India's key B2B exhibition for the building industry
25 - 27 April 2019 • Bombay Exhibition Center, Mumbai, India

Your guide to doing business in India

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India’s building and interiors market is full of amazing business opportunities and potential for lucrative deals. However, for newcomers unused to India’s business environment, it can be a little intimidating due to the large amount of unique customs and practices. ITE Build & Interiors has put together this helpful guide on Indian business culture to put you at ease with some of the quirks of doing business in India.
Introductions & Greetings
 
  • Flexibility is important when greeting Indian colleagues and prospective business partners.
  • Most Indians will accept a simple handshake, although some may use the Namaste. 
  • The Namaste is a common greeting involving the pressing the palms of your hands together, pointing upwards, and a small bow.
  • Always greet the most senior person first when entering business meetings as India is very hierarchical. 
  • Titles are important in India. Use “Doctor” or “Professor” if applicable. Otherwise, “Mr” or “Ms” is preferred when dealing with a colleague or senior partner.
  • Wait to be addressed on first name terms. Indians will prefer to use formal titles initially.
  • Women in the work place are addressed as Madam. Men are addressed as Sir.
  • Small talk is encouraged before business meetings. Indians may ask about your family. It is appropriate to reciprocate this gesture, as it is a good way to build trust.
  • You may be offered tea, coffee or a soft drink at meetings. It is impolite to refuse such offers.

Business meetings
 
  • It is best to give as much warning as possible in advance of intended dates of travel. 
  • Best practice is to make appointments in writing at least one month in advance, preferably two, if you are travelling from overseas.
  • Confirm your appointment as they can get cancelled. Be prepared to reschedule.
  • Be prepared for meetings to start and finish late. Interruptions are also common.
  • Send your prospective business partners a detailed agenda in advance, with stats, charts and other backup data. Indian professionals like to read, review and get comfortable with material prior to any meetings.
  • Follow up meetings with an overview of what was discussed and next steps planned.
  • Successful meetings are often concluded with a meal.
  • It is best not to initiate business conversation when dining with partners. Wait for the host to do so, so as not to appear rude or confrontational.

Negotiations
 
  • Indians are non-confrontational, although this is changing across the managerial ranks.
  • Decisions are made by the most senior member of an organisation.
  • Negotiations and decision-making can be a slow process in India. Be patient and understanding.
  • If you lose your temper, you lose face. This is bad as it will prove you unworthy of respect and trust. Attempt to stay calm at all times.
  • Delays are to be expected, especially when dealing with the government.
  • Disagreeing publicly with members of your negotiating team will also end in losing face.
  • Try to avoid overly legalistic language during negotiations. Indians are wary of the legal system. Usually, someone’s word is enough to reach an agreement.
  • In India, everything is negotiable. Expect some sort of concession requested on prices. 
  • Likewise, concessions will be made to you if you make them in kind.

Business relationships
 
  • Compared with other business cultures, which may be more transaction based, Indians prefer to build strong relationships prior to doing business.
  • Business relationships are based around mutual trust and respect.
  • In general, Indians prefer to have long-standing personal relationships prior to doing any business.
  • Third-party introductions are a good route to go through when establishing business relationships. They will give you instant credibility.
  • Take the time to get to know your business partner. Rushing straight ahead with business matters may be considered rude.
  • Indians rely on their intuition as much as statistics and figures when choosing business partners. Be wary of this.
  • Business cards are widely used in India and foreign visitors are encouraged to bring some with them when visiting. Always accept them with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean in Indian society.
  • Be aware that Indians are heavily family-orientated and this spills over into the business world. Many businesses, even multi-billion dollar corporations, are family affairs.

Language & Conversation
 
English is the business language of choice in India.
Indians generally do not like using the word “no” as it is considered impolite and negative.
Instead, they will prefer to use something more acceptable such as “I will try”, “maybe” or “I will see if it can be done”. Be aware that these phrases often mean “no”. This is not to be considered rude. 
If they say “yes” to a question or request while bobbing their head (a mixture of a shake and a nod), then it is likely this signifies “no”. 
Be on the lookout for non-verbal clues, such as a reluctance to commit to an actual meeting time or an enthusiastic response.
Be clear in your questions, and if you can ensure any questions asked require yes or no answers.
It is also best to ask what your partner can and cannot commit to in order to get a definitive answer.

Hierarchy in Indian business
 
  • Indian businesses are very hierarchical in nature. 
  • As such, decisions will be made by the most senior member of an organisation.
  • If a CEO, director, company owner or other highly senior member of staff is no present at business meetings, then a decision is unlikely to happen at that stage.
  • Roles are well defined and delegated to certain team members. An Indian manager will typically not be expected to carry out tasks that could otherwise be done by a lower ranking member of an organisation.

Business dress
 
  • Business attire is generally conservative.
  • Men typically wear dark coloured business suits, along with shirt and tie.
  • Women should dress conservatively in appropriate dresses or suits.
  • India’s climate will dictate dress. If it is extremely hot, then a formal suit shirt, trousers and tie will be acceptable. However, dressing in a full suit in the first meeting will be taken as a sign of respect.
  • Be aware that, while India is generally very hot, the climate does vary in certain regions. In northern areas, such as Delhi, it can be very cold in the winter, so pack appropriate clothing for the time of year and the place you are travelling to.

Women in business
 
  • India is a male dominated society. Western women may be accepted but must establish their position and title immediately in order to gain respect and acceptance.
  • Women may not be included in some social events or conversations.
  • Western women are generally allowed to give and received handshakes, but more elder senior figures may not offer one.
  • It may be harder for women to form the close relationships desired with some of the more established, elder business owners in India.

General cultural tips
 
India has a population of 1.3 billion and a rich, varied culture. Indians are rightly proud of their heritage but be aware of the huge diversity across the country.
Do not point your shoes or feet at other people, as this can cause offence.



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