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Technical Sales in China: Interview with a Thirty-Year Veteran

Jim Cooper

Jim started as an engineering co-op at Caterpillar in 1974. Building from his start at Caterpillar, Jim attended Iowa State University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1978. After graduation, Jim continued his career at the Caterpillar Tech Center in Peoria, Illinois. Through data acquisition and post analysis, Jim developed software and hardware systems to control field testing of Cat Machines.

After 14 years with Caterpillar, Jim and his family made a career transition to China. For 6 years, Jim worked for Pacific Resources, Inc. (PRI) and Management Technologies International (MTI). In the early 1990’s, Jim managed the Qingdao Rep Office.

In 1996, Jim led a technology transfer project and became the GM for Central Plastics Co.’s WOFE in Tianjin (CPTJ). In 2008, Central Plastics Co. (USA) was acquired by Georg-Fischer (GF), a Swiss MNC. Jim managed the M&A transition and due diligence of the CPTJ enterprise. In 2010, Jim carried out a management buyout of the anti-corrosion unit of GF-Central Plastics Co. and renamed it Central Products (Tianjin) Co., Ltd.

Currently, Jim serves as Chairman of Central Products (Tianjin) Co. Ltd. He provides technical support on R&D of new products and solutions, and directs the international business development. He is also a Senior Consultant for PRI and a Governor on the Board of The American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China.

With close to 30 years in China, living and working in manufacturing roles in 2nd and 3rd Tier cities, Jim is fluent in Chinese and comfortable navigating the culture. He and his wife, Sharon, have raised their four children in China and are aware of the needs and interests of Expats living and doing business in these 2nd and 3rd Tier cities.


Q: What is the biggest difference between technical sales in China and other countries?

A: Chinese buyers ask more questions, and ask for everything translated into Chinese characters. Chinese characters not just words but actually pictograms. By stringing a set of Chinese characters together, one can visually describe the fundamental sciences and technologies used in the product you are selling. This can lead to issues related to IP, which is an important issue that your company needs to be careful to consider in your China strategy. A common Chinese buyer’s goal is to get the highest technology for the lowest price.

Q: How much does the China market require product localization/customization?

A: Japan had success in the past by introducing its older model technology to the China market. Typically the latest technology is too expensive and there is too much risk of not protecting your company’s technology. For example, not producing key technology elements in China.

Q: Would you recommend direct sales or distributors for China sales?

A. Distributors can be helpful to new companies who do not know the key players. However, with agents you lose a certain level of control and many things go on that you do not know about which do not represent how you want your brand to be established. China sales, like many countries in Asia, are about relationships.

Q: Are Chinese sales teams effective for outside China sales (especially for other Asian markets)?

A: There are highly qualified individuals in the larger cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Yet for the most part they do not meet the standard to have highly effective sales outside the China market.

Q: How do sales compare between SOE and private companies in China?

A: SOE’s require you to take a much more complicated and long-sighted approach. International sales people must come with the right mindset. There is a great deal of bureaucracy; filling out standardized contracts and going through nine or ten levels of approval. It involves a great deal of soft skills, relationship building, dinners, and follow up. A meeting, relationship, or decision in the U.S. that may take a matter of days or weeks could take months or years. It is best to get designed into a project before the bidding process begins. There is an increase of nonverbal requirements preventing funds from leaving China. This is a factor for having an operation on the ground in China for China market sales.

Central Products is a full-service company focused on corrosion control issues. We work closely with industry specialists in design, testing, research and development.

We provide solutions and services for corrosion protection in Oil & Gas, Water, and Marine Industries. We have solution technologies formulated from Petrolatum, Bitumen, PU Epoxies, and PE. Our product solutions include Tapes, Fillers, Pastes, Primers, Injections, Coatings, as well as HDPE Fabrication. Central Products can also provide installation and site supervision to clients wanting an “all-in” approach to their projects.

The American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China (AmCham China) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose membership comprises 4,000 individuals from 900 companies operating across China. The Chamber’s nationwide mission is to help American companies succeed in China through advocacy, information, networking, and business support services. In addition to our headquarters in Beijing, AmCham China serves Tianjin, Central China, and Northeast China through our Chapters in Tianjin, Dalian, Shenyang, and Wuhan. Across the five offices, AmCham China has more than 30 working groups, and holds more than 150 events each year.

China is home to the world’s largest population of 1.4 billion+ people with an exploding middle class that now exceeds 50% of the population. Consumer purchasing power and industrial spending is increasing rapidly creating a fast growing and stable domestic market. PRI has an extensive sales network in dozens of industries throughout China and has a strong track-record of helping international clients achieve significant sales growth. PRI provides clients with “hunters” that will help you break into the China market and provides fully managed solutions to build the sales and marketing teams you need to remain close to your customers and accelerate growth. For more information email


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