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The International Entrepreneur – What’s Missing Globally in the Connection Economy?

International Entrepreneur Global Connection Economy

A few years ago, Seth Godin famously introduced the Connection Economy into our lexicon to describe how connecting people, companies and resources was a source of increasing value creation in our world.

Since you’re reading this article, that means that you are part of this global technology revolution and probably interact with it frequently. Here are just a few of my own examples of engaging this Connection Economy from this past week:

  • I collaborated via email with my client’s Malaysian country manager to reach her target leads using calls, emails and social media.
  • I took a call from a company in New York looking for an Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to an Uruguayan contact whom I have never met face to face, but regularly network with in social media.
  • I Skyped to mentor a Canadian rising star in the international marketing field, who is building a consulting practice.

On a personal level:

  • I sent my teenage son, Nathan on a foreign exchange with AFS Intercultural Programs. That means that he will stay with a host family in Italy for 5 weeks whom we have never met before, but were vetted locally by AFS.
  • My Brazilian exchange student, Matheus came home safely from a gathering with friends via a ride from an Uber driver.
  • I took a few daydreaming moments and surfed AirBNB for a nice house rental near the beach in San Diego for Labor Day Weekend in September.

 

When Seth Godin originally described the Connection Economy, he said that it required four pillars:

  1. Coordination. This may be coordinating between people as in the case of Uber. It could coordinate the exchange of money as is the case of crowdfunding. And often it’s the coordination and exchange of information.
  2. Trust. The parties involved need to have a reason to trust each other. Trust is normally built on a foundation of consistent words and actions by people and companies. Now we are trusting partners and vendors whom we may have never actually met before in person.
  3. Permission. In the Connection Economy, we voluntarily surrender our information, but only after trust is established.
  4. Exchange of Ideas. This blog (and everyone else’s blog) are part of that exchange of ideas. So is a review site that tells me what current and past employees think about working for a company I’m considering as a partner.

 

Without these pillars, companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other Connection companies including my own would not exist. But let’s get out of the American-only point of view and expand to…

 

Bringing a Global Context into the Connection Economy

This may seem confusing to some. After all, isn’t the Connection Economy by its very nature borderless, allowing for seamless access to markets and resources from anywhere in the world? Ideally – yes, but in reality – no. Here’s some context:

 

Access to Connectivity is Far from Universal

 As of 2019, 4.4 billion people in the world had access to the internet.  This still leaves  almost half of the world population still without access.  There are some sizable barriers to improving access to conduits of information and opportunities that include education, disposable income to buy the necessary tools and services, and even interest.

 

Language and Culture Create Information Silos

The Connection Economy had the perfect solution to bridging language gaps and reaching new markets: Google Translate and other translation widgets that could quickly convert English content effortlessly into dozens of other languages. How clever! Those who tried it soon learned that language is much more nuanced and complex than first thought. Literal translations yield some major mistakes that have cost companies dearly.

Culture is even more complicated. It underpins what determines whether a company or person is worthy of Pillar #2: Trust. Cultural rules run deep and when someone unwittingly violates these rules, the business relationship might never resume. Think of it another way. For all of the interactions you have had over the years with international contacts where you thought the other side was being unreasonable and disagreeable – 90%+ of those negative reactions were probably cultural misunderstandings. The solution is to hire a culture coach to help navigate the norms in key markets and relationships.

 

Regulations Often Protect Entrenched and Local Interests

The Connection Economy has displaced more than a few cab drivers and telephone book printers. It has upended whole industries. In many places around the globe, those who profit from keeping things as they are have invested in supporting laws that protect their interests. Before doing business in a new country, be sure to consult with country specialists who can advise you of any problematic restrictions.

 

Expect the Next Great Connecting Concepts to Come from Anywhere in the World

While we tend to see many Connection companies rise out of industry clusters like Silicon Valley, London, Boston, Santiago, Mumbai and Tel Aviv, ideas can come from anywhere. As part of the exchange of ideas, we need to encourage and support new startups with great concepts with our patronage and investment capital – regardless of location.

