The digital-first business environment has opened the door for more companies to expand their reach and conduct business overseas. With international business relationships becoming commonplace, it’s more important than ever for business leaders to adapt and sharpen their skills to maintain overseas business relationships.
While the core concepts upon which relationships are built are comparable for domestic and international enterprises, maintaining international business partnerships comes with its own set of rules and difficulties.
When it comes to domestic relationships, business leaders often have more freedoms, like the ability to meet in person. However, international business connections aren’t afforded this type of luxury. You’ll have to work within the means of both parties to maintain these types of relationships. Here are five tips for business leaders on how to maintain and nurture international business connections.
1 - Maintain a Consistent Communication Schedule
The best and easiest way to keep your international business connections is to establish a consistent communication schedule. You shouldn’t go for months without communicating with your global business partners.
There are several avenues business leaders can pursue to achieve a consistent communication schedule and a variety of ways to send messages to your partners. But a lot can be lost when you send multiple messages on the same topic, even with great tools like email, Slack, and social media platforms like LinkedIn. Make communication both more efficient and more effective by actually speaking to each other.
If it’s difficult to be face-to-face in person, the next best thing is to be face-to-face on video. Many businesses use Zoom or Microsoft Teams these days to streamline communications and get things done faster and with fewer misunderstandings.
You and your international point of contact should meet on a regular cadence that works for both parties—for example, every other week, once per month, or at least once per quarter.
Plan ahead to make the most of your different time zones, such as, for instance, when you’re based in New York, but your overseas business partner is based in the United Kingdom. With a five-hour time difference between the two locations, you should set an ideal time for both parties' working hours.
2 - Establish Credibility with your Global Business Partners
Immediately establish your credibility and dependability with your global business partner by being diligent about meeting deadlines, showing up promptly for your scheduled calls, and fulfilling requests in a timely manner.
If you find that you may not be able to deliver on what is needed, you should communicate that with them. It’s important to share why something may be missed or late. Communicate with your international business partner regarding any issues in order to resolve them quickly.
3 - Plan at Least One In-Person Meeting per Year
While consistent communication over the phone or video is one of the primary keys to maintaining international business relationships, you should plan to visit your connections in their country at least once per year (as travel guidelines allow).
By visiting them in their country, you show respect for them and their culture. Also, a yearly visit can help both parties get to know each other on a personal level. Despite the investment of time and energy necessary to plan a successful trip to your business partner, the benefits of meeting in person are tremendous. They include:
- Being able to have conversations that are both more extensive and more in-depth
- You understand the other person’s personality better when you can see all their body language and facial expressions
- You learn a lot about them by meeting in their context and in their environment
- You have more opportunities to engage in small talk, which helps you get to know each other better
- You are likely to reduce misunderstandings and have clearer communication
- There are fewer interruptions to the flow of a conversation
- In-person communication builds trust between partners over time
- You can build stronger, more authentic relationships
- Attendees are going to be more attentive than when on a video conference
Moreover, suppose your international business connection has other global business partners that don’t visit them. In that case, you’ll be remembered as the partner who put out the effort to visit and maintain regular communication. This can help in building a stronger professional relationship.
4 - Become Familiar with Your Partner’s Culture
When it comes to international business relationships, there will always be cultural differences. One of the best ways to maintain a solid relationship with your global partner is to familiarize yourself with their culture and customs.
Before you commit to entering an international business relationship, you should educate yourself on their country of origin. What things do they do differently than you? What are signs of respect? What actions should you avoid, that can potentially disrespect their culture?
Showing this level of effort toward your global business relationship can set the foundation for a strong partnership for years to come. Additionally, understanding their cultural differences can provide benefits such as:
- More opportunities for innovation
- More creative problem solving
- A more interesting and lively work environment
- An overall stronger team based on empathy and respect
5 - Be Aware of Potential Cultural Misunderstandings
You should also be aware of potential cultural misunderstandings. As mentioned above, having a solid understanding of their cultural norms and practices is a sign of politeness and can get the business relationship off to a good start. However, cultural misunderstandings may happen and should be resolved through open communication. Do your research to make sure you understand your partner’s country’s ideas about:
- Work ethic vs. leisure time
- Level of formality
- Tone of voice
- Non-verbal communication
- Importance of tradition
- Importance of hierarchy and seniority
Often, your international partner may realize you’re trying to reach across the cultural divide and offer to help you navigate some uncertainty. If you’re in a situation where you feel you may have misread a cultural cue, an open and honest dialogue may help resolve the issue.
The multinational business environment is not going anywhere soon. If you plan on expanding your business, there is a good chance you’ll have to establish and maintain overseas business relationships. To do so, you should look to maintain a consistent communication schedule, understand their culture, realize cultural differences, and plan a visit at least once a year. Every global business relationship will vary so you should look to make accommodations when necessary.
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