Last week we told you about the many business opportunities that lie in the ASEAN region. This week we will be giving you some basic, practical advice on doing business in Asia. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when setting your sight on the ASEAN market:
1. Be patient.
If there is one thing you should keep in mind, when taking your business to the ASEAN countries, is to be patient. Things will not happen as quickly as you might want them to or gotten used to. Forget about closing a deal after the first or second meeting, as it might require multiple meetings to reach the desired result. In Asia, people generally want to build personal relationships and trust through face to face meetings before making any business commitments. Depending on the local partners’ preference, when it comes to bonding grounds, these face to face meetings might take place off working hours. So be prepared for the possibility of late night dinners, rounds of golf and personal visits in order to seal the deal.
I once heard a story of a business executive who got invited to help a partner CEO with his move. At site he was asked to ward off bad spirits by carrying them outside in big woven bags. The move took all night but he stuck it through, a testament to his commitment and resolve. He, unlike some other executives who did not show up, got rewarded with a renewed deal.
The perception of time also differs from what you might be used to in Europe or the US, so don´t be surprised if you don´t get an immediate response to your email. Asians might not answer your questions if they do not have a definite answer. This is part of not wanting to lose face, a very common cultural trait to all of the Asian countries. Time is also viewed more as a continuation than something lost, hence the lack of urgency. In order to help the process along, you might want to give the recipient a target date for the response.
2. Be culturally sensitive
ASEAN, with its many languages, religions and sub-races, is not a homogeneous market, providing new experiences in every city. So take your time learning about the culture. Arriving without any cultural awareness is viewed negatively by the local people, and most Asians expect you to have enough information about the local customs, politics and history for you to be able to act cordially, avoid the big ”no-no´s” and engage in small talk about important cultural- and historical topics. A general rule of thumb is to avoid talking about religion, painful historical events and criticizing the country in general, at least until you know someone on a more personal level.
Knowing some of the local language is also important. While English is widely spoken and used in most of the ASEAN countries, learning some greetings and complimentary phrases will help you along.
Always remember to smile and to be polite. Being known as having the best poker face in the business will not get you far in Asia, where smiling is not only a way of showing friendliness, but also a socially accepted defence mechanism used when feeling nervous or uncomfortable.
Also be prepared for less eye contact than you might be used to. Avoiding eye contact, especially when talking to your superiors, is common practice, showing respect and consideration. Finally, it is important to remember not to be too casual when talking to people, unless you know them on a personal level. When in doubt, always use professional titles or surnames to avoid offending anyone.
3. Be prepared to put in time and money
You should be prepared to spend both time and money establishing your business, as just having an amazing product won´t cut it. You will spend a lot of time working out regulations, arranging necessary government permits, look for local support services and business partners, promote your product and meet with potential clients. It is all about getting the right contacts. Try communicating reasonable time management- and financial goals to your stake holders, in order to avoid failing expectations.
4. Get a local partner
Sales cycles and decisions processes can be long and tiring. Having some local help might prevent you from ending up frustrated and keen on exiting the country. A local partner can advise you on the local business, political, legal and cultural system and help you with the local language. You will find that many business professionals are willing to help you for a consultation fee or commission. It is also nice to have someone local accompany you to business meetings and events. You might also want to contact a local legal firm to help you with the ins and outs of the regulations and government permits.
However, it is always important to do your due diligence and gather information on your potential partner before entering into any type of agreement. The old mantra, “better to be safe than sorry” is still very valid.
Try and connect with your countrymen doing business in your area of interest. LinkedIn is a great platform for making business connections and new acquaintances. Not only can they provide practical advice and support, but having a buddy outside of work is never a bad thing.
6. Be patient
If silence is gold, then patience must be silver. Repetition is also the mother of all learning. So take a step back and remind yourself that patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.
Wulff Entre wishes you the best of luck in your future endeavours!