Vietnam is a burgeoning market for US business people. The country is friendly to new development from US companies, and the location is ideal for a number of industries, including textiles, tech, and raw materials.
Vietnamese business culture is similar to America’s in many ways. While there are some protocols that should be followed, you are unlikely to commit any major faux pas that would ruin your business dealings if you simply use good manners and act conscientiously. That said, there are a few particular customs that you should keep in mind.
First, when planning business travel to Vietnam, be sure to be receptive to any invitations to lunch or dinner outside of your business meetings. Dinners are often planned by the business team that will be hosting you to help establish a personal relationship. Most business in Vietnam still relies on personal relationships and referrals, so becoming friendly with your contacts in Vietnam is an expected part of any business trip.
At dinners, you’ll be expected to leave business talk aside and talk instead about your personal life and interests. These dinners are usually scheduled at the front end of trips so that you can reciprocate. Invite the team that hosts you out to a dinner at a nice restaurant or hotel to show them that you want to strength the relationship and continue getting to know them.
Before you arrive, while planning your flights and applying for your Vietnam business visas, you should also plan appropriate gifts for your hosts. It would be rude to arrive empty-handed. There’s no need to go overboard, but there is a bit of structure to gift-giving in Vietnamese businesses. The top person that you’re meeting with should be given the nicest gift. Along those same lines, when you meet a group of business people, shake hands with the most powerful person first and work your way through the group according to status. Everyone should be treated respectfully and with friendliness, but order is important to show the proper respect. When you take seats at a meeting table, ask where you should sit – don’t accidentally take a position of importance that belongs to one of your hosts. And when you offer your business card, do it with both hands, and offer it in the same order of status.
The general principals in Vietnam are the same as US business culture – respect authority, be polite, and be generous. The main difference is that you should also try to forge personal connections wherever possible. You can use the internet and cold calls to advertise your business in Vietnam, but you’re likely to get much further through recommendations. If you’re establishing a new branch of your business in Vietnam, talk to local chambers of commerce and community business leaders to get your foot in the door and start building your network.