Can HubSpot be used in China?
The short answer is yes. HubSpot is (currently) not blocked by the Chinese ‘great firewall’ and can be used in China. For companies who want to use the HubSpot CRM to manage their global sales and marketing teams, this is ideal as they can use the same system as the rest of the organisation – providing using the English interface isn’t a barrier for your Chinese team.
If you are having issues with loading your HubSpot CRM or other back-end systems in China one solution is to purchase a corporate VPN which are available from most government telecommunications companies, such as China Telecom, to any registered company in China.
However, outside of the CRM, HubSpot hosted websites – HubSpot CMS (content management system) – will not function as smoothly in China. HubSpot uses global CDN (Content Delivery Network) servers to ensure that websites hosted with HubSpot load quickly no matter where the website is being loaded. However, this doesn’t apply to China as HubSpot do not have servers in China.
While HubSpot CMS sites will load, any website hosted outside of China will face difficulties with loading speeds in China, and this will be a major barrier for any company seeking to start or continue marketing within China. Websites hosted outside of China are also penalised by Baidu (the main Chinese search engine) for being ‘foreign’, which can hurt organic traffic.
Are there any viable Chinese alternatives to HubSpot?
Yes, as recent as 2018 services there have been new Chinese players on the market such as 大猫自动化 (Big Cat CRM), which are based on some of the key features of the HubSpot platform and (of course) have an interface and support in Mandarin. Xiaoman Keji (The Little Satisfied Technology) is another incumbent and clear example of technology arbitrage.
However, platforms like Big Cat are new, have only 2 or 3 basic features, and cannot compare to a platform and ecosystem as polished as HubSpot. Similarly, Xiaoman Keji it is very Chinese logic focused (which is a good thing) and primarily targets Chinese companies marketing locally, or factories exporting overseas. This means the interface isn't intuitive to Westerners, isn't in English and is not intended as part of a global marketing automation and CRM strategy. One of the key selling points of HubSpot is their superior 24/7 support and academy which can be crucial for new staff facing learning barriers with the software and inbound paradigm. While it can be tempting to use a cheaper Chinese product, until these products are more mature, successful adoption is likely to require patience to deal with teething problems associated with new technologies and building out your own inbound academy and support.
Do Chinese teams find it easy to use HubSpot?
Traditionally, sales and marketing in China are done a bit differently from what is currently done in the rest of the world. Reminiscent of the West in the 1980’s – most of the current China sales and marketing strategy relies on recommendations, relationships, personal connections and cold-calling. While this strategy undoubtedly does, to a degree work in China, it is not a scalable practice and means eventually your China team will not generate leads as fast as their Western counterparts once their networks become saturated.
Chinese sales and marketing teams that are used to cold-calling and standardised marketing messages may initially have an aversion to the inbound marketing and sales methodologies. No one likes to have dramatic changes to the way they work imposed on them, and it's no different in China. Doing thorough buyer persona research, crafting content for specific personas and thinking about potentially complex automation rules are still new concepts.
That said, anyone can be trained to understand the importance of these new marketing and sales paradigms through showing quick wins. Whether it’s a 3rd party agency you are using in China, or your own branch office team, providing you can give your team the educational resources and support on the ground and sufficient evidence of past success, you are likely to see good results with HubSpot due to the intuitive interface and plethora of academy videos and blogs.
Does Inbound Marketing work in China?
As Baidu (Chinese Google) isn’t as developed as Google, and “contextual search” is a little way behind many Chinese people currently don’t use it in the way that we are accustomed to finding answers online. Organic traffic often plays second fiddle to paid search too, so while you still need great content, you absolutely need an ads strategy on Baidu to amplify that.
This will likely change over time. We have already seen a huge movement in China towards finding answers online – WeChat finally has a search function showing Tencent's realisation that consumers aren't simply passive, and have search intent behind their actions. There are also other search engines like SouGou (搜狗) who are starting to gain more market share and are investing in AI like Google to assist with search terms instead of being aggressively advertising-focused like Baidu. Companies who are willing to invest in quality content now, whatever the format (video, audio, written etc.) will not only be ‘marketing pioneers in China’ but will also benefit from being ahead of the competition once more people begin searching for answers on the internet.
Integrating HubSpot in China
If you do want to get the most out of HubSpot in China, there are a few best practices to ensuring your website loads quickly, your forms link properly to HubSpot, and your conversion pathways are working.
Wordpress + HubSpot
The most popular method is to set up a Wordpress website hosted on a Chinese server which is linked to your HubSpot CRM using programmatic forms. You could in fact use any CMS, or custom-coded website, as long as it doesn't rely on Google services and is not a Software As A Service (SAAS) product. We may refer to "Wordpress" as the platform of choice in the rest of this article for the sake of brevity, but keep in mind you can use any number of platforms, or custom code the website.
To host a website in China you will need a registered Chinese company (to learn more about setting up a WFOE in China click here) in order to set up the hosting and apply for an ICP (Internet Content Provider) registration number. In order to be completely compliant with Chinese government internet regulations, you will need to list your ICP number in the footer of your Chinese website via a link that leads to the website of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. This is an important step as it will be useful in the future as an ICP is required for any kind of paid digital advertising in China.
In China, like the rest of the world, there are many options for digital advertising. Baidu, WeChat, JinRiTouTiao and Weibo are some of the main platforms. Each has their own pros and cons and can be useful depending on your persona, product/service and situation.
Once you have a Chinese hosted website that is designed and translated according to the needs of your Chinese clients you can create programmatic forms in Wordpress to synchronise data submitted in Wordpress with forms created in your HubSpot CRM. Developing this link isn’t "marketer friendly" and you may require the services of a developer experienced in using the HubSpot API and Wordpress back-end. Using this style of forms will ensure that your website loads very fast in China as even using landing pages hosted in HubSpot can dramatically slow down your loading times which can be a huge conversion barrier for forms - especially in China.
SMS confirmations instead of emails for workflows
Unlike the rest of the world, email is considerably less important in China where the majority of the internet-using-populace grew up on mobiles with social media and instant messaging instead of email. Email campaigns in China are significantly less effective than SMS campaigns which has created a need for SMS marketing automation in China.
At Oxygen, we have developed our own SMS automation tool specifically for China on HubSpot with SendCloud. Thus, if a contact fills in a form in China, they will get a subsequent automated follow-up via SMS.
Social CRM integration (WeChat)
If you're using HubSpot at the moment, you're probably accustomed to managing all of your social profiles in one place under HubSpot. Unfortunately, HubSpot does not support a WeChat integration, and is unlikely to any time soon. If you're going to do lead generation in China (especially in the B2B market) then having a WeChat integration will be very important to not only ensure that the company owns all of your leads (instead of the individual sales reps owning leads) but also that all your data is consolidated in one place. Luckily, there are third-party platforms that do integrate with WeChat and offer some marketing and sales automation within the limitation of what WeChat will allow.
Getting help marketing to China
Setting up these systems and making sure they are correctly optimised and used by both the sales and marketing teams in China can be a challenge. It’s important that your Western team understands the importance of doing things differently in China (as the same methods often do not work the same!) and that your Chinese team understands the importance of using scalable marketing and sales methods to stay ahead of the competition in this increasingly digital world. Finding the right balance between two very different strategies is important if you want to conquer the Chinese market and it’s often best to have a 3rd party who understands both sides of the story to mediate and set realistic goals for both teams. To learn more about what Oxygen can do to assist your China operations please get in contact with us to speak to one of our experts.