Arranging successful business meetings


DEEP C Industrial Zones again make no apologies in pointing out it was founded in 1997, work with reliable partners, have strong support from Vietnamese authorities, and can introduce you to the right people for your business.

We’ve made the point, too, that building those business-cum-personal relationships takes time: be prepared for many meetings to make things happen. While online conferences are popular in the west, meetings held in person are the rule in Vietnam.

The first meeting is best held at your would-be business partner’s office. That works both ways: he doesn’t have to travel and you will not only see his operation at first hand, but likely meet some of his senior colleagues.

Before that meeting, remember that you will never get a second chance to make a first impression — forward planning is the watchword.

Choose the timing carefully and well in advance, avoiding the obvious such as public holidays and very early mornings. While ‘power breakfasts’ enjoy favour in some western business circles, that’s not the case in Vietnam. Reconfirm the meeting the day before it’s scheduled to take place to be sure all is going smoothly.

Next, prepare an overview of your company and an agenda for the meeting, and send it to your would-be partner so that he’s clear about the subjects to be discussed. If you wish to take colleagues with you, say so, name them, and give their rank. Unless you are fluent in Vietnamese, you will need an interpreter — be sure to mention his/her name.

Ask for the same from your would-be partner: we’ve mentioned before the importance of seniority in Vietnam and how to address people, and this will help your preparations.

Plan and rehearse what you are going to say and prepare documents about your company, the business agenda and any presentation. Your business cards should be printed in Vietnamese on one side, your own language on the other (and when presented, should be with the Vietnamese side up). Any onscreen presentation or written document should also have both languages.

What are you going to wear? In Hanoi and Haiphong a suit/white shirt for men and modest, non-flamboyant clothing for women is the business norm rather than casual clothes.

When the day arrives, be punctual, even slightly early: it’s a mark of respect. And remember our earlier blogs about seniority and rank. You’ll almost certainly find that seating has been designated according to that.

Now shake hands with everyone, starting with the most senior person, and exchange business cards using both hands to give and receive. Please address someone by using their title followed by their surname. Names start with the surname, followed by the middle and then first name. To use the late President Hồ Chí Minh as an example, you would address him as President Hồ. If you don’t know a person’s rank, address him/her as Mr/Mrs followed by their first name—ie: Mr Minh.

Typically, you’ll be offered tea as the meeting gets underway. It’s a sign of hospitality and drink it even if you’re not thirsty.

Above all, remember that this first, and the next few meetings, will be seen as a means of getting to know one another, along with a better mutual understanding of business aims. These meetings will be as much about establishing good personal relationships as business credentials. Dinners and/or lunches will always play a role in meetings to come, so don’t be surprised to find you’re being asked about the food you enjoy in Vietnam. Exchanging personal information is part of establishing an ongoing relationship.

Remember too our earlier blog concerning ‘face’ and silences at meetings. Leave your ego and any aggression at home when in discussion and don’t interpret every silence as a disagreement. Vietnamese business people like to observe and analyse in silence — don’t interrupt them.

It’s all gone well? You’ve shaken hands again and left the building noting nothing but smiles all round? And you’re sure a deal is on the table?

This is where an experienced debrief by a knowledgeable partner such as DEEP C Industrial Zones is essential. Face always plays a role; Vietnamese do not like to offend and will almost never say ‘no’ to you during a meeting. But there are many shades of ‘yes’.

Your patience is key. An analytical and consensus approach to any agreement is the Vietnamese way and that will take time. Be prepared to renegotiate. And be prepared for those further meetings to probe what may seem obscure points. The reality is that it’s all part of getting to know and trust one another on a social as well as business level.


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