Tips on doing business in Asia
Doing business in Asia requires a different way of thinking to doing business in Australia. Here are some important points to keep in mind.
Listen more, talk less
In Western countries, we have a tendency to talk too much. We’re passionate about what we do, we want to get results and, knowing that we don’t have much time to make an impression, we often start pitching our capabilities or products before we’ve spent enough time exploring the needs, desires and aspirations of the people we’re talking to.
In Asian countries this can come across as arrogant, discourteous and even rude. While it may not be apparent at the time, it’s likely to cut things off before they’ve even gotten started.
It takes longer, but you’ll get better results if you take the time to ask open questions, listen carefully to the answers, and tailor your products or capabilities to the needs of your audience rather than yourself.
Prepare your pitch properly
While accompanying a delegation of Australian business people to China recently, we were each handed a beautifully presented brochure with details of the local region’s natural advantages as a financial services centre and the reasons to establish a business there.
It was an expensive document, in full colour, with photos, and of course translated into both English and Chinese. In comparison, the documentation Australians turn up with is often shabby and, worst of all, in English only, with no Chinese translation.
"Only when you've exhausted every other possible topic of conversation, and when the timing feels right, should you offer to start talking business."
If you want some clues as to how it’s appropriate to present your capabilities to an Asian audience, take great notice of how they present their credentials to you.
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Asia is not one country?
It’s absurd to think that you can have an “Asian strategy” and treat Asia as a single market.
The differences, idiosyncrasies and complexities of say Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea when compared with Mainland China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia are so diverse that you could spend a lifetime trying to understand them all. Even then you’d find it hard to distill your thoughts into a single market entry strategy.
Even China isn’t a single market due to the startling differences between North, South, East and West.
You need to do your research, settle on one (or maybe two) markets and then work outwards from there. For example, start in Hong Kong and work towards Taiwan and then Shanghai. Or start in Korea and work your way into Japan. It’s no different to how you would approach an entry strategy for Europe.
Focus on relationships, not contracts?
There’s a saying in China that you don’t talk business “until the third cup of tea.”
In other words, you build the relationship first and only then should you focus on the business deal.
This can appear tiresome, long-winded and unnecessary, but it’s the way business is done in China (and Asia more generally) and you ignore it at your peril.
Make the time to get to know your potential business partners, talk about their country, teach them about your culture, extend the hand of friendship and tell them about your interests, hobbies and passions.
Only when you’ve exhausted every other possible topic of conversation, and when the timing feels right, should you offer to start talking business. You’ll get a better result this way.
Send your best people?
If you’re serious about success, go to Asia yourself or send your brightest and best people to develop those relationships and get the job done. When doing business in Asia, sending your B-team is a common mistake, and is disrespectful to your hosts.
It’s often said that “the opportunity in Asia is complex but the prize is great”. If you can achieve it, your future success in Asia will dwarf your current operation.
Do you have your sights set on Asian expansion? How have you found doing business in Asia? Please share your experiences with us.