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Expanding overseas is a key goal of many businesses. But it can be tricky. They must know the nuances of each market and understand the specialists within them. Cultural differences vary significantly across the world – from famously reserved and rule-loving Germans to Arabs who value personal communication.
Business development abroad: how to avoid cultural differences getting in the way?
© Shutterstock

As it is stated in a press release, in order to navigate these subtleties and successfully establish businesses abroad, relying on talent in the home country is not enough. The best results are achieved by hiring people who understand the local market. Experts point out the most important things needed to know when entering foreign markets.

Good preparation is essential

According to Neringa Petrauskaitė, partner and strategist of the B2B marketing agency ‘We Are Marketing’, developing companies often fail to properly analyze the cultural and economic landscape of prospective markets. The result? Various misunderstandings and difficulties when expanding operations. Either a company can hire a local specialist or they can supervise activities from a central location – much depends on the specifics of each country.

“For example, while many German firms use English as their working language, our experience shows it is better to hire German-speaking workers to build rapport and demonstrate the seriousness of your intentions. Knowledge of the German language is one ability that must be ensured when entering this country’s market. In another important region for Lithuanian companies - Scandinavia - it is typically possible to get by without knowing the local language. But again, it can show the sincerity of your commitment to that market. With specialists in place, it is certainly much easier to demonstrate your serious intentions," says Petrauskaitė.

Specialists must understand the market

Today, Petrauskaitė explains that when talents migrate in the global market and accumulate professional experience abroad, sometimes companies can get by without employing foreign specialists. "For instance, members of our team have invaluable professional experience working for many years in Western Europe, China and elsewhere,” she says.

Neringa Petrauskaitė
Neringa Petrauskaitė
© Organizacijos nuotr.

However, Petrauskaitė recognises that local experts can – and do – provide a deeper and more comprehensive sense of a country's business culture, which can help to overcome cultural barriers – something that can be very obvious and sometimes very subtle.

“Meanwhile, hiring specialists from different countries has clearly expanded the horizons of our team, with designers from Ukraine, Spain and Thailand currently working full-time in our agency. Since we cooperate with companies around the world, this diversity helps us to understand different needs and find the most suitable solutions for each market,” she adds.

Remote workers are the key to foreign markets

Liina Laas, Head of Expansion in the Baltic, Central and Eastern European region at Deel, a global HR management company, says that it is often too costly for expanding businesses to create physical workplaces in new markets, so instead they hire workers who know the specifics of a country remotely to resolve any possible cultural nuances.

"A person born and raised in a country will undoubtedly understand its culture better than an outsider, no matter how much they are interested in that region. Work culture, communication with customers and business relations differ significantly from country to country. What is perceived as going the extra mile for a customer in one country - for example, answering an email request after working hours - can be disrespectful in another. If such things are not taken into account, business potential may be lost, " says L. Laas.

Liina Laas
Liina Laas
© Pranešimo siuntėjų nuotr.

For example, Laas points to Scandinavia. Here the balance of work and rest for the well-being of employees is highly valued. countries such as Sweden usually do not have a clear hierarchy, with a horizontal structure prevailing. Indeed, since Lithuania and Scandinavian countries have maintained close business relations for many years, these trends are also felt in the companies of our country.

Obvious differences in Asia

Working practices and cultures prevalent in India can be considered the opposite of those in Northern Europe. While India is not a common development direction for Lithuanian businesses, Laas says that they increasingly encounter teams of Indian specialists when working with European or American business partners, besides hiring these specialists remotely.

The idea of a work-leisure balance is often far-fetched for many Indians. It is common to work long hours in India, stretching into the night and starting early in the morning.

In other Asian countries, there are similar differences compared to the European work culture. In Japan, for example, there are extremely important written and unwritten rules which regulate seemingly insignificant matters, such as seating arrangements l according to the rank and position of employees. Organizations often not only have rules that are difficult for Westerners to understand, but also rituals that unite the team. These can be, singing the company song every morning, quoting the company's values and goals, or collective exercise before starting work.

In the Arab world, personal trust is vital. As a result, business meetings usually start with conversations about personal life. Establishing friendly and warm relations with business partners is extremely important. Live face-to-face communication is prioritized over email correspondence or phone calls.

Germans need a clear structure, the French need more time for lunch

Returning to Europe, Germany’s c work culture is highly relevant for Lithuanian businesses. German employees are generally reserved, dealing with things according to strictly pre-planned procedures. They also tend to value detail and clear instruction. For example, when presenting a new product, it is not enough to talk about it in general or show a 5-slide presentation. Provide instead complete documentation – they’ll be happy to read it.

As for the French, they have a penchant for a long and leisurely lunch. Asking a badly timed question in the afternoon may take a good two hours. a reply. The French also tend not to talk about their personal lives with their colleagues, preferring to keep a sharp distinction between work and leisure.
According to Laas, cultural nuances differences must be taken into account during business development and when finding new partners. Remote work creates more opportunities to expand the cultural horizon of organisations and discover business ambassadors in different countries.

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