Seeking Business Partner Abroad? Understand the Local Culture First!

What does it mean "Seeking Business Partner Abroad"? While it is clear that as a business executive looking to expand his company’s reach in the overseas market, you should be deep in search for local business partners, you should also be aware of the local business culture. Many promising partnership business deals have been missed because of a business executive’s complete ignorance of the local culture.

There is one story which our readers may find interesting, and even funny, and which we would like to share with you. We knew of a high flying British business executive, who we shall call Simon, who had been sent to South Africa to arrange a high level negotiation for a major deal between a British conglomerate and a major South African mining concern.

Seeking Business Partner - An Example

Simon was supposed to have a meeting at a prearranged spot, with the representatives of the South African company. The meeting went off well, at least initially, and Simon was in his elements. But he did sense something wrong as the South Africans weren’t exactly responding to him as the meeting went on. An imagine Simon’s horror when the South Africans made a show of using his business card to clean their nails! Needless to say, Simon couldn’t complete the deal and the negotiations failed completely.

So, what happened? Well, Simon made a mistake, a major one. He did not bring the South Africans any gift from the UK. He was expected to, but he did not. A major cultural faux pas.

Does that mean when you’re looking for business partner abroad, you should be presenting a gift to the representatives of a potential business partner? Not so. In China and South Korea, giving a gift to business partners is seen as bribery, and would cause a major embarrassment as the gift is likely to be refused, albeit politely.

That’s why it’s so important to be culturally aware when you’re seeking a business partner. There are a few things you should keep in mind, such as,

Being Punctual

Well, punctuality is absolutely critical in a business meeting in Germany or the United Kingdom, but this may not be the case in Latin America or Africa. In India, a foreign business partner who isn’t punctual is looked down upon, even though Indians themselves aren’t exactly punctual. In China or Japan, they take it as an affront if you’re late for a meeting.

In Italy, it’s the complete opposite! Your Italian business partner will want to kiss you on the cheek, just don’t pull yourself back when he does! You can expect the same in Morocco as well. Isn’t the world of business really confusing! This can become interesting when you are seeking business partner in Italy.

Being Open and Communicative, Without Being Forceful

The stereotypical loud American business partner is a stuff of many boardroom jokes in China. Well, beat the stereotype. Be clear about what you expect, and what you can do, but without being forceful or coming as as being overbearing. And do restrict your body language and ensure that it doesn’t come across as being too aggressive. The Wall Street culture doesn’t work in China, Africa or Latin America – here, a wannabe Gordon Gekko would be treated with contempt when seeking business partner. And it’s not just about you – learn to listen to your business partners, try to understand their points of view as well. A good listener is always well appreciated.

Being Smart About Greetings

Male business executives have this easy, but if you’re a female business executive, business greetings could be quite a nightmare. For instance, as a female executive, you’re not supposed to offer your hand to a business partner in Saudi Arabia, unless he offers his hand to you first. It could potentially be humiliating for you if your Saudi Arabian business partner refuses to shake hands with you.

Being Professionally Dressed

Never go to a business meeting in Asia wearing a casual shirt or jeans. It might work in the Silicon Valley, but not in Asia. Always wear the most professional business suits when you are seeking business partner. Remember, you are projecting an image of the company you work for and the brand you wish to sell. Asians business executives are sticklers for business discipline and this begins with the business suit. You don’t have to buy an expensive one, just one that is respectable.


Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the etiquettes to be followed while seeking business partner abroad. Do keep your comments and suggestions coming, we would love to hear from you.

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