Customs and traditions — business culture in Vietnam
Before we examine the niceties of successfully conducting business in Vietnam, it’s worth pointing out that DEEP C was founded in 1997 and since then, working with reliable partners and with strong support from Vietnamese authorities, it has gained a wealth of experience and expertise.
That expertise is at your service, but you also need to understand the country’s business culture to take full advantage of the many opportunities … and avoid the common pitfalls. Trust, respect, a personal connection, and genuine understanding of the culture are key to establishing a lasting relationship with Vietnamese business partners.
Firstly, it will take time. You need to get to know your potential business partners, and while it is a major advantage to have a mutual connection — such as DEEP C — how you conduct yourself is vital: politeness plays a major role.
Vietnamese generally shake hands both when meeting and saying goodbye. When meeting someone for the first time, say ‘xin chao’ (‘hello’ and pronounced ‘seen chow’) and give your name. Business cards are normally exchanged at this point — give and receive a business card with both hands.
Seniority is very important in Vietnam, especially when dealing with state or government authorities. Address officials by their designation — chairman, director, manager — as well as their name.
The Vietnamese are generally punctual and expect foreigners to be the same. But they will understand if traffic or other situations out of your control make you late.
When you submit a business proposal, Vietnamese will examine it from every angle and take their time in doing so; you are very unlikely to receive fast answers.
Bear in mind too that bluntly discussing difficult subjects is hard for Vietnamese, and initially you may not hear their real thoughts on your proposal. This often leads to misunderstandings: ‘Yes’ may not mean ‘yes’.
Their intention is born from goodwill and to avoid conflict, not dishonesty. At its heart is that innate politeness. Don’t mistake it for a positive answer; typically, it’s simply the opening gambit in negotiations.
As those negotiations get underway, you will find that Vietnamese businessmen also want to know ‘who’ their potential partner is, not just the business track record. You will find they will discuss personal topics and will expect you to do the same. The concept is that the more you learn and share with a business partner, the more you are likely to build mutual trust.
Unlike Western business relationships, which typically remain professional, good Vietnamese business relationships always become social after a while. And in the next blog, we’ll look at important aspects in building, and maintaining, that relationship.