India is expanding in the world, and the world is coming to India.
The last two years have seen India leap from a position of 130 to 77 in the annual World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. Foreign interest in investing in India is undeniable.
For you, as a businessperson, this often means you’ll be welcoming visitors from abroad. The smoother you can make their trip, the more likely your business will get on well.
Let’s talk about American business partners coming to visit India.
Visitors from the United States can be very hard to predict, and TV-based stereotypes of the “typical American” are often way off the mark. Some are strongly opinionated and have high expectations, while others can be easy-going and will happily go along with whatever you plan. They may be men or women, from their 20s to their 70s and beyond, and most any ethnicity and belief system.
Making them welcome is challenging, but it’s rewarding.
Here are some tips for welcoming business partners from the US, and making sure their trip to India is a rewarding one.
Before They Arrive
Knowing about your business partner’s expectations, preferences, and any special needs can help you guide them better. Thankfully, there are many outlets for some advance research. Check their LinkedIn profile, company homepage, any stories on them in the press. And of course, ask them by video conference, phone, or email if they have any special requirements, things they want to eat or see, concerns, etc. Don’t be shy; the US is a big and diverse place, and its people are quite familiar with voicing their needs and explaining their background.
Food can be a cause of concern for many, especially if they have dietary restrictions, for whatever reason. Let your clients know that India has various vegetarian and non-vegetarian options in addition to many internationally acclaimed restaurants, world cuisines, and the usual brands like McDonald’s in cities across the country. See what their needs are and prepare accordingly.
India is a country with immense contrasts and can prove to be a culture-shock for visitors. Preparing may be stressful for them. Let them know that you’re available to answer any questions they might have. Offer useful links. Put them in touch with colleagues who may be able to address their concerns if you can’t.
Similarly, tips on what to wear in India can help your client pack better. And don’t just recommend clothes based on the season; let them know what they’ll need if they’re going to other regions and if they’re visiting places such as religious sites. Go the “extra mile” to extend hospitality; Americans value high-quality, personalised service and will likely associate it with your brand, product, and with you personally.
Absolutely confirm where your guests will be staying and who’s arranging it. A hotel is the typical option. However, they may be arranging their own Airbnb, or even looking for an authentic homestay. See what they need and how you can help. Americans fear being ripped off and falling victim to tourists traps. You can be a big help here.
It’s common in India to invite guests to stay in our homes. Americans are also usually quite open with having visitors in their homes, but their standards of behaviour, especially if staying overnight can vary widely. If they are planning a homestay, give them pointers on how it may go, and of course answer any questions.
If they’re going the hotel route, seek out some trustworthy, safe, and (if possible) quiet places and offer to make the reservation for them. It’s easy for them to book from abroad, but what they see online may fall short of reality. Do the work for them, and within their budget.
And always make sure stable Wi-Fi is available! These days, it’s indispensable for business travelers.
Safety First, and Wi-Fi a Close Second
Americans’ perceptions of India can vary. Some might be well-read on its diverse society and its unique ways of doing things; others, less so. A common concern is about safety and getting scammed or worse.
From the very point of arrival, India can appear chaotic. For a tired traveller, that’s already getting off on the wrong foot, and you want your visitor to feel welcomed and have things stable without having to hunt for transport and haggle prices. Make your business partner’s arrival stress-free either by picking them up from the airport or arranging for a driver waiting for them at the airport right outside customs. This way there will be no concerns of getting lost or taken advantage of.
Most businesspeople also want to be immediately connected, so find out if they need prepaid SIM card, or even a rental phone, and arrange it. After a long flight, there are emails to be read, texts to be sent, and families to check in with.
Safety for women is an issue in India, and the recent number of negative incidents has received a great deal of press abroad. Moreover, the US is going through constant changes these days in women’s equality and empowerment. India may pose challenges, but also rewards. If female business partners are visiting you. accept their concerns and share useful information on how to dress and areas to avoid. Perhaps put them in touch with a female colleague at your company. There are also many excellent articles, giving a practical view for women traveling in India.
Take a Casual Approach
American businesspeople are a blend of casual and professional when it comes to interacting and clothes. Some might arrive at a meeting in suits while others are comfortable in jeans. Gauge their style in the first couple of sessions and then, as much as you can, dress accordingly, so they don’t feel out of place.
