BITS and Pieces

Get global. Get ahead.

Art of doing Business Globally

A Global Businessman! And how is that different from any businessman you may ask? Does it entail taking your business to the next level? Starting an international chain? Or simply playing it smart in the commercial world? Globalisation today has revolutionised traditional leadership development in the business world. Language immersion, business etiquettes and cultural background research are just about the basics, in order to prepare managers these days for the various demands of the global marketplace. Today’s global businesses require global leaders. They can’t just act global. They have to be global.

In this era, a local business is increasingly becoming a dead-end. Conducting business abroad could sound a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that there are ways to prepare for it even if you have never done business before.

Why do you need to be Global?

We read and hear so much banter on thinking globally and acting like a global citizen. A whole lot of company slogans and commercials seem to be forcing such messages down our throat, but what does it actually mean? Well, for most companies it is a PR-oriented message to come across as “in sync” with cultures and corporate ethics worldwide. However, this is what they are really saying:

You need to think of your market as the map of the globe. If you are looking to sell a shoe design and are looking for an ideal market where you can find success, don’t just research your back yard, but research the demographics and the characteristics of people in the other part of the world too. How do you know that your product has more of a market in your home town than in South Korea or Australia? You don’t. There is a reason why your morning cappuccino from Starbucks tastes the same whether you are sipping it in Tokyo, New York, Bangkok or Buenos Aires.

Learning to become an International Businessman is no longer an option. It is now an essential skill for one’s survival and the sky is the limit. The range of countries and systems involved in production today demonstrates that business in most industries (be it automotive, electronics, food or even pharmaceutical) has become inescapably linked across borders. And hence, the foremost soft skill to be picked up by international businesspeople is the art of being global. So how do you do it?

Avoid cultural faux pas

Respectful and culturally appropriate behaviour is essential when doing business overseas because what’s customary in one country may be considered rude in another. It is important to be au courant in an international business setting and follow certain etiquettes so as to avoid any embarrassing mishaps that could potentially ruin your business relationships! For example, did you know that in France it is extremely common for a man to greet a lady with a quick kiss on the cheek, even in a business setting, while in China and India that sort of contact with business associates is clearly scandalous. Many European women will in fact stick their hand out if they prefer a handshake; however, this could seem intimidating to people from North America and the United Kingdom.

In countries like China, Japan, India and other Asian countries, there are certain unwritten customs to be followed. You are expected to let your business affiliates leave the meeting room first, if not the senior most members. Avoid saying “no” during business discussions since it is considered rude. Opt for terms such as “we’ll see”, “I will try” or “possibly” instead. Where gifts are concerned, always wrap them and present them with both hands. The value of the gift is considered of lesser importance as compared to the thoughtfulness with which it is presented, whereas personally written notes are preferred in the United States as opposed to corporate gifts, which are sometimes seen as a bribe. It is also a custom to not openly display money; always use an envelope. On a slightly universal note, finishing your meal until the very last morsel is usually not seen in very good light. In India, it is highly appreciated if you remove your footwear outside before entering a residence and if you refrain from ordering beef when dining with your Indian associates.

Every country has its nuances. For instance, standing very close and using physical contact during conversations is extremely common in Brazil. With regard to food, they also consider it disrespectful to use their hands instead of cutlery – even if it’s a sandwich or a pizza! In New Zealand and around Australia, punctuality is of the highest importance. They also like keeping their conversation to a minimum during meals and also believe that dinners are strictly reserved for social interactions and that business matters should only be discussed over lunch. Transversely, it is acceptable to discuss business at any meal in other countries such as the United States.

In the UK, do not be surprised if you find the British seldom retaining eye contact during conversations. When dining out with British associates, bear in mind that toasting those who are older to you is not considered polite. And if you are in France and do not speak French, it is appreciated if you apologise for your lack of fluency. On the other hand, if a business associate nods upon shaking your hand in Germany, reciprocating this nod creates a good impression in your favour.

“Good manners” is something that varies greatly from country to country. And whether or not you take the time to familiarise yourself with the local social customs, you may appear rude and naïve, and even run the risk of offending those you’re doing business with! So learning general cultural norms from different countries will help ensure that you’re polite and professional wherever your travels take you, apart from learning the languages and other customs of your preferred business location.

Know and build your brand

Brand awareness is always a matter of concern, be it in business or between individuals. Individuals everywhere want to be noticed both socially as well as professionally. People want to be remembered by others.”The first rule of thumb is to start thinking globally early,” says Allen Adamson, Managing Director of the marketing firm Landor and author of BrandSimple. Studying global markets and assessing your brand is mandatory. Who’s there? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? The more you’re familiar with the country’s local demographics, the easier it will be to determine your market and promote your brand. You must also find out what the competition is like.

When doing business globally, you cannot always rely on your company name to do the heavy lifting for you. When you visit a country for the first time, hire a local guide or translator especially if you’re not fluent in the language, taking into the account the constant communication with distributors, sales reps, and other colleagues. “Building rapport with people and understanding their value system are essential tools for doing business globally, apart from learning the customs and legal regulations”says Mercedes Alfaro, founder and president of a reputation management company.

Be a real global leader

According to the Harvard Business Review, today’s greatest business opportunities, as well as the greatest challenges we face, are global in nature and therefore demand leaders who are also global. While the old mantra “think global, act local” is woefully inadequate to describe the complex realities global leaders are facing, true global leaders act as bridge builders, connectors of resources and talent across cultural and political boundaries — relentlessly dedicated to finding new ways of creating value.

Such sagacious leaders possess a global mindset and are able to interpret and decode situations from multiple perspectives. They have an insatiable interest to learn about other cultures and care enough to understand other people’s perspectives and suspend their judgment to do so. They are knowledgeable about economic and political issues around the world and can grasp the inherent complexity of international affairs from multiple national perspectives. Finally, they nurture relationships with associates and friends around the world and have a unique ability to transcend cultural barriers while cultivating trust.

In a nutshell

Globalisation today is headed toward being a newfangled culture, rather than just a revolutionary change in society. Technological advances have made the world smaller and more accessible. Now even small businesses can trade in a global marketplace with the help of the Internet, virtual conferencing and social media. But as the doors open to international trade, challenges enter the playing field along with the opportunities. By being aware of the intricacies of doing business globally, you can avoid seemingly insignificant pitfalls and realise the potential of an expanded market.

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Alifya Thingna - Associate Director | Key Accounts Having grown up around the Middle East and India, Alifya is a shy, yet friendly and colourful personality with a keen interest in human psychology, ethnology and contemporary dance forms. An aesthete by nature, she is extremely passionate about getting to know new people, immersing herself in new cultures, writing and doing the 'little things' that make this world a better place to live in. She also has a Masters degree in French literature, enjoys biking and is the modern definition of a logophile and an equalist.