Great, but what if you do not have relationships in the country that you want to do business in? How can you penetrate these often exclusive networks and forge new professional connections?
1 – Consider how your domestic networks translate into foreign networks.
Many US schools have global alumni networks. This is the number one, first place where I reach out to new connections if I am trying to grow a limited network in a particular country. If your alma mater does not have an extensive global network, there are other organizations that you can join. For instance, local World Trade Centers or Rotary Clubs are usually open to the public with reasonable membership fees, and can connect you to their members around the world. Also consider engaging outside expertise that can bring their networks to your table- one of the main benefits of working with SH International is the access that we give our clients to our emerging markets networks.
I have hands-on business experience in most emerging markets regions – Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and Eastern Europe. However, I have limited exposure to South East and East Asia and so one of my professional goals this year was to start to familiarize myself with this diverse region full of culture and economic opportunity. Last month, I attended the Wharton Global Forum in Bangkok, where I met business professionals from all over the region – China, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and of course, Thailand.
It is critical in emerging markets to meet people in person if you want to develop business. It is entirely normal to see absolutely no interest or progress in any commercial transaction or relationship except when you are in the emerging market country itself. In fact, any meetings that you set up in advance should be reconfirmed once you are on the ground and in the country.
You should spend a reasonable amount of time in the country - do not just fly in and fly out. It is important to allow for follow-up meetings to fully flush out business arrangements in person. Also expect to go out for lunch or dinner to get to know the other party in a more relaxed environment. When possible, I try to allocate two weeks to any emerging markets business trip. This allows for a couple of days to reconfirm meetings as well as a week of follow-up meetings.
3 – Use social media, but do not depend on it
Face-time is so critical in emerging markets business that it is easy to question the value of social media. After all, how can using social media possibly have impact in an environment completely driven by the in-person relationship? While this is a commonly held view, it is faulty. After all, the Arab Spring was fueled by demonstrations organized through social media. With such dramatic restructurings of global power orchestrated through social media, it is impossible to argue that social media has limited applicability in emerging markets.
Having gained experience through SH International’s LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, I have now developed a stronger understanding and appreciation for the potential of social media in emerging markets business. Here is the key: while social media does not come close to having the power of face-time in a relationship, it can be the precursor to a face-to-face relationship. With billions of strangers out there, social media can be a great way to identify and get to know like-minded people before committing to a face-to-face meeting. I have met in person with partners, collaborators, and new clients as a result of our social media presence. However, the majority of people you want to meet may not be on social media, so use this as a complementary, not primary, method of networking.
Finally, I took advantage of the Maldives' close proximity to India to meet with a colleague, client and friend who came from India to the Maldives to catch up. It is really important to maximize the networking value of any business travel that you do.
What are your tips for networking in emerging markets?