 

As the beneficiaries of the Connection Economy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no global standard. We need to increase overall access to the Internet worldwide, providing new opportunities to billions of people. It’s important not to mistake your home market’s perspective, language and cultural rules as the world’s norm. Be prepared for reactions to change in various corners of the world. And watch for the next great advancements in our technology revolution.

Onward & upward

Becky Park 
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

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The International Entrepreneur – Trump and other Branding Issues in International Business

 

International Entrepreneur, Branding Issues in International Business

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Jos? Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and others watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I was waiting on the platform for the train from Bedford to London Heathrow. It was October 2004 and I struck up a conversation with a local businessman (staying true to my American stereotype of perpetual friendliness). After a few minutes, the gentleman asked me what was really on his mind.

What could Americans be thinking to not only have elected President George W. Bush once, but to be poised to reelect him for a second term?? To most Brits, it seemed ridiculous.

I remember standing on the platform trying to explain how our media had splintered into audience segments where an American could hear and read literally only the point of view that they already held. That the United States was politically split in half – sometimes leaving friends or family members on the other side of the opinion divide. My new British acquaintance seemed generally satisfied with that answer. But I was left to ponder about the effect that my country’s leader was having on American business in overseas markets.

Four years later, I was in Beijing and was surprised by the adulation the Chinese openly felt for Barack Obama. I see the same widespread enthusiasm for leaders like Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis. It’s the type of branding that helps to open doors to new diplomatic relationships and in the case of the pope, new ideas.

This country “branding” issue/opportunity is not universal. Larger countries garner more regional and international attention than their smaller neighbors. Every country has local and regional issues, whether they be fishing rights or an upcoming presidential election. As Americans traveling internationally, we notice that our presidential elections receive press coverage literally all over the world. When a candidate like Donald Trump says something controversial meant to keep him as the top news story in the U.S., it is heard around the world and interpreted in many ways.

 

If all of this sounds like a distraction to most international business – it is.

 

Most of us avoid talking about politics, religion, and certainly any hot button issues when doing business abroad. We want to achieve our business goals. And alienating potential clients or partners with strongly-held contrary opinions is a recipe for disaster on any continent.

 

Here is advice on how to manage country branding in business:

  1. Most important: Do no harm. Don’t bring up controversial topics that need not be breached. No conversations about the refugee crisis with Europeans. No conversations with Brazilians about their recession. No AIDS talks with Africans. The list goes on, but this is where controversy stays in personal conversations rather than in business talks.
  2. Don’t take offense where none was intended. The temptation to react to statements about your country’s leaders or issues is understandable. It’s much more personal to a German to talk about Angela Merkel than for me to bring her up into conversation. Your German counterparts likely had a vote for or against her party’s election. When you would normally react, stop and first gauge the intention of the offender.
  3. Ask about the filters that color someone’s opinion. When an entire business dinner in Jordan stops talking and eating to hear your opinion of gun violence in the U.S., you can answer with the universal truth – it’s complicated. Then immediately start asking questions to learn what your fellow guests have heard and what they think about the issue. This will help you to carefully frame your answers to stay true to yourself and diplomatic to your fellow guests. If this sounds like too much hassle compared with a direct answer, remember that media, culture and personal experiences frame all of our perspectives. Do I know what a Jordanian thinks about this issue? Not until I ask.
  4. Always learn a country’s basic information before travel and doing business. This includes the country’s leader, their economic and social topics, and hot button issues. This takes the pressure off of your own country’s branding (if it’s negative) because you can ask questions about topics that your hosts should appreciate. It also is a signal that you have a basic respect for places where you do business (for more on showing local respect, please read my articles on Respect and also Social Corporate Responsibility).
  5. Pull the conversation back to how the subject impacts business and trade. As business professionals, this is usually a common area and one with less friction. And most leaders and topics can usually be tied back to it. For example, Are new immigrants helping the U.S.? Immigrants represent a significant number of working adults in our economy. Most are bilingual with the capability to serve multiple markets. While there are adjustment issues, the U.S. has always absorbed immigrant populations successfully. So I would answer yes. It’s a business answer to a question that has social, political and cultural implications. If the topic is a tricky one, then this business focused answer is a helpful bridge into another business topic that furthers building the business relationship.

 

No matter your political, cultural, social or economic views, managing key conversations helps further your international business dealings. Remember to (1) do no harm, (2) avoid taking offense, (3) ask for others’ opinions to understand their perspective, (4) know a country’s basic information and (5) pull conversations back to business topics as needed.

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Employee Engagement in Your Global Workforce

Improving Employee Engagement in your Global Workforce

I knew from the way that Pedro in the Mexico City office answered the phone that something had turned for the worst. Pedro’s voice sounded low and muffled – preoccupied and low energy compared with our recent interactions. Pedro and his colleagues had recently been missing key details in our shared projects. They just seemed disengaged from their tasks. I picked up the phone to call someone I knew from the company’s leadership team.

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

Pedro and his colleagues are not the exception. They are unfortunately the norm. Studies by Gallop, Deloitte, Dale Carnegie and others all point to the staggering lack of employee engagement in the United States. These studies all show 70%+ of workers surveyed consider themselves unengaged at work.

As a company breaks through from startup to growth stage, its leaders often discuss how to preserve that “entrepreneurial culture” – its key success factor. Translated:

We don’t want to lose that sense of individual employee contribution and drive to beat the odds.

We’re talking about the essence of employee engagement. According to Dale Carnegie Training, U.S. companies with engaged employees outperform non-engaging companies by 202%.

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

Most growth-stage companies eventually start taking global markets seriously, opening overseas offices and hiring local staff. Here is where the employee engagement challenges start to compound. A disappointing 13% of international employees feel engaged in their jobs according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace.

There are factors to consider to improve global worker engagement, productivity and accountability:

  1. Motivators Vary – Money is often a strong work motivator world wide. If paid what we feel is a fair, market rate for our efforts, then we are likely motivated. But most of us want more than that. We may want opportunities to learn new skills, job stability, and career advancement. Most of us want some work-life balance and a good work environment.
    But beyond that, motivators may be quite different. For instance, in group-oriented cultures team projects are preferred to individual efforts (Japan). Some cultures expect a relaxed atmosphere (Jamaica) while others want intense work time and a shorter workweek (Germany).
  2. Management Styles Vary – For most Americans, the most energy-draining management style is being closely supervised while also verbally reprimanded in front of peers over seemingly minor mistakes. Yet this is common in India. Indian managers overseeing non-Indian staff learn to modify their style via coaching or negative results. Likewise, American managers are not always viewed in the same way as they would be in an American-only environment. Engaged employees normally trust their leaders, but building trust changes based on culture. Know what’s expected.
  3. Language and Communication Styles Vary -“Are you sitting in your seat?”, is a curious question at the onset of my colleague’s international team calls. While an interesting way to ask if everyone is ready, there are other linguistic challenges that cause breaches in trust and motivation. One of the bigger challenges in communications is between indirect and direct communicators. Direct communicators (ex. Dutch, Israeli) often say what they are thinking and value sincerity. They find indirect communicators annoying. Indirect communicators (ex. Japan, Ghana) typically avoid saying anything embarrassing to themselves or the other party. They value courtesy and respecting others. They often find the direct communicators to be rude and untrustworthy. Working with those you can’t trust reduces engagement.

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

Disengagement is often a company-wide issue, affecting operations, financials, customer engagement and other key functions. It needs to be discussed at the executive level. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has a key role to play in offering solutions in terms of hiring criteria, employee onboarding, cross-cultural communications training and conflict resolution. And finally, local office managers need to be coached on global management skills.

