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Doing business in Asia

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Doing business in Asia calls for a different mindset and approach from other markets. Last week I led an Australian financial services delegation to the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong. Over five days we explored business and investment opportunities in Asia, listened to high-ranking officials from mainland China and around the region, conducted a one day visit to Shenzhen and networked with many local entrepreneurs, investors, businesses and large multinational companies. By the end of our visit, everyone (including me!) had run out of business cards! During the process of facilitating this program, and observing our delegates during their initial engagement with potential investors and business partners, I made a note of some key points that are extremely relevant and important to anyone looking to do business in Asia: Listen more, talk less! In Western countries, we do have a tendency to talk too much! We want to get results and often start pitching our capabilities or products before we've spent enough time exploring the needs, desires and aspirations of the people we're talking to. In Asian countries this can come across as arrogant, discourteous and even rude. It takes longer but you'll get better results if you take the time to ask open questions, listen carefully to the answers and tailor your products accordingly. Prepare your pitch properly When we visited the Deputy Director-General of the Financial Development department of the Government of Shenzhen, we were each handed a beautifully presented brochure with details of Shenzhen's natural advantages as a financial services centre and the reasons to establish a business there. In comparison, our own documentation is often shabby and, worst of all, in English only, with no Chinese translation. If you want some clues as to how to present your capabilities to an Asian audience, take great notice into how they present their credentials to you! Asia is not one country It's absurd to think that you can have an 'Asian strategy' and treat Asia as one single market. The differences, idiosyncrasies and complexities of, say, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea when compared with mainland China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia are diverse. Even China isn't one market. You need to do your research, settle on one (or maybe two) markets and then work out from there, for example, start in Hong Kong and work towards Taiwan and then Shanghai. It's no different to how you would approach an entry strategy for Europe. Focus on building relationships, not contracts There's a saying in China that you don't talk business "until the third cup of tea"! In other words, you build the relationship first and only then should you focus on the business deal. Ignore this at your peril. Make the time to get to know your potential business partners, extend the hand of friendship and tell them about your interests, hobbies and passions. When you've exhausted every possible topic of conversation and when the timing feels right, offer to start talking business. You'll get a better result this way. Send your best people In Hong Kong all our delegates were the most senior executives in their organisations or the actual business owners themselves. But we heard stories of how other companies had failed due to sending the B team instead of the A team! This is an obvious but common mistake. If you're serious about success, and you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed, send your brightest and best people. I will be leading another Australian financial services mission to the Asian Financial Forum in January 2012... come along to our Australasian Financial Forum in Sydney and Melbourne in March (see details below) to learn more. Please consider Attending our next Australasian Financial Forum in Sydney and Melbourne in March 2011. Follow the links to register for for the Melbourne Forum (18 March) and the Sydney Forum (23 March). Our activities in Asia are building momentum... please come along and join in the conversation.

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