The end of the year is approaching and now is an ideal time to reflect how you and your organization acknowledge important holidays celebrated by your international and domestic clients. In many parts of the world, the year’s passing is marked by its major national, cultural and religious holidays. Most of us have developed ways to reach out to our family and friends to acknowledge the passing of holidays. In business, I would encourage you to embrace the cycle of major cultural and religious holidays, using it to forge deeper connections with customers and partners. In most parts of the world, business relationships are forged between people instead of between companies. Those relationships are the glue that hold your business partnerships together.
Here are some suggestions:
Find out who celebrates which key holidays
In today’s multicultural workforce, it is sometimes difficult to know if an individual celebrates the major holidays associated with a country’s culture or religion. For instance, normally people of the Islamic faith celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of reflection and fasting. But not all celebrate this holiday. For instance, I know a Muslim woman from Lebanon who does not participate in the rituals related Ramadan, but does actually celebrate the gift-giving ritual of Christmas. The best way to find out is to ask your key contacts which major holidays they celebrate.
National holidays can sometimes be just as important as religion-based holidays. It is often a day where businesses are closed. In some countries like China, people return to ancestral homes and are out of the office for more than a week. A simple acknowledgement of national holidays is enough.
Most holidays are cyclical, falling on the same day each year. But some like Ramadan are based on the lunar calendar. Also be aware that some countries have similar holidays, but celebrate on different days or even with vastly different traditions. For instance, Canada and the U.S. both celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving, but they fall in different months.
Sometimes holidays are built into a company’s culture. To find out if a company is expecting employees to celebrate a holiday, ask if there are days that the company will be closed for celebration. If you are doing business in a part of the world that traditionally celebrates Christmas, Ramadan/Eid, Jewish high holidays, or Hindu holidays, ask about this a few weeks before the upcoming holiday. This information can easily be stored in the company customer-relationship management (CRM) system and tracked by customer-facing staff in your company.
Recognize the holiday in a sincere way
A card is one of the best ways to show respect for someone’s holidays. It’s simple but takes a little effort. Cards can be ordered online, particularly if a holiday is not regularly celebrated in your part of the world. If your business relationship is not as critical, consider sending an email wishing your customer or partner well. But be careful to understand what a specific holiday celebrates. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish holiday. This year a friend of mine wished her Israeli partners, “Happy Yom Kippur.” This was met with amusement since Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.” My friend plans to adjust her greeting when this holiday comes around next year.
The question that often comes up is gift giving. This is a tricky issue as some cultures will expect a gift to mark a holiday. First, check both home laws and in-country laws to know the limits on what is considered a gift and what crosses the line to bribery. Rules definitely vary around the world. An alternative to gift giving is giving a donation of time or other resources to charity in the client’s name to show honor and respect.
Be Ready for the Impact of a Major Holiday on Sales and Shipping
If you’ve ever tried to ship your product into the Middle East during Ramadan, you know how hard it is to get anything processed and sent forward to your client. Business grinds to a glacial pace during that month. Likewise, in many countries that widely celebrate Christmas business can slow down dramatically around the end of December as many employees take vacation days to be with their families. In order to keep business cash flow from drying up at a potentially critical point, you may want to time marketing, lead generation and sales cycles to wrap up before a major holiday. There is no reason to be caught unaware when holidays can be known well in advance.
I hope this article helps you in navigating your international business relationships through the holidays. For more information about doing international business, sign up for The International Entrepreneur Mailing List.
Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur