International clients: 5 things you need to know

International clients: 5 things you need to know

Whether working nationally or internationally, selling services, knowledge or physical products, many of us would like to attract (more) foreign clients.

However, what many people don’t realise is the extent to which culture affects the way we do business. We think "business is business", right? Wrong!

Your definition of doing business may be completely different to someone else’s. Being able to recognise the role culture plays in international business is crucial to attracting (and keeping) new clients.

Attracting international clients

Is your (potential) client from another country? Here are five cultural factors you need to consider about the company/person you want to do business with.

 Relationship building

It’s your first meeting with a potential new client. You may have already had a few phone calls or email conversations but so far no real business has been done. What happens now?

Do you shake hands, maybe do a "five minute introduction" and then get straight down to business? After all, you’re keen to get things started and you don’t need to be good friends with someone to do business with them.

Or, do you take the time (over several meetings) to get to know the person, building up trust and a relationship as you go along. You need to be sure that this is someone you want to do business with before commencing with anything.

 How is hierarchy viewed?

Some cultures adhere to a strict hierarchy in society. This also goes for the working environment. Managers and senior staff are looked up to.

In these cultures, those "above" you are accorded more respect and their opinions are the ones that matter. Disagreeing (especially in public) is frowned upon and showing initiative is not always a valued quality.

At the other extreme are the societies where everyone is viewed as equal and all opinions are listened to. Everyone should be respected equally and showing initiative is a valued attribute.

 Mixing business & pleasure

"Talking shop" is a phrase often used when people talk about business outside of working hours, for example over lunch or during after-work drinks.

Some of us like to separate the two, work time is for work, private lives aren’t often discussed, and time outside work is for "other" stuff.

Some societies on the other hand see everything as intertwined; business and pleasure will often be mixed, with people talking about their private lives at work and work being discussed, sometimes at great length, over long lunches or dinners. In such societies important business is more likely to be conducted outside of "working hours" and than in the office.

 Preferred communication style

We all have different means of communicating and this also pertains to communications in the business environment.

Some cultures prefer to say things as they are. Feedback and personal opinions are given "straight up"; directness and honesty being valued attributes.

There are others however who prefer a more indirect approach, "less is more"; where the whole context of the situation bears relevance to the true meaning of the (sometimes few) words spoken. Great care is taken to keep harmony and not to insult.

 Time management

Are you a sequential planner? Where one task should be finished before the next phase can start? Some societies place heavy emphasis on scheduling and timing. Meeting times are precise and deadlines fixed.

Other cultures however are much more relaxed about punctuality, deadlines are used as guidelines and often multiple tasks are carried out at the same time and plans may easily change as new circumstances crop up.

The client’s perspective

Having read the above it may be relatively simple to see where your own preferences lie. But, do you know where the preferences of your (potential) client lie? Do you know how they prefer to do business?

Understanding how clients view such topics as those described above and being able to reconcile cultural differences is crucial to a successful business.

Caitriona Rush


Caitriona Rush

Caitriona has spent 18 years living and working in 9 countries around the globe. She works as a cross-cultural consultant and provides workshops, trainings, consultancy and one-to-one sessions to both...

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