Doing business in Russia can be a whole new experience even for a professional exporter who has done dozens of foreign deals before. Russia is where West meets East and it's a place which was cut off from the rest of the trading world for decades, from the non-socialist part of it anyway.
So what do you expect when you have your first business meeting with a Russian partner?
Well, the first meeting is the first test of your professionalism, credibility and expertise. Make sure you have the other side of your business card translated into Russian, so your title shows the position you hold within your company. Come to the scheduled meeting on time. Although punctuality may not be a strong point of your Russian partner, you simply cannot offend them by turning up late.
Good speaking skills and a well-prepared presentation are important. Although some Russian business people speak English, it's always best not to take chances and hire a professional Russian interpreter as well as get any documents you are going to discuss translated into Russian. Apart from helping you both with any communication problems, it also shows flexibility and willingness on your part to go that extra mile.
Negotiations can be tough. Russians don't give concessions easily and expect the other part to make allowances first. You do not need to give in immediately as, like everywhere else, it's a two-way process and you just have to go with the flow a bit. Russians rely on their intuition a lot. Sometimes they go with their fifth sense rather than be influenced by a fancy presentation. But there is no such thing as instant decisions, of course. Building up a working relationship can be a long process.
Any meeting may well end up with an invitation for a drink or a meal. Turning it down would be very rude. If you for some reason can't drink at all, it would be good to give a credible reason, health problems, for instance. Invitations to dachas (summer houses) or banyas (bath houses) normally happen at an advanced stage of a business relationship and are a sign of trust and good friendship.
On a more general note, Russia is all about the people you know and who knows you. It's vital to have good contacts as they can take you so far and remove a lot of barriers on the way. It's beneficial to have contacts up the chain as they can put you in touch with a decision-maker you need to talk to, avoiding unnecessary talks to lots of people who are not authorised to make those decisions you are after.
Respect Russia and all Russian and it will pay back.
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