What does it mean to take your business to a global level? Does it entail speaking foreign languages? Does it mean a business expansion across foreign lands? Starting an international chain? Or simply playing it smart in the commercial world? Globalisation today has revolutionised traditional leadership development in the business world. Understanding the language spoken by your customers and target audience, including understanding the business etiquettes and cultural nuances in their country are just a few basics, in order to prepare Indian business owners today for the various demands of the global marketplace. A successful business today requires global leaders. You can’t just act global, you have to truly be global in your approach and vision.
Why the need to be global?
We read and hear so much banter on thinking globally and acting like a global citizen. Marketing and advertising companies, company slogans and commercials seem to be displaying such messages everywhere around us, but what do they actually mean for a local business? Well, for most companies it is a PR-oriented message that makes the managing partners come across as “in sync” with other cultures and corporate ethics worldwide. However, this is what they are really saying:
You need to think of your market as the map of the globe. If you are looking to sell a shoe design and are looking for an ideal market where you can find success, don’t just research your back yard, but research the demographics and the characteristics of people in the other part of the world too. How do you know that your product has more of a market in your home town than in South Korea or Australia? You don’t. There is a reason why your morning cappuccino from Starbucks tastes the same whether you are sipping it in Tokyo, New York, Bangkok or Buenos Aires.
Learning to become an International Businessman is no longer an option. It is now an essential skill for one’s survival and the sky is the limit. The range of countries and systems involved in production today demonstrates that business in most industries (be it automotive, electronics, food or even pharmaceutical) has become inescapably linked across borders. And hence, the foremost soft skill to be picked up by international business people is the art of being global. So how do you do it?
Respecting cross-cultural differences
Respectful and culturally appropriate behaviour is essential when doing business overseas because what’s customary in one country may be considered rude in another. It is important to be au courant in an international business setting and follow certain etiquettes so as to avoid any embarrassing mishaps that could potentially ruin your business relationships! For example, did you know that in France it is extremely common for a man to greet a lady with a quick kiss on the cheek, even in a business setting, while in China and India that sort of contact with business associates is clearly scandalous. Many European women will in fact stick their hand out if they prefer a handshake; however, this could seem intimidating to people from North America and the United Kingdom.
Every country has its nuances. For instance, standing very close and using physical contact during conversations is extremely common in Brazil. With regard to food, they also consider it disrespectful to use their hands instead of cutlery – even if it’s a sandwich or a pizza! In New Zealand and around Australia, punctuality is of the highest importance. They also like keeping their conversation to a minimum during meals and also believe that dinners are strictly reserved for social interactions and that business matters should only be discussed over lunch.
In countries like China, Japan, India and other Asian countries, there are certain unwritten customs to be followed. You are expected to let your business affiliates leave the meeting room first, if not the senior most members. Avoid saying “no” during business discussions since it is considered rude. On the other hand, terms such as “we’ll see”, “I will try” or “possibly” are often used so as not to hurt other people. Such responses in western countries will make business owners look indecisive and untrustworthy.
“Good manners” is something that varies greatly from country to country. And whether or not you take the time to familiarise yourself with the local social customs, you may appear rude and naïve, and even run the risk of offending those you’re doing business with! For example, it is recommended to remove your footwear outside any premises, or try not to finish your meal until the very last morsel. So learning the cultural norms from different countries, especially your partners who you might already be working with, will ensure that you’re polite and professional wherever your travels take you.
Build your brand value
Brand awareness is always a matter of concern, be it in business or between individuals. Individuals everywhere want to be noticed both socially as well as professionally. Increase your social media presence, develop your website and invest in a good SEO or digital marketing package.
“The first rule of thumb is to start thinking globally early,” says Allen Adamson, Managing Director of the marketing firm Landor and author of BrandSimple. Studying global markets and assessing your brand in relation to your competition is mandatory. Who’s out there? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? The more you’re familiar with the country’s local demographics, the easier it will be to determine your market and promote your brand.
Be a real global leader
According to the Harvard Business Review, today’s greatest business opportunities, as well as the greatest challenges we face, are global in nature and therefore demand leaders who think globally and have a hawk’s eye vision. While the old mantra “think global, act local” is woefully inadequate to describe the complex realities global leaders are facing, true global leaders act as bridge builders, connectors of resources and talent across cultural and political boundaries — relentlessly dedicated to finding new ways of creating value. Such leaders possess a global mindset and are able to interpret and decode situations from multiple perspectives. They have an insatiable interest to learn about other cultures and care enough to understand other people’s perspectives, while being knowledgeable about economic and political issues around the world.
Globalisation today is headed toward being a newfangled culture, rather than just a revolutionary change in society. Technological advances have made the world smaller and more accessible. Now even small businesses can trade in a global marketplace with the help of the Internet, virtual conferencing and social media. But as the doors open to international trade, challenges enter the playing field along with the opportunities. By being aware of the intricacies of doing business globally, you can avoid seemingly insignificant pitfalls and realise the potential of an expanded market.
Blog contributed by: Alifya T.