Everyone who works in the exhibition industry will know the significance of doing business on the global stage. Whether you’re travelling to meet potential new clients or scoping out the venue pre-show, the amount of air miles racked up over a year can be staggering. Travel is integral to the world of exhibition sales, and with this comes a number of factors to consider.
Aside from the physical act of the traveling itself, working with and alongside those who come from a range of cultural backgrounds and nationalities can throw up some pretty interesting talking points.
They say that business is a global language, and whilst this may be true, there are so many small details that are inherent to each culture and can be learned along the path of your business excursions. Those that have read my blog on the importance of language will know how important I think it is to have some level of native communication, but aside from that, picking up and executing other little quirks can be a great way to adapt your business approach to develop more international success; and nothing is more important than when you first meet your clients face-to-face.
In the last year I’ve been on over 70 flights, visited and worked at exhibitions in 27 cities across the world with a client base of around 60+ nationalities between them. The most interesting nuggets of knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way are all in relation to greeting an exhibitor and creating that initial rapport; we gauge so much from a first impression that any cultural faux pas could be the make or break of a business deal or relationship.
Of course, these tips are delivered with a pinch of salt. Not everyone from every different cultural background follows the same corporate greeting pattern; the below may just help you to get the best out of your customer conversations!
In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s crucial to always have spare business cards with you, and even better if this business card features a headshot! Greet all potential clients by presenting them with one; it all comes down to the idea of trust and respect.
In Eastern Europe, it’s very rare that a handshake will be offered if it’s the first time you’ve ever met. Don’t go in with a handshake unless you’re mimicking the customer. Instead, many from this part of the world appreciate a factual business presentation, rather than small talk about the weather or what they had for dinner.
In South Asia, particular India, you’ll often be offered food and drink before delving into business discussions. Please don’t hesitate in accepting! There’s nothing wrong with having a sales discussion over a samosa and cup of delicious Chai Tea.
In the United States, business onsite is often done based on human interaction and a personal connection. You could spend hours (and I have done!) speaking to clients from the US about food, music, travel and your aspirations for the future, before talk even turns to the exhibition and their business plan. That being said, it’s important to remain direct and frank with the professional conversation itself.
In Western Europe, always greet your customer with a firm hand-shake, as this is where many a good first impression can be made.
In Eastern Asia, it’s polite to bow when both greeting and departing. Specifically in Japan, business cards should be given and accepted with both hands and it is often seen as impolite to use a client’s first name rather than surname if you have not yet established a business relationship.
Finally, in South America (particularly Brazil), business conversations are usually conducted with a bit of flair and passion. You may find Brazilians extremely friendly and warm when you first meet them; physical contact when greeting is almost critical, so don’t take a step back, but rather, embrace this affable professional salutation.
As my worldwide travels continue, no doubt other cultural trends will emerge. But for now I’m just keeping every pocket full of business cards!