From the outset, keep conversations professional and friendly, but don’t stick to business. In the US, it’s not uncommon to start up a chat with stranger. And in business, those unable to share anything of themselves and establish a more personal connection may be viewed as cold or less trustworthy. Good safe topics are weather, food, family, sports, interests, and cultural differences. It’s best to stay away from politics, for obvious reasons.
Americans are serious about business dealings, and like in India, they usually prefer a boardroom set-up to do the serious parts of business. However, they are equally comfortable talking about work over drinks and food. Just save the negotiations and contractual matters for a meeting room or other private and sober place.
Conversing with American clients requires a certain degree of attentiveness and patience for many Indians, as the pace of talking can be quite fast and accents and word choices can vary. Time spent trying to learn the latest US slang is probably better spent on brushing up on the general American style of talking and the types of gestures people use. YouTube and foreign TV are your best free teachers here.
Americans themselves often have trouble understanding Indians’ English accents. India has its own “flavour” of English, and uses some phrases unfamiliar to Americans. It’s all English, but it can be quite different from what Americans use. Speak slowly and clearly, keep a paper and pen handy to write and explain, and don’t shy away from asking them to repeat themselves if you don’t understand something they said. It’s not rude, just say, “Sorry, I didn’t get that. Can you say it again?”
Provide Unique Information
With a good background profile of your guest, a very nice gesture is to put together a basic information pack for them with maps, pamphlets on simple language, tips on transportation, and of course some information on how to get to your office. Ask your American guests about their areas of interest, be it food, shopping, architecture, or anything else. Then recommend places based on that. You’re privy to insiders’ information about your city. Let your guests know some of your home’s hidden gems. They’ll be incredibly grateful, and they’ll likely tell their friends and colleagues.
As for business, give them time to know more about your company by leaving behind financials, technical know-how, and strategy in print for them to read at their leisure. Once again, this allows them the freedom to study the details and come prepared for meetings.
Take a Trip
A short road trip can prove to be an excellent icebreaker when dealing with business partners. Americans are by nature curious, and they enjoy learning about new places. When you know your visitor’s interests, you might hire a car and driver and set aside half a day to comfortably show them around places that may interest them. If you don’t have the time, hire a trustworthy English-speaking guide. Especially for solo women travelers, make sure they are comfortable with this.
Weekends are ideal for a vacation to explore famous landmarks or guided walks in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, packed with multi-cultural experiences. A trip covering the Golden Triangle to see the Taj Mahal and the Pink City or to Lavasa near Mumbai can help build stronger business ties and be the perfect escape to showcase the country’s diversity. If at all possible, go with them, as they trust you the most.
Don’t Go Big, at Least Not Yet!
Many Indian businesses believe that holding big parties or conferences in honour of a visiting business partner is the best approach to impress them. While it does make an impact, it also adds undue pressure on your guests. If they’re old hands at India, then it may be OK. Know who you’re dealing with.
Even if you’re inviting an American delegation to a summit, inform them of what to expect.
If they’re the chief guest at an award function, tell them well in advance so they can prepare themselves. If a speech is required, give them ample time to prepare for it, letting them know how much time they have and what they’ll be expected to talk about.
Americans generally aren’t too fond of last-minute activities, no matter how good they may seem to you. They’re already far from home, and these surprises can be a source of unnecessary stress. It also communicates a lack of consideration. Always check with them beforehand to make sure they have the time and interest.
Strong business relationships between the US and India have existed for a long time. When it comes to inviting partners, it’s vital not to hide the many challenges one might face in India, such as raising kids, staying healthy, dealing with extreme weather. You’ll no doubt find common ground, and this will deepen your relationship. While many Asian and European cultures may keep personal things private, Americans are normally open and interested in personal matters.
Inform them that work often takes longer than expected or promised in Indian offices. Bribes are an issue tackled with tact and negotiations. Also, just because a person agreed to do a job, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it. Many Indians find it hard to say “no” to someone directly, and therefore constant follow-up and confirmation is required. Such instability becomes familiar when you live in it, but in a country where “keeping one’s word” is a sign of good character, it can be confusing for them to not receive what was promised.
By being open and explaining to them the bureaucracy behind the work culture, you can assure them about the longevity of the business in the country.
American businesspeople believe in building relationships. For them, the people behind the business are often as important as the business itself. A little care and attention towards welcoming them, in the beginning, can go a long way towards successful business dealings in the future.