Understand the business culture in the market

Last updated 19 March 2019

A profitable business relationship needs trust. Taking an interest in the culture of your customer helps build trust and shows you are serious about a long-term relationship.

Spend time researching culture, customs and behaviours including:

  • how people greet each other
  • body language and gestures
  • what people wear in different situations
  • giving and receiving business cards
  • giving and receiving gifts
  • how meetings are conducted
  • what to include in a presentation

Not being prepared could lead to a misunderstanding that affects your business relationship.

Start your research with our exporting country guides or try Kwintessential for country guides that cover business etiquette, customs and culture.

Business meetings

Meeting a client, agent or distributor in person helps manage integrity risks by:

  • building trust
  • gauging their motivations, values and interest in your business
  • setting and managing expectations

Research the customs and culture in your target market to understand how business meetings are conducted. If face-to-face meetings are expected you should make them a part of your export plan. If you don’t you could struggle to win business in that market.

Plan overseas visits to make the most of the investment of time and money. You should:

  • research the company and who you’ll be meeting
  • research the country’s culture, language and history
  • have clear objectives for your meetings
  • find out if you need an interpreter
  • find out if you should bring your product
  • schedule several meetings to make the trip cost effective

Think strategically about how you’ll nurture the relationship over time after your initial meeting.

Alternatives to face-to-face meetings

Travelling to overseas meetings can be expensive and time consuming. If you can’t afford to visit a client in their own country, you could arrange to meet them at an international trade show.

Trade shows can be cost effective if you arrange face-to-face meetings with several customers. They are a good place to market your product or service and to find agents, distributors and potential customers.

Using a local agent or distributor could help to support your relationship with an overseas customer. They can meet the customer face-to-face to manage the relationship on your behalf.

Email, phone, text, video and social media are all good ways to keep in touch with a client but are no replacement for face-to-face meetings. Facial expressions and body language are often lost, even with video conferences, making it harder to build rapport.

If the business culture of a country values face-to-face meetings to build relationships then there may be no alternative to visiting the country if you want to do business there.

Manage language differences

Knowing a few words and phrases in your client’s language can help build rapport, even if you need an interpreter for more involved communication.

Think about how to manage language differences including:

  • if you need an interpreter for overseas visits
  • whether to translate tender documents
  • if you need help to write tenders in a different language
  • how to cope with translating for more than one language and market
  • situations when speaking or writing English is acceptable
  • whether to translate your website
  • translating contract terms and conditions