In a competitive context that is characterized by globalization and high economic and financial instability, companies must adapt their strategies in order to take advantage of new markets (Flint, 2004). Several empirical studies underline how business relationships are important for companies to develop their activities and business and to survive on national and international markets (eg. Hakansson, Snehota, 1995; Hakansson, Prenkert, 2004; Hakansson, Waluszewski, 2002; Johanson, Mattson, 1988). Other studies highlight that also cultural aspects are critical in establishing business relationships and in enhancing and maintaining ongoing business (Usunier, 1996; Hall 1976; Herbig 2000; Ghauri, Usunier, 2003; Fletcher, Fang, 2004).
The aim of this paper is to describe how Italian companies approach the Chinese market and in particular, how they have changed their business model to face the Chinese challenge. Particular emphasis will be given to relationships and their importance to achieve a long-term competitive advantage on that market.
The results of a both quantitative and qualitative research are presented. In the quantitative phase the behavior of Italian companies operating in China is analyzed through questions about the operative approach (marketing policies, instruments, product and process for quality certification) and the strategic approach (entry mode and approach to different targets), together with the results they achieved and the criticalities they had to face.
The qualitative phase is focused on business models and marketing policies that Italian companies adopt when operating in the Chinese market. For this, in-depth interviews were conducted with some "best in class" companies.
An evolutionary model on sustainable internationalization is then proposed.