I'm preparing for my first business trip to India. Any tips? What should I take into consideration?
- If it really is your first time, we advise you to travel with others, because India can and will be overwhelming. Take part of a mission to orient yourself and watch and learn, do not only stay with your fellows but venture out of the hotel when they are having a drink. Leave the hotel once in a while and try to experience the non- 5 star India.
- Make time in your planner, don’t overbook. Make time for the people you are meeting. Don’t hurry through, you are building your network which will become your most valuable asset.
Pick up your phone … and call and SMS. People in India prefer face-to-face meetings or calls over emails. Be flexible with your appointments, last minute cancellations will happen. Call when you are leaving your hotel. The saying here in India is that ‘distances are given in minutes or hours’, if they know where and where you start they will know what time you will arrive. Sometimes the same distance will be 10 minutes at other times over an hour, we call that ‘welcome to Bangalore’.
Get to know people: don’t start with issues, start with family, weather, tea ,coffee, food. Ease into your talks or negotiations. Like in Belgium, people in India know that talking over lunch or dinner works even better, so expect to be invited, even to thee home of your prospective, client, customer, partner. Accept, graciously, go with the flow, get to know the family. There is a very fluid border between business and private here in India.
Be a gentleman or gentle lady, listen and ask rather than pontificate and criticize. There are huge cultural differences here in India, not only between the different states but also between socio-economic strata. Be respectful and ask your host in case you don’t really know how to act or react. Don’t compare constantly, many Indian business families are very well traveled and know where the differences lie.
Last time I didn't even finish half of what I planned! Now what?
Plan less, make more time, stop rushing. Plan smart: give your most important contacts time, plan for follow-up meetings within the same trip. Time in India only runs when you need to take the train home in Mumbai.
When I meet people in India they are very polite, positive and enthusiastic. But then when I'm back nothing really seem to happen and I have to keep sending reminders. My patience is running out.
You might have missed subtle clues, indicating that their reaction is more polite than positive. Indian culture stresses politeness and indirect communication: avoiding conflict is an art and a survival skill. For us Europeans with our thick ears and direct to the point communication this is according to us the single most important point for communication breakdown when doing business with Asian people. Simple tip: meet in person or Skype instead of email: body language and gaps in speech or things being unsaid are huge indicators that we normally miss and that don’t ‘translate’ well through email. Ask one of your contacts to take you to eat some ‘jalebi’ and look at it as a symbol of the essence of India and contrast it with your fries.
Is it common to bring along gifts?
Everybody appreciates gifts. So bring something for your VIPs, make it significant, not pricey. Have you been invited for dinner at someone’s home: bring something for the wife or children. If you followed the tips earlier on on small talk and family, you should know by now if they are vegetarians or not or if a bottle of wine will be appreciated. Don’t assume, ask and verify. Use your common sense: Belgian chocolates (without eggs!) and ‘Delfts Blauw’ will always be appreciated, ‘Manneke Piss’ less so.
Do I need to take business cards with me?
Yes, you will need boxes full of them. ‘Running out of them’ is a real faux pas. If you don’t want to give people your personal details, consider making new cards without the info that you don’t want to share. Titles and hierarchy are very important in India, so invent a good one. Give and accept your cards with both hands, Japanese style. These business cards contain a wealth of information so study them, ask something about what you read, use them as a conversation starter.
How should I deal with people in India who offer me something to eat or drink but I really did not want to?
Why would you not want to? Indian cuisine is world renowned and very tasty! Do you have a genuine reason like you are ill or allergic or other dietary restrictions, tell people and they will understand. Scared about the quality of food and possible Delhi belly? Don’t worry too much, your host has your best interests at heart and will have made sure that you get the cleanest cup around, the outside bottle of mineral water and food only from places he visits himself.
Don’t refuse water, tea or coffee! If you don’t like sweet Indian tea or chai, then ask for green tea or black coffee, they will provide it to you. But don’t refuse any of the these three. It is a law of hospitality that this should be provided. Refusing is not such a good idea if you are looking for a long term relation with your host. Still don’t want it, use one of the above reasons sparingly and you might get away with it.
Never ate Indian food before? Then go visit an Indian restaurant in your country before leaving for your trip and ask the waiter to help you out. Tell him which area you are going to visit and he’ll guide you.
Should I tip?
As a guest of some relation you shouldn’t. If you pick up the bill because you are hosting then we believe you should (we normally tip around 10%).
Drivers survive on tips, so hre in Gujarat, at the end of the day you will need to give around Rs. 150 for lunch and add another Rs. 150 as tip.
How many times should I visit India to do business successfully?
In the beginning you will need to come regularly, at least quarterly and then each time for a week. It really depends on your business: if you just set up your own enterprise or factory, you will need to visit more often, if you are running an outsourcing business you will only need to visit your partner when needed. India is a country where relations matter more than transactions, so take all the time it needs to build up your relations and trust.