Business customs can be grouped into imperatives, customs that must be recognized and accommodated electives, customs to which adaptation is helpful, but not necessary and exclusives, customs in which an outsider must not participate. An international marketer must appreciate the nuances o cultural imperatives, cultural electives and cultural exclusives.
Cultural imperatives are the business customs and expectations that must be met and conformed to or avoided if relationships are to be successful. Successful business people know the Chinese word guanxi, the Japanese ningen kankei, or the Latin America compadre. All refer to friendship, human relations, or attaining a level of trust. They also know there is no substitute for establishing friendship in some cultures before effective business negotiations can begin.
Informal discussions, entertaining mutual friends, contacts and just spending time with others are ways of guanxi, ningen kankei, compadre, and other trusting relationships are developed. In those cultures where friendships are a key to success, the business person should not slight the time required for their development. Friendship motivates local agents to make more sales, and friendship helps establish the right relationship with end users, which leads to more sales over a longer period. Naturally after sales service, price and the product must be competitive, but the marketer who has established guanxi, ningen kankei or compadre has the edge. Establishing friendship is an imperative in many cultures. If friendship is not established the marketer risks not earning trust and acceptance, the basic cultural prerequisites for developing and retaining effective business relationships.
The significance of establishing friendship cannot be overemphasized especially in those countries where family relationships are close. In China, for example, the outsider is, at best in fifth place in order of importance when deciding with whom to conduct business. The family is first, then the extended family, then neighbors from one’s home town then former classmates, and only then, reluctantly strangers and the last only after a trusting relationship has been established.
In some cultures a person’s demeanor is more critical than in other cultures. For example, it is probably never acceptable to lose your patience, raise your voice. For example, it is probably never acceptable to lose your patience, raise your voice or correct someone in public no matter how frustrating the situation. In some cultures such behavior would cast you as boorish, but in others it could end a business deal. In Asian cultures it is imperatives to avoid causing your counterpart to lose face. In China, to raise your voice, to shout at a Chinese person in public or to correct one in front of his or her peers will cause that person to lose face.
A complicating factor in cultural awareness is that what may be an imperative to avoid in one culture to do in another. For example, in Japan prolonged eye contact is considered offensive and it is imperative that it be avoided. However, with Arab and Latin American executives it is important to make strong contact or you run the risk of being seen as evasive and untrustworthy.
Cultural Electives: Cultural electives relate to areas of behavior or to customs that cultural aliens may wish to conform to or participate in but are not required. In other words, to follow the custom in question is not particularly important but is permissible. The majority of customs fit into this category. One need not greet another with a kiss (a custom in some countries) eat foods that disagree with the digestive system (so long as the refusal is gracious) or drink alcoholic beverages (if for health, personal, or religious reasons). On the other hand, a symbolic attempt to participate in such options is not only acceptable but also may help to establish rapport. It demonstrate that the marketer has studied the culture. Japanese do not expect a Westerner to bow and to understand the ritual of bowing among Japanese yet a symbolic bow indicates interest and some sensitivity to Japanese culture that is acknowledged as a gesture of goodwill. It may help pave the way to strong trusting relationship.