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

All is not lost to office zombies! Here are my ideas to re-engage:

  1. Hire the right people overseas. Even within an overseas market, there is always a wide candidate pool variance. If your company values high energy staff or a connection to your mission or customer focus, then search for that match in international hires too.
  2. Ask the right questions and then listen to the answers. When an office or staff member seems out of alignment with the rest of the company, it’s the time to ask: “What do you think about…?” “Can you see a better way to do….?” “What would help you to feel more engaged in your job?” If it’s possible to fix the situation by conversation, then it saves the company the cost of replacing another employee.
  3. Learn the cultural basics of your global offices. Instead of assuming sameness, find out what the differences are to head off future conflict and energy drains. An easy Internet search will provide basic information on a country’s business culture.
  4. Take input from all locations for company goals and employee reward systems. Part of employee engagement is ownership in the company’s outcomes and processes. Solicit input and credit great ideas from outside of the HQ office.
  5. Explain why decisions are being made and how a decision fits into the long-term strategy. Since business rules change from country to country, it helps to explain that context in which your company leaders make their decisions. Decisions that don’t seem to make sense are a major demotivater.

Often executives of growing companies assume that global offices and employees are all from the same home culture. Few international employees will speak up when they feel that internal culture clash for fear of losing their jobs. Disengagement sets in. Instead of accepting zombie employees as an inevitable byproduct of company growth and success, it’s time to use knowledge and communications to engage and inspire throughout your organization.

Onward and upward,

Becky Park

 

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

Sign Up for TIps & Tools

The International Entrepreneur – 9 Ways to Improve Your International Presentations

international presentation, audience, international trade

Your big prospective international partner has agreed to let you present your company’s ideas on how to work together. Everyone goes through the formalities of introductions. Now it’s time for your presentation. But as you start to go through your standard presentation, the executives look increasingly disinterested. Some even look a bit agitated. You can feel the heat rising in the room. After the presentation, the audience seems much less engaged in the partnership idea. What has gone wrong?

Let’s go back to the preparations you made before the big presentation. An international presentation requires some key adjustments to be successful. Here are 9 ways to improve your presentations to international audiences:

Know your audience. Are you talking with a German industrial company where technical details are more important than any emotional appeals? Or is this a Brazilian services company where emotional appeal is actually more critical? Should it be fast paced for Americans or slower for an Indian audience? Should I show higher modesty levels for East Asian or Latin American listeners or should I show more confidence for the Lebanese? Cultural and industry variances are important to your content if you want to be in harmony with your audience.

Slow down and simplify language. Those of us who are English speakers need to slow our rate of delivery down for presentations. This is not because our audience is in any way less intelligent than us, but that listening in another language takes concentration away from formulating analysis about your content as well as any questions audience members may have.

No idioms, slang, humor, or other cultural references. These things just don’t translate well. Americans, that means no baseball references like “hitting it out of the ballpark” or “pinch hitting”. Humor varies enough from one country to another that it’s better to avoid the risk of the joke falling flat altogether.

Know the color and symbol references. A few examples: In China, red and yellow are generally positive colors. Green is associated with Islam in many Muslim countries. But don’t show an image of someone with their thumbs up in Turkey: it’s considered vulgar.

Use examples from the natural world. I read this suggestion a while ago and if I knew the source I would credit them. Great suggestion. The entire world understands concepts like predator and prey, animals knowing in advance of a natural disaster, etc. If there is a chance to use examples to make your point from nature, it is likely to be understood and remembered.

Know if there is a status order. In many cultures, the highest-ranking leader in the group gets deferential treatment. That means that you acknowledge their importance in the room and focus your presentation on their attention. This would be true in places like Thailand, Egypt, Argentina and Kuwait. In some countries the opposite is true- everyone gets the same treatment and respect. This includes places like Canada, Australia and Sweden.

Presentation slides should be written out in full sentences for non-English audiences. Many non-native English speakers learned to read and write more than listen and speak. This is especially true in many parts of Asia. Your audience may get much more from reading your slides than from what you say.

