Building International Business Relationships

The Importance of Relationship Building: How business is developed in the East is very different from the West. Building personal relationships is critical.

Allen is sharp, straight forward, and he’s got a great reputation as a “no nonsense” lawyer. He’s got a dream client in Japan. But, there is a problem. He can’t seem to make the right connections within the company, with the right people, to grow his business.

When I spoke with Allen about his client, he explained he had been doing basic U.S. contract work for the company — when he could be doing so much more strategic international work. Although he knew he could bring a lot more value to his client, those decisions were made at a high level. Every time Allen tried to approach the President of the company, his efforts led nowhere. Everyone he spoke to was always very polite, telling him they would pass along his request. But after two years, his work with his client was stagnating. And he felt like he must be doing something wrong. He was right, but he had no idea how to move forward.

It turns out he is being treating his Japanese client the same way he treats his Western clients. That was the root of the problem. Building business in the East is done very differently. Allen needed to learn the business culture of Asia.

For example, relationships are very important through out the East. Real business doesn’t happen unless a strong relationship at a personal level has been built before hand. This is completely foreign to many Westerners, where having a good product and a good price is good enough. Even more important though, was how Allen had been approaching the President. Power distance, the distance a boss and an employee are separated by culture, is tremendously important in Japan. Despite his best efforts Allen was thought of as a vendor, not a strategic partner. He had to completely change the way he was approaching the President. His new strategy had to be appropriate within Japanese business culture and it had to focus first on taking the time to build that relationship.

We worked with Allen on different strategies he could use and today his business is flourishing. He built the right foundation and now is a strategic partner with his client. And the last time his client’s CEO visited Los Angeles, they even went to a ball game together.

This is just a one small aspect of global business development. But it really shows how business cultural preferences will influence the future. It’s why we created the business synergy compass, to guide businesses to success in the new global economy.

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