Exporting to India - Top tips
Business etiquette in the main centres such as Delhi or Bombay involves a handshake if it is with foreigners although Indians themselves retain the namaste gesture in which the palms of the hands are brought together at chest level. Titles such as Professor, Doctor or Mr remain important as does the formal use of Sir and Madam.
Names give a clear indication of an individual’s background. Someone with the name Singh will always be a Sikh while Muslims use Arabic type names. The suffix “jee” (as in Banerjee) denotes high caste. “Kar” as in Chandraskar denotes that the person is a high caste member from Maharastan.
Business cards, preferably printed in English on one side and Hindi on the other, should be exchanged at the first meeting using the right hand. As in many other countries the central crux of doing business in India hinges on personal relationships. Indians tend only to deal favourably with those they know and trust, sometimes sacrificing profitable deals in the process. Honour and trustworthiness are absolutely essential. You need to form a good working relationship with any prospective business partner before any deals are done.
Business meetings need to be arranged well in advance preferably in writing and later confirmed by phone. There are times to avoid, especially public holidays such as Independence Day and the Hindu festival of Diwali or the Muslim festival of Eid. Climatically, business is best done between October and March to avoid the heat. While Indians favour punctuality, being a few minutes late is not as disastrous as in some other countries. Remember that in India family relationships are all-important and so last minute cancellations can be commonplace.
Because of its hierarchical structure you should greet the most senior person in the room first at business meetings. Meetings normally begin with informal small-talk before the actual business begins. Indians see this as an important way of getting to know you. Do talk about the latest business news, stock markets or even cricket (which has almost religious status). Avoid talk of beggars or personal matters.
Negotiations can be tortuously slow especially during the getting to know you process. Since decisions are made at the top level, if a director or company owner is absent these are likely to be early stage discussions. Unlike other business cultures, Indians do not rely solely on hard data, figures or presentations but retain a more intuitive approach. It is vital to show patience and never lose your temper.
Indians shy away from high pressure tactics. Being forceful or confrontational is counter-productive. Even criticism needs to be expressed in the most mildly diplomatic language. Indians hate the word “no” and will use coded phrases such as “We’ll see” or “Possibly” instead.
Terms and conditions always need to be honoured. And when you have done the deal a celebration dinner afterwards will help further cement relations.
UK Trade & Investment - South Asia Unit
1 Victoria Street
London, SW1H 0ET
Tel: 020 7215 8082
British High Commission
New Delhi 110021
Tel: (91) 11 2419 2100
Fax: (91) 11 2687 0062