Leave behind full-color handouts of your presentation. If this presentation is critical to your company, then by all means have the materials also translated into the local language. This will help you to stand out from your competition!

BE PREPARED. This may sound obvious, but reviewing and practicing before the presentation will help you to stay more engaged with your audience. If possible, do a rehearsal of your presentation with an in-country contact who can give you feedback on how your presentation will be received.

Presentations can help build a key business partnership or accelerate a sales process with an important client. But done poorly, it can cause you to stumble and lose credibility. I hope this article was helpful. If you need help as your company moves into new international markets, please feel free to contact me for advice. I offer a 30-minute complimentary session to talk about your plans and challenges.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How to Globalize Your Business Networking Style

international business networkingSam stood at the back of the room taking stock of the evening’s networking event. As a Business Development Manager from Kansas, this was his first international industry trade show and he wanted to make the most of it. But the more he tried to appear friendly and helpful, the less that people seemed to want to talk with him. Sam had been to dozens of trade shows and meetings in the United States where people generally considered him charismatic and engaging. What was these people’s issue?

It is important to ask the right questions before you can find the answers that you really need. That is often true in international business. Here are a few that Sam might ask to get closer to the right answers:

  • How important is business networking internationally compared with outbound selling and marketing in the U.S.?

  • How might people be interpreting his approach?

  • Is there anything that Sam should change in his international networking approach for better outcomes?

Networking and Connections Are a Necessity

In the United States, when two parties want to do business they sign a negotiated contract legally defining their relationship and obligations to each other. That’s not how the rest of the world works. Instead, the business relationship is based on a professional relationship based on mutual interests and trust. This is why replacing your Latin American sales director can mean losing many clients. The clients follow the person they know, not your company.

The American Business Reputation

Actually, my countrymen have earned a business reputation that is wide and varied. Some places love us just because we are American, while others revile us for the same reason. Most are someone in the middle. Watch for body language to know if there’s a significant Country of Origin Effect.

Americans are considered a friendly business culture: leading with smiles, eye contact and handshakes for everyone. That doesn’t always match up with other cultures’ expectations. In Russia, the smiling person is considered to be an idiot. In Germany it can be seen as insincere, arousing suspicion. In the Middle East and India, a man should never extend a handshake to a woman. It is considered aggressive. That is not to say that we shouldn’t act within our cultural norms, but we should also be aware of any signals we give off that can be counterproductive.

American also typically make grandiose offers help to others while networking. This is in part because we want to build trusting relationships as quickly as possible. Others may grow suspicious of so much offered after just having met each other. It seems just too good to be true!

Tips for Better International Networking

Getting back to Sam from Kansas – what can he do to improve his effectiveness in this high-opportunity room?

  1. Research the Attendees. You should always know who you want to meet and have a plan to meet them. For instance, if you want to meet a major distributor in Latin America then learn about this contact as well as those who could introduce you to him. In the English-speaking world you should look on Linkedin for contacts’ profiles. Also, read translated pages from their company websites.
  2. Don’t Rush the Conversations. Accept the slower pace of business relationship building that is standard in most of the world. That means that you should take cues in the conversation from your counterpart. Wait for them to bring up specific business questions. Instead, they may just want to socialize. That’s progress too.
  3. For God Sake, Follow Up! After an event, the smart professional follows up with each contact to say that it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay in touch. It’s standard best practices and yet many people don’t do this simple step. What’s worse is if you made any promises of introductions or other business favors and don’t follow through. People will remember if you are reliable to your word.
  4. Know the Basics of Cross-Cultural Communications. If you have a specific cultural audience (Germans, Chinese, Brazilians, etc.) then do deeper research. But here are a few basics that everyone should know:
  • Showing the soles of your shoes is highly offensive to Middle Easterners.
  • Don’t cross your legs and point a foot at a Malaysian.
  • Chinese will compliment you during a conversation. You need to NOT say “thank you” but instead politely reject the compliment and immediately find some way to return a sincere compliment (“I like your tie.” “Your English is very good.”, etc)
  • Don’t make sports references like from baseball or American football.
  • Generally men should wait for a woman to extend her hand to shake.
  • Some cultures like to stand close when talking. Whatever you do, DON’T take a step back.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can often get lost in translation.
  • PLEASE don’t drink excessively, even if other people are bringing you drinks or pouring them. Stay in control at all times.

