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“When is a Yes a Yes” while doing business in India

A tribute to an intercultural classic

Whenever I meet new business partners in an India-related context across the globe, I cannot resist asking the question: Please tell me what, from your perspective, seem to be the most frequent challenges while doing business in India? – and a part of me already knows that one of the most enduring topics on the top of the charts list is going to be mentioned: The issue of not knowing when a Yes, in an Indian behavioural cultural context, is a Yes.

What I am going to describe happens to me, as an Indian, as well.

I often find myself, even while I am receiving good news, such as for example “Confirmed”, “Yes, it will be done ASAP/by tomorrow/next week”, “Consider it Done”, or, even more confidently, “Yes!! No problem!!!” initializing a process of trying to work out, among others, the following points:

  • Is this a Yes about the relationship (me), or is it a Yes about the subject (it)?
  • Is the Yes a Yes that will also work tomorrow? Have I provided all the necessary information? Have I made myself properly understood?
  • Is it possible only under special circumstances (for example, a colleague has brought both dinner and a sleeping bag to the workplace), or doable in general? Is what I asking for an exception, or an exemption, without my having realized it?
  • Would it now be a good idea to respond with: ”wow, thanks, that is good news, and what can I do to support you?”
  • Is the one and only person responsible for the “Yes” communicating with me, or is a feedback loop with colleagues and/or superiors required, so that the “Yes” does not only signify an individual´s expression of goodwill? Am I communicating with the person accountable for the end result?
  • Is the Yes an agreement, or is the Yes a commitment?
  • Is it a Yes to the problem that needs to be fixed, or is it a Big Picture Yes about the process?
  • Did I fail to notice that I was actually being told a “Yes, and….”?
    Could the missing “and …” part have provided me with the additional information that the outcome would be a “No”?

When I look at my long distance communication with other Indian counterparts, have I said “Yes” often enough, in a world where a continuous necessity to adapt often seems to be the only constant? Just recently, a conference hotel where I had booked a large group for a team event and made the prerequisite down payment informed me that my booking had been cancelled six weeks prior to the event, because I had neglected to “confirm the reconfirmation”. It would have been really essential to emphasize at periodic intervals, that the Yes is a Yes is a Yes is a… – I guess you got the picture.

sayyesI am told that I often behave in a predictably Indian way whenever I am confronted with a deadline and someone writes that “it would be really nice if you could provide this by…”. I automatically wait for a few days after the deadline before I respond with “I am happy to report that I am in the process of completing the article”. That´s a “Yes” as well, only a bit more on the elastic side. But then, I am also reacting to a request that I could too easily interpret as negotiable.

This only really works if I speculate successfully that the other side, knowing that I am an Indian, has calculated an invisible additional buffer. In the short term, I have gained additional time. In the long term, I have just helped cement a cultural stereotype, which is not really helpful.

Have I covered all the aspects? Probably not. A “Yes” is, and, as it seems, continues to be in many cases, a point of departure rather than a point of arrival.

When I ask around for good practice recommendations, one of the responses is “Prepare for a Plan B if turns out that it wasn´t a Yes after all”, which does not contribute to an atmosphere of eye-level cooperation, predictability and trust.

Some experts would encourage you to “Learn to Love Ambiguity”, or “Minimize your expectations at the beginning of working together, so that you gain room for pleasant surprises”. It´s not a great long term setting, if your time is mostly occupied with interim damage control. Others may encourage you to spend a lot of time ensuring micro-feedback loops, so that you can celebrate micro-targets. For example, you get the “Yes” confirmed as “Yes, it´s still a Yes” by sending the Indian colleague a friendly reminder every 41 minutes or so : In this scenario , I would feel sorry for both you and the Indian colleague, as both of you might eventually be too exhausted to even appreciate a positive outcome.

I personally benefit from understanding that “Yes” can be the beginning, and is not necessarily the end of a process when we start working together. I try my best to make my counterparts aware of their co-ownership towards achieving a joint result, ensuring that my motivations and requirements are well understood in advance. I invite their participation not only for the end result, but also for the steps leading there, such as creating a realistic time line where things are possible not only as exceptions, but as a rule. In this way, we ideally move together from a simple agreement to the task, towards the far more co-responsible commitment to the process. I invest in time getting to know my counterparts and understanding the environment they work out of, in turn letting them understand where my thoughts and requirements are coming from.

It seems that we often have the tendency in India to start with a huge bandwidth of options, such as the ones described earlier, and then progressively shrink it, while our understanding of the person and the process grows.

If this happens to you, you could gain a practiced eye enabling you to recognize what goes into a “Yes” process – making it easier to repeat success stories and cut off non-efficient processes, with greater confidence and rapidity. You establish a functioning communication culture together with your Indian partners, with a good understanding not only of what you said, but also of what you actually meant, and vice versa. You build a good working relationship, the outcome of which will be the “Yes.” As an Indian friend once summed up:

“When my trust grows, my sentences grow shorter”.

