Initiating Business In India

Initiating Business In India

India is a relationship-intensive culture. This is why it isn’t possible to launch your business from the sidelines; it will require your full concentration and attention. Even if you have already been successful in other Asian countries, you should bear in mind that, despite many similarities, India still has cultural peculiarities that must be correctly understood from the outset.

In-depth market studies are indispensable for sounding out business opportunities in India and finding suitable partners. However, nothing replaces a look behind the scenes. Therefore, a visit to India is highly recommended to get to know potential business partners better and get an impression of the situation on-site or to check all previously researched facts.

First Contact

Since Indian business people are very much focused on relationships, there is no alternative but to get to know each other personally.

If you have decided to initiate the first contact via chambers or an agency, all exploratory discussions should be conducted only by these institutions. However, once a suitable fit has been determined, your decision-makers definitely should go to India in person and start the talks.

As a general rule, the more personal means of communication are preferable to more anonymous ones such as emails or letters. A phone call gives a stronger personal impression because it conveys both the voice and the mood of business partners. However, it is good to confirm and summarize what was said in the phone call afterwards in writing.

Trade Fairs

Trade fairs offer an excellent opportunity to meet and do business with potential Indian partners. If you visit a trade fair, the fair trade stand of a company shows you how it presents itself among its competitors and which unique selling points they have developed.

Presenting your range of products or services at your trade fair booth is an excellent opportunity for publicity and image building. Your booth staff should be specially trained for the needs of Indian visitors. Indians have a great interest in details and often ask for technical specifications very precisely. You and your colleagues should respond to this need for information with a combination of expert knowledge, patience, charm and precise knowledge of your intellectual property rights.

Presenting Products And Services

Indians love flowery and colourful product presentations. They want to know all the details and be entertained at the same time, so it is advisable to give a detailed presentation.

You can also showcase everything that you can be proud of in your company’s history. Anecdotes are well received, especially if they underline your successes to date and show to what extent your products or services are innovative or have even made it to the top of the world market. The motto is not to do things in half measure but to do things in a big way.

Indians have little appreciation for understatement. On the contrary, anyone who has achieved something should show it.

Flyers, handouts and videos can be used to support what is said in the presentation.

Delegation Trips

An organized business trip makes it possible to get to know potential business partners on-site without any obligation but with insight that you can only get by meeting them in person. In addition, a business trip provides a safe backdrop to familiarize yourself with the players within an industry and to visit various locations.

If you are already in the process of finalizing a joint venture with an Indian company, it is advisable to invite a delegation to your location. In addition to intensifying the relationship level, your goal should be to present yourself and introduce the individual fields of competence and those responsible for them.

Business Lunches

Indians are interested in long-term business relationships and believe in doing business with friends. And you know friends well. You know a lot about them. The purpose of business lunches is to get to know people on a more personal level. Usual topics of conversation are family, leisure activities, sports and culture. It would be highly inappropriate to talk only about business.

Business Cards

Business cards are part of Indian business life. If you travel to India, you should have enough business cards with you to hand out. You will also take many business cards home with you.

In India, business cards are used to put someone in as accurate a context as possible. Therefore, your area of responsibility and all your (academic) titles should be included alongside your first and last names to provide all the required information about your status.

Business cards should be written in English. A translation into local languages is not necessary.

A business card is presented with the right hand, with the text pointing towards the other person so that they can read the card effortlessly. You should also receive a business card presented to you with your right hand and look at it carefully. This shows recognition, appreciation and respect. According to Indian business etiquette, carelessly putting your business card in your pocket would be a faux pas.

Relationship Management

Establishing and developing relationships with Indians is a high priority when working with Indians. Regular emails, phone calls, video conferences, Skype conversations and reciprocal visits are indispensable, as all these communications are a clear sign of interest. In addition, it is recommended that only partners on the same hierarchical level communicate with each other – not just about business, but also about private matters.

Reducing professional relationships to cool professionalism is foreign to Indians. Indians are interested in the individual as well as in their personal lives. People want to participate in your personal life and will let you into theirs as well.

Greeting cards for weddings, children’s school or university degrees and, of course, religious holidays are a must. Indians also look forward to Christmas greetings and good wishes for the New Year and hope for a card for their birthday and Diwali, the festival of lights in honour of the goddess Lakshmi.


Small gifts help nurture friendship in India. A souvenir from your country is always appreciated, e.g. elegant writing instruments, home accessories, tableware or clocks with company logo, illustrated books about your home country, chocolates, toys for the children and grandchildren, brand-label sportswear, or classical music CDs. Only give spirits as a gift if you are sure that your business partners drink alcohol. In that case, they will be happy to receive a bottle of whisky or wine.

If you are invited home for dinner with the family, you should consider it a special privilege. But, of course, you should not show up empty-handed. In many countries, an appropriate hostess gift would be a bouquet. In India, however, you can give prettily packaged sweets that you can get your hotel to arrange for you.

Simone Rappel

Extract from Business Culture India, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag

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