Now Sam can get back to doing the networking he needs to help him be successful. With a few minor adjustments he can find connections that could eventually become business partners.

If your staff struggles to make the right types of connections in international markets to move your company forward, consider cross-cultural training. It is normally a small investment that opens many doors to international opportunities!

If you are ready for a 30-minute complimentary consultation, please contact me.

Best wishes,
Becky Park 
The International Entrpreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Maximizing Potential in Your Multicultural Team

ConfidenceEntering the room, you can feel the tension. Your multicultural team, representing different company interests, is sitting around the table. One confident young man boldly answers your first question and others look blankly ahead. How can you possibly get this team to accomplish anything if they can’t work effectively together?

One of the greatest challenges in international business expansion is bridging the cultural gap. Team members have to understand how their approach to group dynamics affects others in order to avoid alienation and everyone counting down minutes until the meeting ends.

The multicultural team is one of the most underutilized aspects of international expansions, mergers, and partnerships. In fact, on more than one occasion I have heard frustrated managers refer to their team as “performing” and their role as one of “babysitting”. The challenge for both the team leader and members is to leave behind assumptions and find the unlocked potential of the team’s productivity and usefulness. Here is my advice:

 

Know the Likely Points of Contention Between Team Members

When various cultures mix, there is likely to be friction. One important issue is how to deal with conflict. A German team member may want to articulate the issue and how it occurred, including assigning fault. Those from indirect communication cultures find this rude and disrespectful. A key ingredient to high-functioning teams is trust, and for most from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Mediterranean area, this directness just lost the trust.

The important thing is to know who is on the team and what can be learned about their native work culture ahead of time to anticipate some of the obvious flash points.

 

Create a Common Goal

This is especially critical for multicultural teams. The goal helps to create a common set of terms around what needs to be done and what the outcome will be if successful. The clearer the goal, the more likely it will be that the team will perform to reach it.

 

Establish a Framework for Team Norms

Team leaders often default to the social norming for teams in their home culture. And often little thought it given to how this style is received by team members. A leader from Chile may use storytelling to emotionally connect with team members. But the Canadian may be annoyed by how long it is. The direct communicators in the team will likely tune out many anecdotes. There is middle ground, but it must be defined in order for both direct and indirect communicators to speak and interpret for the same situational understanding. Perhaps this means limiting the amount of anecdotes or explaining that this is a useful tool to understand perspective.

It is also important to establish a way to make decisions as a team. Must decisions be unanimous? Is there a point where discussion will be stopped and the team votes? Or does the team leader take the input and make the decision? Never assume that other cultures make decisions in a similar way.

 

Head Off Issues Early

If the team is underperforming, then it is better to investigate the root causes sooner rather than later. Issues may have an easy fix such as clearing up a misunderstanding. A common problem is a team member that stays quiet. It may be helpful to forewarn this person that you will be calling on them and to be prepared to share their perspective. It is also helpful to give this person permission to give an answer contrary to others in the team.

A word of caution: if there are indirect communicators in the team, DO NOT bring up team communication issues in an open team meeting. Indirects do not like discussing issues in a group setting (again, it’s considered rude). Ask questions of individuals in private instead.

 

Take Advantage of Diverse Perspectives and Strengths

This is why a multicultural team can be so powerful! Instead of seeing an issue or opportunity from a limited set of assumptions, those from a diverse background can bring ideas and solutions from more varied experiences. There may be a best practice from Brazil that no one in Italy has ever heard of before. In confronting similar issues, there are infinite ways to approach solving them. When an unexpected solution is presented, be sure to ask questions to understand the underlying assumptions that led to that conclusion.

