Doing business in Vietnam offers a lot of opportunities. However, for foreign companies not used to the Vietnamese way of doing business even arranging business meetings or getting feasible results from them can be a struggle. For that reason, we put together tips on how to conduct business in Vietnam successfully.
Table of contents
Arranging business meetings in Vietnam
Be prepared to attend many since successful business in Vietnam is rarely done only in a few encounters and conversations held in person are preferred over online communication.
#1 Finding the contacts
It is best to initiate contact through a third party reference. Vietnam is a country where relationships and connections are highly respected. Thus, being recommended by a mutual or a well-known contact adds credibility and makes them more willing to discuss business with you.
If you don’t have such connections, Emerhub can be your business partner in Vietnam or assist you with approaching your future Vietnamese business associates.
#2 Setting time for the meeting
Make appointments well in advance and avoid booking anything near Tết, the Vietnamese New Year celebrations. Also, meetings scheduled for early mornings often get canceled.
Don’t confirm the meeting too early and always reconfirm a day before the meeting as well. This is especially the case if the meeting is held outside the premises of the partner.
#3 Agree on the place to meet
In the beginning of the business relationship always aim to meet at your potential partner’s office. This serves various purposes:
- Less time commitment for your partner since they don’t need to travel. Meetings held outside of the office often get canceled in the last minute or the local counterpart just forgets about them.
- It gives you a chance to learn more about the company you are meeting.
- You will most likely meet more people, increasing your chances to meet the actual decision maker.
The sitting positions in the chosen venue are given according to the attendees’ rank, importance, and seniority.
#4 Prepare information about your company and product
Submit the meeting agenda to your Vietnamese counterparts prior to the meeting so they can acquaint themselves with the topics that will be under discussion. Also, make sure to have your documents ready in Vietnamese.
It is also highly recommended to have a Vietnamese person with you in the meetings. This is mainly because of the potential language barrier but it also shows to your partner that you are serious about doing business.
Emerhub provides the service of arranging and accompanying foreign companies during their business meetings. We do not just translate the meetings but also help you to debrief the cultural context of what was discussed.
#5 Get a list of participants and vice versa
It is wise to ask for a list of participants and their positions in the company. This way you will already have an overview of the attendees and how to address them properly.
Send a letter with your own list of attending members and their positions as well so that your Vietnamese partner can already get a brief overview of your company and its employees.
#6 Catering selection
When someone offers you tea at the reception, you should not reject it as it is a sign of hospitality from the Vietnamese. In the north, a strong hot tea is always at hand, while in the southern part of Vietnam, business meetings sometimes take place while enjoying a can of soda or an ice tea.
When food is under discussion, it is always helpful if you can name some local dishes that you have tried and enjoyed.
Food is a good topic to bring to the table besides business and gives you the opportunity to show interest towards partner’s culture.
Conducting meetings in Vietnam
A direct and confrontational attitude should not be brought along when heading to an appointment with your Vietnamese counterparts. Keep in mind that establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your local partners is crucial if you want to do business in Vietnam successfully.
The main purpose of the first meeting is to get to know each other. Don’t expect first meeting to result in anything more than that. In addition to the formal contact, the social connection is an important part of communication in the business sphere as well.
Business relationships in the West tend to remain on ‘strictly business’ level. The Vietnamese, however, make the most of their business decisions based on how they see you as a person outside of the business.
Shaking hands when meeting and departing
Shake hands with all participants, starting from the most senior person first. Some people use both hands, follow their lead in that case. When shaking hands with women, always allow the woman to offer her hand first. If she does not do that, bow your head respectfully.
Exchanging business cards
A polite gesture is to provide your business card both in English and in Vietnamese. Include your picture as well so it would be easier for your counterparts to bring together names and faces.
Give your card to the oldest person first and present it with the Vietnamese side up. Use both hands when you give or receive business cards and examine a received card briefly before putting it away.
