Doing business in India is not easy… but possible. To succeed, it is crucial to understand the underlying Indian culture of business. That means being able to build a relationship of trust with your audience, whether they are customers, clients, partners. ARSHA Consulting provides you tips to break into the Indian business world. 

"I don't feel India has been particularly frustrating compared to other places in the world. (…) India has been open to this kind of innovation and technology that's why we exist in so many of India's great cities."

Uber CEO - Travis Kalanick


How to successfully do business in India while understanding Indian conventions and meeting expectations? Here are a few tips to convince your audience, from A to Z 

# 1 - Getting introduced: Although you may try to contact the person through LinkedIn or direct email, it is highly recommended to get introduced through referrals when possible. Interacting at formal and informal events is a good way to create a network that will help you in your future professional endeavors. Do not underestimate the power of relationships and contacts.

# 2 - Meeting request: Sending an email is a good start, but you might want to follow-up with a phone call, it’s always appreciated and more efficient in agreeing upon a convenient time to meet. If your meeting was booked more than two weeks in advance, it’s always a good idea to call the person to ensure the meeting is still on.

# 3 - Starting your journey: make sure you plan well in advance as traffic in India is often high, especially at peak hours (8-10am and 5-8pm). Google Maps, which has a pretty good coverage in India, now indicates the areas with traffic jams and gives you a fair estimate of the travel duration. Be punctual, even if your host makes you wait once you reach!

# 4 - Introducing yourself at the meeting: shake hands and exchange visiting cards – present your card with your two thumbs on each side of the card, start with the most senior person and when receiving cards, pause to look at them. You may also be welcomed with a bouquet of flowers.

# 5 - Small talk: As a foreigner, people may want to know more about your personal interest in India, your knowledge and understanding of the culture. Prepare a pitch that will differentiate yourself and your business/company. Repartee and jokes are usually well-perceived in meetings.  Do not rush to the core of the business conversation but make time for small talk which helps make a difference.

# 6 - Chai/Coffee: This might sound insignificant, but actually most business negotiations happen around a cup a tea… It’s well-perceived to accept a cup of tea, coffee or at least some water when proposed.  The chai ritual is a sign of hospitality and a well-established convention in India, even when welcoming people at home.

 # 7 - Business Talks: Post the presentation of both parties and the explanation of your meeting objectives, parties usually jump quickly to the core aspect of the negotiations. Be pragmatic and patient. If you managed to establish an environment of trust, it shouldn’t be difficult to have a frank conversation on the aspects you want to propose/negotiate. However, be flexible and avoid being unequivocal, as it may be perceived as rude.

# 8 - Keeping your audience on tracks: Sometimes conversations may be diverted from their core purpose. In these cases, it’s good to keep the agenda in your mind and find a delicate way to bring the conversation back on tracks.

# 9 - Local language: People will speak to you in English, however it may happen in group conversations they start speaking in Hindi or another local language between themselves. Do not look surprised or embarrassed and pursue with English.

# 10 - Be patient: It takes time to build a relationship and environment which will enable you to be at ease and negotiate. Take the necessary time and don’t be disappointed if things initially don’t work the way you had planned.

# 11 - The 5 last minutes: The end of the meeting will provide you some key information and reveal to what extent the audience is likely to contact you again. Analyze the body language as well. Take time to make a good last impression and to discuss the next steps briefly.

# 12 - Follow-up: You might want to write a thank you email, however it will be ideal if you include strategic information, such as additional documents, feedback on a question raised by the audience, etc.

Welcome to the Indian business world! We wish you all the best!

To go further:

Excerpt of the book “Negotiating International Business – India - The Negotiator’s Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World” by Lothar Katz

Laetitia Sieffert | Senior Consultant – International Trade
Arsha Consulting

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