By Sunit Jilla, intercultural expert, www.farnhamcastletraining.com
As the second fastest growing economy after China, India has become a prime target for FTSE 100 companies - with British companies such as JCB (J C Bamford Excavators Ltd) reaping the benefits of conducting business in this land of contrasts.
Ranked 142 out of 189 countries by the World Bank for ease of doing business, India is a country in transition, and is effectively several countries in one. It has 29 states, 22 languages and a 1.2 billion (and rising) population - 45% of who are aged 15-25.
Business opportunities, which previously only existed in Mumbai and Dehli, have now expanded to emerging cities including Bangalore, Nagpur, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
A paradox in which the modern and traditional co-exist - and where extreme wealth sits alongside abject poverty - being open minded and understanding and respecting religious and regional cultural diversities are vital for UK companies seeking to trade there.
India offers UK exporters a vast opportunity within an expanding economy. Rising personal incomes have created a new middle class consumer market - with total consumer spend predicted to reach nearly $13 trillion by 2030.
The UK’s target of doubling trade to £23 billion with India by 2015 is also progressing well, with top exports including non-ferrous metals, general industrial machinery and equipment and scientific apparatus.
India’s wealth of opportunities for western countries includes investing in recycling and water sanitation and setting up call centres. Although Hindi is the national language, English is most commonly spoken in business.
Follow these tips to maximise the wealth of trading opportunities:
1. Hospitality and family are very important and it is vital to build trust with your Indian hosts. Business contacts and colleagues will expect you to develop relationships with them and their families, and not rush straight into business dealings.
2. India is very status driven — hierarchy plays an important part, so find out who is senior, who is junior and who is expected to speak at business meetings.
3. Indians like to save face and will convey messages without trying to cause offence. This may make communication challenging, so ask open questions to find out exactly what is being said.
4. India’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with its rising population. Transportation challenges can make it difficult to schedule multiple meetings and you should expect delays. Be patient — time is viewed differently in India so you need to be flexible. If a meeting overruns it is considered disrespectful to leave before it has finished.
5. Practice your negotiation skills — negotiating is an integral part of the Indian culture, and challenging everything from hospital fees to the price of vegetables is expected.
6. Be prepared for bureaucracy — everything takes longer than in the West.
7. India is a diverse country in transition, so be prepared to change your views and avoid a ‘one size fits all’ stance. Whether dealing with Microsoft or the government, adapt your approach accordingly.
8. Never underestimate the role of religion. Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism are the main faiths and it critical to remember and respect key festivals such as Eid, Ramadan and Diwali.
9. Be aware of the thriving Indian caste system, even though it’s unlikely that you will come across it in professional dealings, it is still prevalent in traditional Indian culture.