By Michael Darch
After barely escaping a mid-April snowstorm that hit much of Ontario, I found myself once again in China. This time, bringing over 30 delegates from 10 of the 11 member cities of the Consider Canada City Alliance (CCCA) to three cities in China. Our first stop was Hong Kong. Snow did not delay our meetings there! The hot humid weather was a welcome relief to the extended winter experienced by much of North America.
Our first meeting was a roundtable discussion with two Canadian Cabinet Ministers, Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade, and Christian Paradis, the Minister of Industry. Our discussion naturally focused on selling Canada abroad and more specifically in China. We have seen in past trips, both as a group and representing our individual cities, that the Chinese like to focus on projects. This was very evident when the Chinese government push was to attract foreign investment, and now continues to be important as the new five year plan and the new Chinese leadership put increasing emphasis on outbound investment as well as inbound trade.
Defining specific investment projects is not the way that Western economic development and investment promotion agencies usually approach a potential foreign investor. More typically, they will do advance research on a target foreign company and engage in conversation to draw out the specific objectives of an investment. The goal is to define the hot buttons for a positive investment decision.
Within the CCCA, for our mission to China in May 2012, those members who defined and presented specific projects received more and higher quality meetings. This was not lost on our members. This year, all participating members have brought projects numbering over 150 investment opportunities.
Our team’s discussion on the first day of our mission was interesting. Are we not selling specific projects, but rather capabilities? If projects are defined, how can this lead to a discussion on capabilities? Projects are specific and can we be certain that these will be an exact match to the investor’s needs? Then, the eureka moment. The projects are not ends in themselves, but can be illustrative of the capabilities in our member regions that will make a foreign investment successful. We are selling innovation capacity and strength in knowledge-based industries. Canada is an exporting nation, supplying into global supply chains and our position in those supply chains critical to our value equation.
This discussion and the ensuing eureka moment presented a different perspective on the controversial topic of projects. We now understand that projects are not sales tools but marketing tools. To be successful, we must be client oriented and the Chinese client understands projects. If we structure our projects to be illustrative of the capabilities in our region, we have created a bridge between the Chinese and North American way of doing business. The presentation of the projects is a necessary marketing tool that opens the door to the capabilities discussion and the sale.
Our meeting with the Ministers discussed many other things, but I will be forever grateful for the Sunday afternoon discussion that brought clarity to the link between projects and capabilities.
(Michael Darch is the founding President of Consider Canada City Alliance Inc.)