 

Stay Positive & Focus on Progress (Patience)

Multicultural teams may be more challenging to manage. But as the team leader, it helps greatly to encourage participation and stay positive with the team about any progress. That doesn’t mean sacrificing results or progress towards results. Building the team’s effectiveness may take a little more time.

Overall, building an effective multicultural team is much better than languishing in frustration. Instead of underestimating the contributions from collaboration, focus on maximizing team’s performance. This means balancing the interests, communication styles and cultural assumptions. If you need help getting more from your multicultural team or staff, please contact me.

Onward & upward!
Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – Chinese Business? Interview with Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran

Ding Zhengli

Ding Zhengli

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Chinese business consultants, Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran, who both studied in the United States and now add a cultural bridge to companies looking to expand business in China. Mr. Ding and Mr. Tan are a Principles of Global Progressive Solutions, a firm focused on global business strategy with particular concentration on entering and succeeding in the Chinese market.

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Zhengli and Xiaoran, you have spent time in both American and Chinese business cultures. Do you have any recommendations for American and British professionals looking to better understand the Chinese market?

Zhengli: For this question, I’d say make some Chinese friends. I think this is the easiest way to get a fast access to know Chinese culture. Knowing Chinese in the real world will bring direct feelings and experience to American and British professionals. But in the real business, it won’t be enough time to find a good Chinese friend. I think western professionals should have a mentor for their Chinese market. The mentor should have deep understanding of both western culture and Chinese culture. And always be aware of your Chinese partners, employees and customers. As a collective culture like China, group harmony is a great deal for projects, assignments, companies and business. Treating people like family and friends would build the relationship faster and longer.

Tan Xiaoran

Tan Xiaoran

Xiaoran: I think doing business in China is not only about business. A deal is not just a deal. There are many social activities will be involved in all processes, such as tourist visits, dinners, night events and leisure activities. Chinese believe they are doing business with people who have their own personality. Such social activities can help Chinese learn about the people’s personality they’re dealing with. Participating in social activities can help build strong relationship and gain trust from each other. So be prepared for long conversations about family, sports, political topics or any other non-business things.

TIE: What are some fundamental ways that marketing a B2B product in China would differ from how we would approach this process in the UK or US?

Zhengli: I think this depends on the type of products. If it’s a manufactured product, online clients like Alibaba would be a good choice. These kinds of clients have built a great brand image as having all kind of products online. It’s easy to find selected products on those websites. But one thing should be aware of is bargaining. Even if a product is listed on the website, a customer could possibly bargain about the price if they think their bottom line is reasonable. Negotiation skills are really important here. If a foreign company is selling something, the customer will be satisfied if they can bargain the price lower.

If the product less tangible (ex. software), create a detailed “white book” in Chinese. But the real deal should always have personal contacts such as phone calls or visits even the customer has already paid. Those personal contacts can give customers a feeling that they are really important and they are dealing with humans, not companies.

Also, in B2B marketing and sales, be aware of titles. Always do a title match before meetings and calls. You don’t want your middle level managers talking to a company’s CEO, at least a match with a top guy from a related department. And say sorry for your boss to the other party if he cannot attend, so they do not lose face.

TIE: Many companies are trying to save costs and effort by directly translating their company website to simplified Chinese. From your perspective, what kind of potential (if any) is lost by not localizing?

Xiaoran: I think it still depends on what kind of business. Industries selling products such like equipment, pharmaceuticals or other real existing goods, directly translating their company website would not be a bad idea. Customers who need these kinds of products make their decision based more on products’ quality and price. Those companies could also use B2B websites such as Alibaba to reduce their risks of a bad translation. They only need to be careful about their product’s name in Chinese: it might have a different meaning.

