Doing business in India: 14 essential etiquette tips

Doing business in India: 14 essential etiquette tips

Since 2015, India has been the fastest-growing economy in the world, boasting growth of 7.6 per cent in 2016. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also made it easier to export to India by creating attractive avenues for foreign direct investments in all sectors.

The trading relationship between Canada and India is strong, with two-way trade at $8.2 billion in 2015 nearly doubling from $4.2 billion in 2010.

Nathan Nelson, EDC’s Chief Representative in India, spoke to ExportWise about what Canadians need to know to do business in this booming economy. Basically, he said, doing business in India requires a “three p” approach: “presence, price and perseverance.”

1. Be persistent: First, in all relations in India, be persistent. India is a crowded and competitive country. In almost all aspects of life, Indians have competed for people’s attention to survive and in business, it is no different. “They know that if you want something, you have to work hard,” Nelson said. “They’ve been brought up such that if you don’t go for it, you’re not going to get it.” They will expect the same of Canadians doing business there.

2. Pick up the phone: E-mail alone won’t work. Indians like alternative forms of communication, such as WhatsApp and text messages, but what they really appreciate is a phone call. “Also, when doing business in India, you have to come, be here, and invest time,” Nelson said.

3. Make small talk: Show an interest in things that aren’t business-related, so make a point of commenting positively about things you saw on the way to the meeting, or about the food to which you’ve been treated.

4. Easy in English: English is one of the 22 officially recognized languages, so you usually don’t have to worry about language barriers. No one frowns on the use of English — almost all have studied it in school.

5. Wait to warm up: Indian culture is conservative and physical forms of contact, such as a handshake or a hug between men and women, is not usually the norm. “As a woman, don’t be offended if your male customers do not offer a handshake,” Nelson said. “Indians take some time to get to know you before they will show any physical contact.”

6. Connect with cards: Be sure to have a business card, but there’s no need to present it in the bowing fashion seen in other parts of Asia. Speaking of first meetings, be prepared for some questions you might not be asked in Canada or Europe. Indians will ask if you have children and if you’re married. They may jump between business and personal topics.

7. Yes doesn’t necessarily mean yes: If an Indian person agrees to meet, but says they’re very busy, it may mean they’ll cancel at the last minute. Generally, Indians will cancel a meeting at a later date rather than say no from the start. It doesn’t mean your dealings are done, but it does mean it wasn’t a priority for them.

8. Dress for success: Indians in general are much more conservative in the way they dress. Men will be fine in Western business dress. In larger international corporations in Mumbai and Delhi, women dress similarly to Canada, but to be safe, pants rather than a skirt might be a good idea. Also, many businesswomen in India still wear saris as normal business attire.

9. raffic troubles: Be prepared for timing challenges within the major cities. If you want to arrive at a meeting on time, plan a half-hour buffer. If you are late because of traffic, your hosts will usually understand.

10. Seniority matters: Don’t be surprised at the adherence to hierarchy. Usually, only the most senior person at the meeting speaks, but they’ll understand that’s not the case for Canadians.

11. Vegetarianism is widespread: If you’re hosting a lunch meeting, always ask if you have any vegetarian guests. If you do, make sure there are nice choices for them. If you’re a non-vegetarian at a business lunch in a restaurant, make sure it doesn’t offend your vegetarian counterparts if you order meat.

12. Don’t rely on wifi: You will find wifi in coffee shops and hotels, but the connections aren’t always strong.

13. Refine your strategy: Don’t think of India as one big country. Rather, figure out where your sector is then develop relationships there, whether it’s Mumbai or Delhi, southern or northern India.

14. Tip of the hat: India has a tipping culture. Tip 10 per cent in restaurants.

Are you exporting, or thinking of exporting, to India? Get more country information from EDC here.

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