When people think about modern globalisation and international business development, they usually look at most technical and financial aspects with great care and deep thinking. And those who don’t are indeed adventurers, not entrepreneurs. Very few business ventures can succeed without a sound business plan, sufficient financial resources, a competitive product or service, and the appropriate marketing and communication tools.
However, if technique and finance were enough to guarantee success, every decent auditor or bank analyst would easily anticipate the outcome of any project and act accordingly. Why is this not true?
Simply because it is human business. And what are human relations based on? They are based on mutual understanding, building trust and sharing views. And if you take this into account, then you will strongly increase your chances of developing your business into a global success story.
1. Mutual understanding: bridging the cultural gap
As long as you play on your home ground, relations with your business contacts remain quite simple. Speaking the same language and sharing the same culture makes uncountable things much easier, like for example:
- Avoiding offending behaviours or comments
- Clarifying a possible misunderstanding
- Using commonly known examples
- Relaxing the atmosphere with a joke or a play on words
A lot of relational accidents can be avoided or repaired with a careful preparation, hiring a bilingual employee and taking advice from a multi-cultural expert. But you can also do very simple things on your own that will help a lot more than you would probably expect:
- Open Wikipedia and read about the country, history and civilisation
- Learn a few words in the local language, both written and spoken
- Ask your foreign contacts about their working place or their hometown
- Have a nice story to tell about your relationship with the country
2. Building trust: raising the level of confidence
When you are doing business at home, your business partners feel as confident and comfortable with the business environment as you do. The business environment covers such different things as:
- Laws and regulations
- Invoicing and payment terms
- Time management and responsiveness
- Intermediation and decision process
When you enter a new market, the confidence and comfort level is much lower on your side because you are not familiar with the business environment. But it is also much lower with your local business partners because they fear that you will not understand or accept the local environment conditions.
Local guidance and expertise will help you overcome these differences and find the right balance between your standards and local compliance. Nevertheless, there are once again some very simple things that you can do with considerable benefit:
- Agree on common reference standards
- Explain things clearly and in depth
- Ask questions whenever you have a doubt
- Never step back on your corporate values and business principles
- Find out how you should react when you do wrong (apologize? smile? joke? justify?)
- Don’t deny your difference, but show your open-mindedness
3. Sharing views: looking in the same direction
In your own country, even in your own company or personal life, you sometimes have difficulties understanding what will bring your partner, client or colleague to work with you. Willingness to collaborate is based on different reasons like:
- Common interests
- Outside commitments
- Vision and values
- Beliefs and disbeliefs
Understanding and identifying all these parameters is even more difficult when you are acting in a foreign business environment. The language barrier, cultural differences and local business habits can slow down, hinder or even mislead your attempts to understand these parameters.
Outside help and local expertise can make things easier but most of the job here relies on you. More than ever, you will need to step into the other one’s shoes and look at things his way, not your way. Here are a few simple things you can do to learn about your potential business partner:
- Explore LinkedIn profile and social network activity
- Differentiate company priorities from personal interest
- Meet people in person and if possible both at work and outside work
- Profile their other business partners
- Be curious about company history and personal background
Short and long-term benefits
These simple things to do will not guarantee a positive outcome in every international business venture, but they will surely improve both your chances of success on the short term and your international reputation on the long term.