University of Essex sells expertise to leading Chinese insurance company

The University of Essex has won the first stage of a major order in China for its world-leading big data analytics consulting expertise, thanks to market entry help from China business specialists Essex International.

Most universities in the UK know how valuable the China market is for recruiting new students, but selling their consultancy services into China poses a very different set of challenges.  A British university wanting to recruit new students can use some well-established sales channels such as hiring local student recruitment agents and attending large expos in China, where foreign universities can showcase themselves to large numbers of young people who have already decided to attend a foreign university, but just need to decide which one.

But selling consultancy services in China requires a different approach.  It requires knowing which services are in demand, which businesses are likely to be willing to pay for them, and how to reach decision-makers in those businesses.  Potential customers will vary greatly depending on what expertise is being offered: it requires a different marketing approach.

Knowledge of Chinese government policy and market trends

The University of Essex is strong in a number of fields so the first stage was to work with them to identify which of their areas of expertise would be most likely to find a market in China. 

It was the University’s big data analytics expertise that emerged as the best prospect from this process.  On the one hand there is the very high quality of the product: the University has world-leading capabilities in the field, with the Director of the Institute for Analytics and Data Science, Maria Fasli, also holding the position of UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Data Science.  To compete in China people need to truly understand your point of difference, and value it highly.

On the other hand, the market conditions in China for big data looked attractive.  Two major business trends in China hold promise.  The first is the huge rise in the number of customers buying online from many different e-commerce platforms.  The second is the need for China’s financial services sector to improve its customer service and its lending operations.  In both areas, big data analytics can help businesses to improve greatly their service and operational efficiency.

Finding Chinese business buyers

The University of Essex wanted to reach the market quickly and efficiently, without making too many costly and time-consuming trips to and from China. Essex International was able to use its office in China and its strong business and government contacts to promote the consultancy service to selected potential buyers in the e-commerce and financial services sectors.  The initial feedback from this sample set of sales meetings was positive and gave the university confidence that further market development work would be worthwhile. 

To enable the University to engage directly with interested businesses, Essex International worked with the government of Jiangsu Province to set up a business seminar at which the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, and Maria Fasli were able to talk to a carefully invited audience made up of senior officials from businesses in the e-commerce and financial services sectors.  A total of 14 businesses attended, with Essex International organising all aspects of the event, including the invitations, liaison with attendees, booking of the venue, interpretation, and so on. 

The seminar was very successful in generating interest.  But selling anything into China takes persistence, and selling services into China more so.  Even if a Chinese company is interested there is a lot work to be done.  The Chinese businesses want to know how the service can help their particular situation.  They need to have confidence that the service will show clear benefits that justify the cost.  They need to feel happy that the risk of buying is low and that the potential benefits are large.  In short, they don’t want to get into trouble for wasting company resources.  These are challenges that any business selling consultancy will be familiar with.  But overcoming these objections becomes more difficult across a wide language and culture barrier.  Essex International facilitated these conversations, helping both sides to keep moving towards each other.  Out of this phase a large Chinese insurance company expressed a strong interest in working with the University.

Negotiation of Contracts

Closing a deal in China, like anywhere, involves detailed negotiation, which Essex International was able to support through its local office in Nanjing.  But when the buyer is, as in this case, a state-owned enterprise, there are some big differences in the buying process compared with the situation in the UK.  State-owned businesses are cautious, especially when it comes to buying foreign consulting expertise.  They don’t like to move on their own, preferring to have explicit government support behind their decision.  Sometimes government support is essential in order for the funding for the project to be approved.  Understanding and being able to navigate these complexities is critical when selling in China. 

Essex International was able to work with the Jiangsu Provincial government to help both the university and their client present their project to the right people among the different government departments responsible.

Success in China

With government approval for the spending and a contract both in place, the University has now commenced delivery of phase one.  More phases are planned and Essex International continues to support the project and has also begun to look for new opportunities for the University.

Want to grow your business in China?

Essex International can help you sell your product in China.

Essex International helps their clients by quickly connecting them to influential buyers and decision-makers such as end-users, distributors, specifiers or government officials.

Essex International promotes your product to the right people straight away and gets you answers to some key questions:

  • Is there a market for my product or service in China?
  • How do I identify the best route to market and understand the regulations?
  • How does my product compare with the competition?
  • How do I build strong relationships with my distributors?
  • How will I manage communications in Chinese to close deals?

Even if you are already in China, Essex International can help you further grow your business there.

Peter Manning
Peter Manning

Head of Essex International

+44 (0) 7907 025 155


Extensive 'in market' experience in China, India and the UK. 15 years in the fields of inward investment, international trade, international realtionships and business development. His experience of helping UK and Chinese businesses, universities and governments do business together has given Peter detailed knowledge of how to do business in China and a wide range of contacts. Peter has an MBA from Henley Business School (Reading University), and was awarded an OBE in 2019 in the New Year’s Honours List for UK/China Relations.

Paul White
Paul White

Senior Export Services Manager

+44 (0) 7738 885007


Paul leads our export team. He has lived and worked in China for many years and now works with companies to help put their products and services into the Chinese market. Paul works with businesses in the UK to identify their China-specific USPs and then identify interested buyers in China, with our China-based team.