Following the rules of business etiquette is crucial when establishing contacts and trading with clients from other countries. Key benefits include:

  • Creating a positive, professional image
  • Building strong and lasting relationships
  • Improving communication channels

Communication

  • Be as clear as possible. Avoid using jargon or ambiguous words and phrases – what is common to you and your co-workers may be confusing for your international customer
  • Ensure that the prospective buyer's key contact at your company is able to communicate in a language the customer understands
  • Deal with all correspondence within 48 hours. If you are unable to answer a query immediately, give a prompt response with a target date for the full answer/quote
  • Be available 24 hours a day. Even if you work office hours, you can still provide a 24-hour fax line and e-mail address
  • Write the date with the month spelled out and avoid any other abbreviations or acronyms, unless you are sure the customer knows the meaning

Introductions

  • Introduce a lower-ranking person to a higher-ranking person
  • Use a firm handshake and make eye contact – this will give a positive impression
  • Women should always take the initiative and offer to shake an associate's hand
  • If you greet foreign clients with their national expressions ensure you do it properly

E-mail etiquette

  • E-mails are often used informally in business. However, when conducting business internationally it is good practice to apply the same high standards to your electronic communications as you would a formal letter
  • Make the subject line specific and clear, and always use an auto-signature at the bottom which includes your name, job title and contact details
  • Do not write your e-mails in CAPITAL LETTERS

Phone etiquette

  • Return calls even if you do not have the final answer
  • If you are unavailable to answer your phone, ensure that someone else can take a message or that you provide voicemail facilities
  • Avoid keeping international customers on hold for long periods of time – not only is this common courtesy but it will also keep their phone bills down

Selling and pricing tips

  • Ensure your catalogue, product specifications, instructions and service/warranty documents are clearly translated in the language of your target market
  • If necessary, convert measures to those used in the export country
  • Research the relevant export/import regulations so that you can address these issues in any communications
  • Use the appropriate Incoterms to explain the terms of sale, and make sure your buyers understand the sales conditions. Do not include any costs and local taxes, such as VAT, which are not relevant to the buyer