I used to work with Tom. Tom was promoted as our business development manager in charge of expanding our business in Africa. Tom had only operated in western countries and he was at ease with the western culture and its customs. For his first international business trip, he was sent to Nigeria to meet our current clients and new prospects. As we all know business development is not about selling but rather about building relationships to consequently offer services to fulfil the needs of your clients. Tom’s first business lunch was with Franklin, the managing director of an international oil and gas firm. Franklin was used to working with Phil as our company representative, and this lunch was an opportunity to pass over the management of Franklin’s account. It is customary with some countries to give to your client a traditional gift from your country, such as chocolate from Harrods or Scottish shortbread; anything that represents the British culture. These little details show that you care about the foundation of long-term business relationships. Unaware of this custom, Tom didn’t bring anything to the lunch. To show his discontent, Franklin used Tom’s business as a toothpick. This was so embarrassing. The business relationship was damaged and it took a while to reposition it back to where it was previously.

I have travelled across the world during my international career. I studied cross cultural differences with fascination and I learned a great deal through my business experience. I have seen managers failing to sign deals just based on their lack of cultural awareness. In my previous business article, I taught the importance of personal branding. In this article, I will reveal to you a few tips you need to know to break challenging markets such as Asia.

1 – Dress for Business

Professionalism begins with your brand persona. So always dress professionally to make a positive impact and satisfactory business impression. Acknowledging cultural differences whilst looking and acting prepared will always be received positively and will help you seal the deal.

Take the time to study the cultural norms of the country that you are doing business in, and find out how they dress. A particular flower for example, may be acceptable in your country, but in another country, it could be used for mourning which would be totally unacceptable in a business situation. Attention to detail is essential and will help you to avoid causing any upset.

2 – Time

Punctuality is also valued differently, so be aware that some cultures are more time conscious than others. In South America and Africa, scheduled appointments are considered as a time guideline rather than something they need to stick by. In Europe, they are always punctual and being late is perceived as unprofessional. Take this into consideration and consequently allow your schedule some time flexibility.

3 – Greeting

In western countries, a hand shake is the commonly accepted form of greeting. In Saudi Arabia, women should wait for a man to offer his hand first. If she offers her hand first, he may not shake it. So save yourself the embarrassment. In Japan, people bow to greet each other. In Italy and Egypt, don’t be surprised if your client or partner offers a kiss on the cheek. The best way to start on a good note is to offer a traditional present from your country. This is not bribery but rather a good gesture. However in Asia, this might be perceived as bribery and they are quiet likely to refuse your present. Always address and greet your business partners or your clients by their last names and titles unless you are invited to do otherwise.

4 – Communication

Business people in different countries communicate differently. In Nigeria or Germany, people tend to speak loudly when sharing ideas. In Ghana or Japan, they speak softly and don’t interrupt each other. Don’t forget to watch your body language when interacting as it could be distracting in countries that are not accommodated to so much body movements to emphasise an idea.

To conclude, always do your research when working in business and in markets that you are not familiar with. Ask advice from colleagues who have experienced working with certain countries. Their knowledge and experience are great values for your own success. Observe and adjust to the ways that your clients or business partners communicate. The more information you know, the more you are in control and capable of signing the deal.