Small businesses are increasingly discovering incredible opportunities in emerging markets such as China, India, Russia and Brazil. Yet simple mistakes in communication often ruin otherwise win-win situations.
Terri Morrison, who wrote the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands with Wayne A. Conaway, realized how many different cultural barriers existed when she began traveling for her work at a tech firm in Philadelphia. "People from the United States are a bit naive when they think they can just sell to anybody and not actually have to like them," Morrison told us. In many places in the world, business is about building a real relationship.
To get some insight on how to approach specific markets abroad, Morrison shares some basic tips on how to develop relationships and close business deals in some of the biggest business hubs around the world.
Traditional ways of doing business are still practiced in China, such as bowing slightly when greeting another person. When exchanging business cards, you should use two hands and format the cards in advance with Chinese on one side and your language on the opposite side.
“If your [business] cards are in your wallet, do not keep your wallet in your back trouser pocket," Morrison and Conaway write. "Men should place cards in a card holder, or in their wallet, and then put that in an inside pocket of their jacket, to ensure they never sit on them. Women can place business cards in their purse or briefcase, preferably in a card holder.”
Tips for Selling:
1. Be prepared for tough negotiations. “Chinese executives test each other, looking for weaknesses, so of course they will use that approach with you. It is not meant to generate a permanently antagonistic relationship. It is just so you know where you both stand," Morrison and Conaway write.
2. Build a relationship. In many countries (including the U.S.), you may develop a relationship after the completion of a contract, but the opposite may be true in China where a relationship is preferred before a contract can follow. This may also mean that it can take you longer to enter into a contract agreement when doing business in a country where you are a foreigner. After the contract is closed, you may also be expected to continue your relationship with your business counterparts.
3. The long game. Negotiations may be dragged out as long as possible, the authors write. To strategically stay on top of your game during the negotiation, Morrison and Conaway advise to "never give your Chinese counterparts too much information about your schedule. Keep your flight arrangements and any deadlines to yourself.”
RELATED: How to Ship Around the Globe
Although being on time isn’t a traditional virtue in the old Soviet Union, modern Russians are leaning more toward a prompt schedule. As a foreigner, you are expected to be on time, but being 15 minutes late is still a common practice. Due to this, you should expect for the possibility that your appointment will end later than you originally scheduled.
You should also keep in mind that Russians are not altogether trusting of most forms of communication, including phones and emails, so you should expect to do a lot of one-on-one meetings.
When doing business in Russia, you should remember that “direct eye contact is key” and you should never “let your gaze waver.”
Tips for Selling:
1. Classic mercantilism. Russians always believe that resources are limited, so in order for them to gain something, someone else has to lose. Furthermore, Russians can become very emotional during meetings and “walkouts may occur.” In these moments, it’s crucial that you remain calm and collected.
2. Share what's new. Russians love technology, so allow them to get a glimpse of future concepts, but don’t expose too much of your research.
3. Negotiating as a game of chess. This game plays an important role in the Russian psyche, and “many political and business leaders have played and look at every negotiation as a game. And just like playing a game of chess, the Russians will decide to end negotiations suddenly if they feel there are 'no further constructive moves.'
“Unexpectedly announcing their acceptance of the deal is another way the Russians exhibit control.”
RELATED: A Crash Course on Small Business Exporting: Keys to Global Growth
If you’re doing business in India, “be ready to invest in frequent face-to-face meetings, and build long-term relationships in order to succeed,” the authors write. Also, you should be prepared to reveal some personal information about yourself, such as “your journey, your health, and your family" to build trust.
Although punctuality is not a traditional virtue in India, as a foreigner, you are expected to be on time when conducting business. Some businesspeople in India will still greet others with a namaste, which is when they "put the palms of their hands together in front of [their] chest, fingertips pointing upward. You may hold your fingertips just under your chin and bow your head slightly.” It’s frequently executed on both the arrival and departure.
Since physical contact is not as casual between different genders in India, some businessmen will shake other men’s hands, but refuse to do the same thing with women. When presenting business cards, you should remember to present and accept cards with your right hand as well.
Tips for Selling:
1. Honor the hierarchy. When doing business in India, you should always try to meet with the most senior person, because “final decisions generally rest with one person” and “if you do not meet with this individual during your visit, you may not be near the final close," Morrison and Conaway write.
2. Understanding yes, no and patience. Since the word “no” is considered dismissive and insulting in India, it's rarely said, and getting truthful answers from your business counterpart may be difficult. Instead of saying “no,” Indian businesspeople may say “That may be difficult” or “I’ll try” instead.
Furthermore, you must also understand how crucial patience is in every situation, the authors write, “because every negotiation is a personal, intuitive process” and even if this “pace may seem leisurely to you, you should never try to force a close."
3. Taboos, revered animals and vaastu. As the world’s most populous democracy, India also has various religions and belief systems integrated into its society. If you are doing business in India, you need to be aware of some of these guidelines, including never showing the sole of someone’s foot in an ad, understanding that the cow is sacred, never depicting a man and a woman alone in an ad and knowing that while Hindi is written left to right, there are other popular languages in India that are written right to left.
When doing business in Brazil, you are expected to arrive on time, but your Brazilian business partners can be anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour late. You should also never refuse an invitation to dine. You should also note that Brazil is a culture that “communicates in close proximity,” therefore, those you do business with you may touch your arm, hand or shoulder during a normal conversation.
Tips for Selling:
1. The Jeito or Jeitinho Brasileiro. This basically means there are certain ways to do business in Brazil, and one way isn't always followed thoroughly. Morrison and Conaway point out there are ways to “circumvent rules and regulations can be onerous.”
2. Know about nepotism and networks. “Nepotism is considered an important obligation in Brazil” and “family loyalty is a duty,” meaning you should be extra careful dealing with anyone you meet, because you never know who is related. “The family is an exceedingly important institution in Brazil and is key to one’s position in society … and “you never want to ruin an entire network of prospects because of a confrontation with one member of the network.”
3. The indirect approach. Brazilians tend to suppress their real feelings and approach problems indirectly in order to protect the feelings of everyone involved, so the only way you’ll know if a Brazilian isn’t interested is by listening for subtle cues, such as statements like, “Just leave this with me,” “It is complicated,” or “I am not sure when we can meet.”
Read more on growing your business.
Photo courtesy of Terri Morrison