Nowhere is that more true than in SE Asia, but wherever you intend to do business in the world, presenting your clients with business cards in their native language demonstrates that you are taking your international business seriously.
Not only is it important as a sign of respect, it is also a way of ensuring that your name, job title and other crucial information are communicated accurately, and that the image of your company is promoted positively, professionally and impressively.
In SE Asian business cultures, a business card signifies group identity and your position within that group. So a Chinese business card will do more than just identify you as an individual: it will clarify your status and help you to make that all-important first impression.
And that impression lasts: in China, business cards are often filed away for future reference, not discarded as they often are in the West.
So, long after your Chinese sales trip, your business cards (and any other printed material you take with you) will continue to represent you and your company to your new business clients.
Whole books have been written about business practices in South East Asia and about the correct method of the seemingly simple task of exchanging business cards.
Indeed, a quick search on the internet will provide you with a plethora of sites offering information about proper Chinese business etiquette, what to do and what not to do in Korea, and 1001 ways to succeed in Japan.
Whilst some of this information is undoubtedly useful, it’s really not as complicated as some would have you believe, as long as you follow a few basic rules:
- Exchange business cards at the beginning of your meeting: consider it as part of your greeting when you first meet your Asian counterparts.
- Bow slightly and present your business card with both hands, the non-English side up.
- You should receive your clients’ business cards the same way: with both hands, bowing slightly.
- Study the other person’s card for a moment, making a mental note of their name, and then put it away in a card holder. Alternatively, if there are a number of members present in your meeting, you can lay all the cards out on the table in front of you and leave them there until the end of the meeting.
- DO NOT pass your business cards out as though you are dealing a deck of playing cards.
- When you receive someone’s business card, DO NOT just give it a cursory glance, then stuff it away in your pocket to refer to later.
- Try NOT keep taking people’s business cards out of your pocket to check their name: as a matter of courtesy, it is worth trying to remember their name when they give you their card.
- DO NOT play or fiddle with other people’s business cards – treat them with respect. A Western businessman once famously lost a big deal for picking his teeth with one of his colleagues’ business cards, and was never given the opportunity to do business with the company again.
- DO NOT write on people’s business cards (at least, not in front of them): it is considered a direct insult.