After having spent some time together exploring the “Yes”, some of you may ask “and what about the ‘No’”?
Now, that´s another interesting story…

 

sujata_banerjeeAbout our guest author: Sujata Banerjee has been working in the field of cross-cultural management since 1992. She was born in South Germany, has consistently maintained home bases in Germany and India, and benefited from work experience in both countries. Her main areas are: Intercultural workshops, expatriate and reintegration cycle coachings as well as corporate strategy in internationalization processes.

 

We are looking forward to dive deeper into this discussion with the “Serviceplan International Roadshow: INDIA INSIGHTS” on Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 at the House of Communication Munich. Are you interested in participating in the event? Please contact the dedicated event team via email. The number of participants is limited.

Download invitation.

 

Digital India

Digital is where consumers are watching brands.

Digital India is the big buzzword on everybody’s lips these days but the scale at which digital penetration is about to explode will ring a bell in your mind.

The key to success for any business in India, is to have a strong digital presence these days. Relevant content on mobile which entertains, informs and engages the consumer is definitely a winner for the 4-screen Indian viewer. Indian internet users who are living in metro cities spend about 24 hours on the internet every week. [Daily the Germans spend at least 2:08 hours online. Users who also go online with mobile devices spend 2:43 hours a day (Source: http://www.ard-zdf-onlinestudie.de/). That’s half an hour less than the Indian users.] Women internet users are rising but the average time spend by women is less than men. However, there is a huge demand on content online. Indians are spending 9.9 hours per week watching traditional broadcast TV, parallelly they also browse smartphones, stream video and watch TV on their laptops or smartphones.

Video Content Consumption

Indians are mostly engaging for downloading video. 82% India’s video streaming audience access video content every week. India’s massive smartphone user base an average video streaming time of 7.4 hours per week. This creates a great opportunity for content creators and distributors so there is an enormous potential for content distribution on digital devices.
[Europe is way behind: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/nielsenglobal/eu/docs/pdf/Nielsen-global-video-on-demand.pdf]

What are Indians watching?

1Movies94%
2Entertainment82%
3Music Shows / Music Videos77%
4News/current affairs from local TV networks77%
5News/ current affairs from overseas TV networks70%
6Local drama series69%
7Lifestyle68%
8Local sport, available on local TV66%
9Overseas drama series65%
10Documentaries60%
11Overseas sport not easily accessible on TV59%
12Children’s programs32%

Source: Nielsen (2015 VOD)

Research Online – Purchase Offline

Consumers in India are researching for online information on any product they have to purchase. They are reading recommendations, people’s experiences, seeking digital opinions before they make a final purchase on goods/services. Recommendation from social networks or friends is something, which is highly in trend these days; a lot of brands are looking for testimonial based ads with real consumers.

The Smartphone Consumers

The number of smartphone users growing everyday, at a very fast rate. There are 170 million internet enabled smartphones currently in India with about 3 million added month on month for the next one year. There is also a boom in “app” business to woo consumers.

Ecommerce

Globally Indian ecommerce market is to grow fastest. Today ecommerce is an indispensable part of every Indian’s life today, with homegrown brands like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Myntra, urbanclap wooing the consumers with different tactics every few weeks while Amazon still going strong to provide the bigger platform amongst all. Today ecommerce is offering all kinds of goods and services at the door step of the consumer. Convenience is the key here across all categories of groceries, beauty salon, taxi, solutions, FMCG etc.
The ecommerce sector has seen unprecedented growth since 2014, almost by 34% compound Annual Growth (CAGR) from US $ 3.8 billion in 2009 to US $ 16.4 billion with a projected growth to hit US $ 100 billion by 2019.
Increase in the online shoppers in India from 20 million in 2013 is to 40 million in 2016.

Factors that foster growth in the current Indian landscape are:

  1. Increasing disposable income across households
  2. Expanding Urban scenario
  3. Small families
  4. Evolving preferences
  5. Ecommerce

 

We are looking forward to dive deeper into this discussion with the “Serviceplan International Roadshow: INDIA INSIGHTS” on Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 at the House of Communication Munich. Are you interested in participating in the event? Please contact the dedicated event team via email. The number of participants is limited.

Download invitation.

 

Simple tips for running your start-up!

A hot cup of coffee brewing in the early morning is the best aroma to wake you up, from a gruelling yesterday! But if you are working for a start-up company, your morning never arrives because your day did not end. It was just the clock ticking that glided you into yet another day! Yes, running a start-up is not just challenging but extremely taxing. Since there is a plethora of newbies everywhere, the market is buzzing with start-up success stories.