Introducing your company
After the introductory small talk and a welcoming speech, be prepared to give a presentation to introduce your company. It is significant as the Vietnamese want to know something about you before they even start to think of doing business with you. If you have a slideshow consider making the slides bilingual – this way your local partner is more likely to follow what you are presenting.
Seniority and hierarchy
Note that seniority and hierarchy are very important in Vietnam. You should let the oldest person or a person with the highest rank enter the room first, give them your business card first, etc.
Think your dress code through depending on the area you are entering. For example, Hanoi is more known for the white-collar look and feel, while Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) more for the business casual. This generally reflects in the business attire in both cities as well.
Overall, the key to leaving a good impression in Vietnam is dressing modestly. Avoid too bright colors and excessively high heels. However, higher heels are more likely to be seen at a formal reception hosted by a foreign diplomat.
Read more about the business location differences between Hanoi and HCMC from our recent blog article.
Don’t be intimidated by silence
Ambiguous silence, which can result from several things, is common during meetings in Vietnam. For example, when someone disagrees, they stay silent as not to cause a loss of face.
However, silence may also mean that your associates are observing the situation and collecting details about you and evaluating your motives and attitude towards them. Interrupting the silence is often considered rude.
Addressing a person correctly
Names in Vietnam start with the family name, followed by the middle and the first name. For example, in the name Nguyễn Văn An, Nguyễn is the family name, Văn the middle name, and An the first name.
During a business meeting, you should address a person by using their title (if available) followed by their surname. For example, Director Nguyễn. If you don’t know the title, use Mr./Mrs. followed by their first name, e.g Mr. An.
Getting from business meetings to a deal
‘Yes, yes’ does not mean that you have a deal
It means that they are listening to you, not agreeing to your offer. You should always confirm by asking separately whether they agree or not.
It is common for foreign businesses to arrive in Vietnam, hold a handful of meetings, and leave the country feeling that big business is underway. And then nothing happens.
This is because Vietnamese companies are rarely going to say “no” to you during the meetings.
Do not let the pleasant face of your partner trick you. Even if you feel that the meeting went well and you found a committed partner, do not rest on laurels and lose focus.
The Vietnamese like to promise answers by tomorrow. In reality, it usually takes a few tomorrows to receive the promised quotation, product, etc. They think long-term and like to analyze every aspect of the deal collectively and reach a consensus.
Therefore, budget time for the answers you need. Patience is the key, however, sometimes it is important to remind them that you are waiting.
As already mentioned previously in the article, face-to-face communication is the preferred way of contact. You can also send an email, but make sure they received it by calling them to confirm.
People in Vietnam don’t usually give information freely. Unless you get a solid ‘yes’ from them, look for signs of refusal. This may be evident in their behavior and body language.
Be also prepared to renegotiate, as they might not have reached a consensus or some other details may have emerged.
5 tips for conducting successful business in Vietnam
Despite taking their time when making decisions, the Vietnamese value punctuality. Being punctual also shows that you respect the host and take business seriously.
- Don’t sign anything without letting a reliable third party review the documents
Better safe than sorry. Language barriers and misunderstandings can occur and it is wise to include a reliable advisor to examine the documents. Contact Emerhub at [email protected]. We will analyze the documents and make sure that all your conditions are met.
- Never embarrass or scold a Vietnamese
The concept of ‘face’ is highly important in Vietnam. Don’t do anything that would personally humiliate any of your partners. This could lead to a loss of face and an unsuccessful deal.
- Develop good relationships
The Vietnamese want to know you as a person to see if you are a suitable business partner for them or not. Thus, feel free to share details about your personal life for better opportunities in doing business in Vietnam.
- Respect the Vietnamese culture and way of doing business
Don’t assume that doing business in Vietnam is similar to doing business in the West. Adapt to their customs and show a respectful attitude in order to thrive in the Vietnamese business landscape.
For further questions about organizing meetings or doing business in Vietnam fill in the form below. Our consultants are happy to help.
See also our articles about reasons to invest in Vietnam and common mistakes to avoid when setting up a company in Vietnam.