For SMEs who want to export to this region, market entry is practically impossible without a business partner. They need a trustworthy local partner who can bridge the gap for them – for example, by adapting a planned marketing campaign to the local conditions. A partner who speaks the local language, is familiar with the local culture, and who knows how to access the market, what the appropriate sales channels are, who to talk to – and above all, how to talk. In Southeast Asia, a local partner is the most efficient and cost-effective way to gain a foothold.
Finding the right business partner
As in most countries around the world, personal contacts in Southeast Asia also help when it comes to finding the right business partner. Associations and trade fairs are also good places to make contact. It is important to know that you do not have to look for someone who can handle everything. Instead, you should look for a person who shows interest and commitment, and then work out the market strategy together with them. Angela Di Rosa, Consultant for South East Asia at Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) says: "Finding someone is one thing, but what you do with them afterwards is another – and this is almost more important. The focus is always on cooperation at eye level. Furthermore, you shouldn't just dump everything on the local partner, since you as well must deal with the country directly."
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Focus on relationship management
Relationship management is very important. This includes regular phone calls or skyping with the people on the spot, as well as asking how they are doing. The closer the relationship, the better the cooperation. The business partners are often not just responsible for one company, and this should not be underestimated. There should therefore always be "give and take".
It must be possible to complete daily business while on the go. Many Asians love using WhatsApp. They are quick and online around the clock. E-mails are rarely used and at most for an official agreement. As an employer, you also need to know that families have a high priority in Asia. "In the Philippines, if an employee's mother has a birthday, it's highly unlikely that the employee will show up for work," says Angela Di Rosa. "The mother has priority." The Vietnamese also had the reputation of being job hoppers for a long time. However, when it was realized that they would only leave the company if they were not properly integrated into the team, things improved immediately.
Dos and don’ts in business relationships
In Southeast Asia, there are certain things that should definitely be respected or avoided.
- Be patient and flexible – Things work at a very different pace in the region. Be adaptable and willing to go with the flow a little. Adopt the mindset of “Friends before Business” as a general rule of thumb
- Dress Modestly – Business Suits and Tie is often the acceptable dress code in ASEAN even when temperatures can be over 30 degrees celcius.
- Bring enough business cards as the exchange of business cards is widely practiced in ASEAN. Present and receive business cards with both hands as a form of courtesy.
- Don’t treat ASEAN as a single market although it aspires to be one. There are different requirements with different business practices and language requirements for most countries.
- Don’t be late. Allow ample time for traffic congestion in ASEAN cities as punctuality is regarded as a virtue and the level of importance you place on the meeting
- Discuss controversial topics such as politics, religion or LGBTQ rights or insist the right of way.