Today, most manufacturing companies view their geographical target market as the world. Thirty to forty years ago the situation was very different. Few manufacturers had a significant presence beyond the country or continent where they were headquartered. Today, we enjoy the benefits and face the challenges of doing business in a global economy. Most companies have direct sales and service employees stationed around the world; many companies have manufacturing facilities located in two or more countries.
The technical and commercial challenges we face are daunting, but possibly the toughest and most subtle we must deal with are cultural. Our company is based in the United States; Cincinnati, Ohio. We have approximately one hundred sixty representatives and distributors in over sixty countries around the world. I am pretty comfortable and confident when dealing with people from New York to California and Michigan to Texas. I know what behavior is acceptable in business and social situations in the States, but how do I conduct myself socially or in a business setting in China, Abu Dhabi, Germany, or Singapore? The last thing you want to do is offend your business prospect or colleague.
Here are several things you should consider when doing business with a customer or colleague in another country:
What are the prevailing business practices?
How should you dress?
How do you go about setting appointments? Is punctuality important?
What is the language of business? Do you need an interpreter?
How do you greet and address your prospect or colleague?
Are there any gestures or other actions that are considered to be offensive?
How and when are negations handled?
What is considered acceptable business entertainment? Are gifts appropriate and / or expected?
In addition, it always helps to understand their history, government and how they view the world.
The message here; learn as much as possible about where and with whom you are going to do business.
For those of you who travel internationally on business (or leisure), there are several excellent resources available to help you better navigate cultural differences. My personal favorites are the “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands”1 books. They are packed with useful information and fun to read. Safe travels!