million global buyers.
All in all, Global Sources is known for being more selective with suppliers and doing more rigorous background checks to ensure a high quality and safety of all business parties.
Finally, Global Sources hosts exhibitions/fairs and private sourcing events as well as publishes purchasing magazines to provide a better service for buyers and sellers.
The website of Global Sources is easy to use, has a margin calculator, sample request function, credit check, and more. One of the biggest advantages of Global Sources is that it’s tailored to a few niche industries (electronics, textiles, precision works, handicrafts), making it a leader in these fields, providing high quality and excellent service, which is ideal for medium and larger B2B companies.
Made in China
Launched in 1998, Made in China is a leading ecommerce platform for international trade with products in more than 3,600 categories. Trade security for all parties is a focus point of Made in China, which the platform ensures with on-site audits and certifications (paid services).
Manufacturers, sellers, and factories can boost their products and company through paid membership and ads.
While Made in China may not be as big as B2B market leader Alibaba, it is popular among overseas purchasers, targeting SMEs in particular.
Made in China’s price points are generally moderate, the quality is good, and with their trade assurance system, both buyers and sellers are protected.
This popular group-buying platform offers discounts of up to 90%. What’s interesting here is that Pinduoduo publically displays the Chinese business license which companies have to upload to the platform (this is required by all platforms mentioned in this article, but they don’t publically display the license). This contributes to customer safety and satisfaction as users know which company is offering the products.
Besides, Pinduoduo publicly shows the number of followers, sales volume, and customer ratings, so that buyers further can assess the reliability and trustworthiness of a company.
Next, let’s look at the Chinese social media platforms to lift your B2B potential in China.
Chinese Social Media Platforms for Chinese B2B Business
Here, we’ll look at the social media platforms Zhihu, LinkedIn, Maimai, Weibo, and WeChat for Chinese B2B outbound marketing.
The Q&A app Zhihu was launched in 2011 and is similar to Quora. The platform works by users asking and answering questions and then voting on the most popular answers. Zihihu’s investors include Tencent, Sogou, Baidu, and Kuaishou.
With a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs and public intellectuals as users on Zhihu, the platform has a high reputation. Zhihu’s user base is generally younger, more educated, and lives in Tier 1 cities looking for informative and elaborate content.
Here’s an example for a real estate developer searching for 海外移民服务 (overseas immigration service) on Zhihu (in the tab 用户/User) to find immigration agents in China. They can then directly contact Chinese immigration agents via their official Zhihu account and negotiate commission-based contracts.
Next, let’s take a look at social media platforms tailored to professionals and businesses.
LinkedIn & Maimai
Over the last few years, LinkedIn was the only major Western social network still operating in China. However, in late 2021, Microsoft’s LinkedIn announced that it will discontinue its localized version of LinkedIn in China and launch a new InJobs app instead. However, Chinese companies and professionals may continue to use LinkedIn through VPNs as it is an established platform and free to use as a basic member.
Being active as a brand representative and as a B2B business on professional networks can be helpful to connect with other industry professionals and experts, partners, and clients.
You may also want to take a look at the Chinese equivalents of LinkedIn, Maimai, which is a paid service with consequently good quality but only available in Chinese language.
Maimai has more than 210 million registered users and is China’s leading business social networking platform with a market penetration rate of more than 80%, offering a large variety of localized features. With LinkedIn currently unavailable in the Chinese market, a further growth push of Maimai can be expected.
Launched in 2009, Sina Weibo is a popular Chinese microblogging site, similar to Twitter, where users can post up to 2,000 Chinese characters plus videos and photos.
Connect with potential new partners, distributors, and business clients. For example, a real estate developer can search for 海外移民服务 (overseas immigration service) to find and connect with immigration agents in China.
As part of outbound B2B marketing, you can utilize your personal WeChat account to find and connect with potential new business partners and clients. You can also join existing niche groups or create your own.
Leading Chinese B2B Industries
In terms of niches, these vertical industries are booming in the Chinese B2B trade.
- Steel and metal: China is the world’s largest steel producer, expecting to exceed 1 billion metric tons of steel output by 2030
- Industrial products, parts, and MRO: China is one of the world’s largest machinery exporters
- Agriculture and food services: The Chinese “agrifood” market is the most mature B2B space in China
- Other vertical industries: construction, textile, wholesale, pharmaceutical, chemical, beauty
This brings us to the end of this Chinese B2B marketing article.
Chinese B2B Marketing – The Takeaway
To sum it up, B2B marketing in China can be divided into inbound and outbound marketing. For Chinese inbound marketing, search engine marketing (Baidu SEO and PPC, online PR) and social media branding on WeChat are great tactics to raise awareness and generate leads.
In terms of Chinese outbound marketing, ecommerce companies can connect with partners, distributors, and customers on wholesale platforms like Alibaba, 1688, Global Sources, and Made in China. Service businesses can connect with partners and brokers on social platforms like Zhihu, LinkedIn, Maimai, Weibo, and WeChat.
If you are a company that doesn’t have any own products yet, you can find out more about sourcing products from China including dropshipping, reselling, white labeling, and creating your own product.