So far, it is my third attempt to run a new company from scratch successfully. Honestly, this journey did have days of highs and lows. However, here are few tips for anyone thinking about doing a start up in the near future:

i /

Plan your day a week in advance. You don’t need to be the MD of the company, but you must always put yourself in his/her shoes to be a part of this journey.

ii /

Select your team members carefully. People who are equally enthusiastic and willing to take risks at the drop of a hat just like you. Never hurry a decision, as these will be people, who will lay a strong foundation for your company.

iii / 

Budget every small expenditure and think twice before increasing it. Try to keep your costs low to ensure profitability.

iv / 

Never over promise in your forecast sheet with a lengthy list of clients.

v /  

Each day means putting in extra effort in your company to be successful.

vi /  

Contact even the deadest leads, you never know what can bring change in your fortune.

vii /  

Do not waste your time with clients who are dilly dallying your proposal over a month! It means you just tried your best and they definitely do not want to do business with you.

viii /  

Maintain a checklist for yourself every day.

ix /  

Celebrate every victory, however big or small it might be.

x /  

Take your team for a lunch or dinner whenever it is most suiting.

xi /  

Never be disappointed if you have not tried enough, as success is definitely not in your hands.

xii /

Encourage every member of your team to do the best, congratulate them on every occasion they deliver.

xiii /

Be social, meet more and more people and attend events that increases your avenues for better networking.

xiv /  

Deliver quality work and live up to your commitment.

/

In the end, success or failure is just another ladder. If you succeed you have done your numbers right and you can achieve even higher. But, if you have failed you have learnt a lot from just one experience and that is a knowledge which is a treasure for your future growth.

On the road #4: Delhi

Staring at the pulsating city of Bangkok, from the rooftop of a skyscraper, we said to each other – “Wouldn’t it be totally crazy and awesome to work in Asia?” The year was 2008. We had just moved into our new apartment in Berlin. And then, just three months after we had said those now seemingly prophetic words, we got an offer to go to China. Getting a chance to live and work there was like a dream come true. The opportunity was as fascinating as it was challenging, but it didn’t take long before we said – yes we can! So we left behind the safe haven of our homeland to work in a country whose language we didn’t know at all, and whose culture was something completely new, alien! Six Chinese words – ‘Hello!’, ‘Left / Right’, ‘Straight!’, ‘Stop!’ and ‘Bye-bye!’ were our guide in the 20-million strong megacity.
Being advertising professionals, China was a goldmine of opportunities. We not only shared our international expertise but also exchanged knowledge with the local team to translate challenges faced by international brands into new and effective ways of communication. Leading a team of 30 professionals – 1/3 International and 2/3 Chinese – evolved into a dynamic synergy of East and West. Time just slipped by, our team was very successful and we even represented the agency in Korea and travelled all over Asia – Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Philippines and so on. And after two and a half amazing years in China we took up our biggest challenge so far – India!

We had heard so much about this incredible country – from our friends, colleagues, and yes of course seen glimpses of it in Discovery and Nat Geo. We also had our own perceptions about what India and Indians must be like. But after the China experience, we knew stereotypes are like fragile glass – they break instantly when you experiencing reality. This time, it wasn’t just the culture and people that were going to be new. Even the situation and circumstances were different – to set up a full-service agency from scratch. And again for international clients like BMW, MINI and Lufthansa.

So, we were off to experience India, FIRST HAND!
Were we scared? YES!
Were we excited? HELL YES!
With adrenaline pumping in our creative veins we said… NEW DELHI, HERE WE COME!

So started our journey in the ‘millennium’ city of Gurgaon, one of the fastest growing cities around New Delhi. Here, we built the Indian arm of Liquid Campaign from the ground upwards, operating out of our esteemed client BMW’s office in the beginning, as we waited for our own office to come up at the German Centre. In between, we also had to move to a makeshift office where there was no power backup, no windows and basically no furniture!

Every challenge that came our way we turned it into an opportunity. So, even literally setting up a whole new office became a learning experience, as we scouted the local market for office equipment – from laptops to furniture, and got a firsthand feel of the city of Gurgaon. In fact, our new office bears our personal touch and many visitors, from the president of BMW India to the German Ambassador have commended it for its striking minimalist/industrial decor.

Soon we added more members to team Liquid and we were off to a flying start. We launched the BMW 6 Series Convertible, the BMW X3 and later the iconic MINI in the Indian market. And then came the Indian launch of the BMW 3 Series – the world’s most widely sold premium car. This was a challenge and responsibility on a much larger scale that would define our future as an advertising agency in India. We worked tirelessly with our team to develop a core communication idea for the all-new BMW 3 Series. Thus was born THE ULTIMAT3 launch campaign for the BMW 3 Series – made in India for India. A 360° campaign that encompassed all channels and successfully created the right buzz across all platforms. The best reward for us was the phenomenal feedback we got from the campaign.

So, this is our story so far. Not a day goes by when we don’t encounter something new in India – new places, new food, new people, and new challenges. Its sheer size and diversity make it seem so chaotic to an outsider. And the Indian consumer continues to baffle even the most seasoned marketing and advertising professional. We are glad to be a part of this journey, which continues to shape us professionally and personally. We are glad we had the courage to say “Yes!”

The best part is, this is just the beginning…