If your company is based in the United States, you are likely familiar with business etiquette here in North America. It would be normal for you to arrive on time (or better… early!) and shake someone’s hand when you greet them during a business meeting, for example, or to even invite fellow associates out for dinner to both discuss the agenda and socialize with your colleagues.
If you’ve never given thought to globalization and expanding your business to an international market, it is likely you might also not have considered how business etiquette may differ in other countries and how adapting to these differences could vastly impact your ability to perform well in a global market.
Translating and/or localizing your product and services are a great first step to entering the global market. You can read more about the importance of localizing your product here. However, localization isn’t the only step in moving your business forward in a foreign culture. It’s probable that you will need to work directly with other business associates in the target country for a successful launch, so learning a little about proper business etiquette there can really go a long way. It is not necessary to learn each and every custom in every location where you plan to do business, but it will help if you have a basic understanding of how business etiquette works in each one.
If you are holding a business meeting in Mexico, for instance, it would not be uncommon for the meeting to begin a little late, and for your colleagues to engage in an embrace as a greeting, instead of a handshake, once a perceived friendship is established. Conversely, if you are conducting business in Germany, arriving late is considered rude and business meetings are very formal (always shake hands and greet someone as Herr [Mister] last name even when you know them well).
In China, it can be inappropriate to begin your meeting by discussing the deal you want to close directly. This may be considered rude, and you may come home without the deal you had hoped for. Instead, it is more appropriate to develop a relationship with your business partner and avoid interrupting him/her at all costs! When handing your business card to someone in China, or receiving one from a potential business partner, do so with both hands. This is considered a sign of respect.
Since there is no global standard of business etiquette, we recommend always researching the area you’re traveling to (or speaking with) to ensure you are abiding by that country’s customs and standards. This shows respect for your business associates abroad and makes a good impression for your products and services. Being prepared shows that you are dedicated to doing business in that area and will greatly improve your chance of success when launching your localized product or service.