For companies with low brand recognition in China, directly translating the website would not help their business in China at all. Chinese customers prefer to know someone in the company or know the company first, and then they take detailed look at websites when they are looking for services. Certificates and prizes would help companies on attracting customers, but most U.S or UK companies don’t highlight those on the website. Most Chinese, especially middle-age people don’t treat online searching as a way to look for partners or business opportunities in service industries. Chinese are more willing to talk with you face to face or on-line, rather than just sending messages or emails. This is the way Chinese building trust with their partners or customers. So the website needs to support building trust through more direct channels. And for sure, you need a localized website for your service in Chinese and has every detail about your service, your company’s professional experience/rewards, and your special deals! Remember, Chinese love a great deal.

 

About Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran

Born and raised in Hubei, China, Ding Zhengli is Chinese national with a highly diverse background. Zhengli attended Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. After graduating from Huazhong University, Zhengli came to the United States to earn his Master of Science in International Business at the University of Colorado Denver. After living in the United States for more than 3 years, Zhengli became one of the founding partners of Global Progressive Solutions (GPS). He is a skilled consultant concerning U.S. companies wanting to operate in China.

Tan Xiaoran was born and raised in Changchun, Jilin Province of China. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Xiaoran has been living in USA for more than 3 years, and received his Master’s Degree of Economics from The University of Colorado Denver. Due to his extensive experience in Chinese banking and politics, Xiaoran has developed deep knowledge of building relationships and dealing with businessmen in China. He also has strong connections in northeast region of China.

Contact Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran: [email protected]globalprogressivesolutions.net

 

The International Entrepreneur – Saving Face in Business – International Style

embarrassedIn doing cross-cultural business, situations involving saving face frequently arise. In my experience, saving face means handling situations so that neither you nor your counterpart would feel embarrassed or ashamed by your words or actions. Saving face becomes particularly important in business cultures with strong indirect communication styles. This includes most of Asia and Africa. There’s a particularly well-written article on How to Manage Face in China this month by Mike Black of Hong Tu that’s worth reading if you want to do business in China. Now I once lived in the Netherlands for a year and I don’t believe that the Dutch even have a word for embarrassed, at least none that I ever heard. But regardless of the wide variance between business cultures, these basic ground rules will help to keep you out of some trouble:

Avoid Publicly Assigning Blame

Generally speaking, people know when they’ve made a big mistake at work. By pointing out someone’s mistake in front of others, you may be losing face not only for the person who messed up, but for yourself and anyone else who was unfortunately in earshot. If the issue must be discussed, then ask more general questions about the problem. “Has anyone noticed that the yellow dye was printing out of alignment?” Then quickly switch into problem solving mode: “Now that we’re behind on our order, how can we as a team work together to make up for the time lost by this unfortunate occurrence.”

The more challenging situation is where the issue is someone’s behavior rather than a single mistake. If a person on the team is difficult to work with, then it’s time to hold private conversations with their superiors. If this is your employee, discuss the situation privately again with a focus on problem solving instead of punishment. Never ever confront even the most troublesome employee in a group setting. Again, this will lose face potentially for everyone in the room.

Learn What is Considered Culturally Offensive

While many international business professionals can forgive various faux pas, it helps to keep your honor intact to know as much as you can before you go. In Thailand, it is best not to cross your legs, the direction that your top leg points is meant to give insult. While everyone in the room will try to hide their discomfort, it’s embarrassing for both your hosts and you (if you finally realize what you’ve done). In Sweden, you wouldn’t want to raise your voice too much in a meeting. Knowing what actions would bring shame or embarrassment to your colleagues saves face.

Recruit an Inside Coach

Usually in international business, time is built in for potential partners, suppliers and clients to get to know each other better. This is an important time to find a peer in the other organization that you can develop into a friend. This friend can later be someone you can approach in private later to ask if there is anything you could do differently to improve the outcomes of the business relationship. Knowing all sides of a situation and the cultural implications, this “inside coach” can quietly tell you which behaviors are losing you face.

I hope you find this article helpful. For more information, please contact Becky Park at [email protected].

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