By Nicholas Goodwin
Doing business in Russia, like everywhere else, is a matter of strategy, planning and being prepared.
There are three keys to success — good market research, access to professional language services and an understanding of the Russian
business culture. By following these rules you will stack the odds on success greatly in your favour.
The bedrock of exporting success in Russia is thorough market research. Unfortunately, Russians are hesitant at revealing business information so there is little in the public domain. Therefore, all good research is done in the country.
Russians are wary of unsolicited business approaches, especially in English. They would need to pay for a translation so your message would most likely end up in the bin. All communications must be in Russian from the outset, although it is initially acceptable to send an English brochure with separate translations of the important texts with your introduction letter. The way your company is perceived will depend on the quality of your interpreter. Being able to say a few words in Russian always pay dividends in social situations but when it comes to business discussions there is no substitute for a professional interpreter. When visiting Russia for negotiations engage your own interpreter. It costs more, but owning the translation process means that you can be less easily manipulated by the other side and you will be able to refer back to them for further clarification should the need arise.
The Russian business culture is more Asian in origin than European. It is based on the number and quality of personal contacts rather than on trade data and state support. Networking is extremely important. The way you are perceived is just as important as is your product. You should be well dressed and well groomed. No matter what gender, a smart suit and good quality accessories are essential. Body piercings are definitely frowned upon and
gentlemen with earrings may not be taken seriously. Russians tend to favour the British over some other Europeans. We are perceived as educated, cultured, honest and trustworthy. Simple courtesy goes a long way in Russia. But if you buy a bouquet of flowers for your host’s wife do bring an odd
number of blooms as even numbers are for funerals! Although things are changing, Russians generally view meetings as serious occasions, especially outside of the larger cities like Moscow or St Petersburg. Meetings may be long and drawnout, where ideas are expressed though often no agreements are reached. Don’t worry if at first they seem stiff. If they can see the benefit of working with you the ice will be broken and they will become warmer, but don’t force it. Always send your senior people. Russian organisations are strictly hierarchical. To send a project manager, no matter how gifted, to meet a company director is a huge breach of protocol. Russian managers are highly educated, and will expect the same from us. They will not hesitate at delving into the fine technical detail of your product, so be prepared. Know your stuff or take along a member of your technical team. Russia is not a difficult market it is just different and there are opportunities in most sectors.