” We think that without cooperation with the Russians, we cannot achieve our goals. ” Viktor Orban
Last Thursday, went to have a drink with a couple of friends. Over the course of the evening I met Andy, a British expat in Dubai running a the oil desk of a large trading house. Strangely enough, the conversation went around people who he deals with on a daily basis. It turned out that many of them, including his wife were Russian. Couple of my colleagues, mentioned that there are quite a few of them in the financial services industry as well. I could not disagree, as I had noticed the same, especially in the fintech space, even Bloomberg’s Global Head of Engineering is one of them. As the conversation went on and on, we concluded that there some specific ways of doing business with them that are transferable to various industries and can help strike deal when dealing with Russians. Some people said they are easy and fun to deal with, others described them as very difficult. Like in the enterprise sales guide for the UK, whichever, might be true out of our experiences we came up with the following list facilitating intercultural dialogue:
1.Bargain. Sometimes it works.
In Russia people are used to bargaining, said my friend Ludovic, who has been working in Moscow years. The bad news is that they seem to be quite good at it. That’s why you might even not realize when they are bluffing and a final offer is actually made. Sometimes, they would even turn around and leave, if you do not accept their offer. Indeed, bargaining is always worth a try. Sometimes people might laugh at you, sometimes it can work. You don’t try, you don’t get they say.
2. Don’t waste time on small talk.
Common for Northern nations, Russians seem to be both direct and on a hurry. As soon as a deal is done they seem to be gone. At least this is the impression most of us had. Some Russians do the small talk as a matter of courtesy, however few seem to be seeing the point of it. ” We like to get to the point straight away . ” my wife often says ( goes without saying also a Russian). So perhaps, it is better not to chat too much. Go straight to the point, do not be afraid to ask what they need and how much they can afford to pay.
Make sure that what you have discussed is documented and goes into paper format. There is a Russian proverb that says ” Talk is cheap.” Most of them are skeptics and have lived trough the wild 90’s , so they consider verbal commitments non real obligations. As they are afraid not to be cheated, the often take extra care before signing documents, so be patient and understand that they are re-reading contracts a couple of times, not because they do not trust you but because of themselves. Let them double check, triple check and smile in the meantime.
4. If they disappear, do not chase them.
Many of us think that Russians are blunt and speak their mind. Factually, it is the case in many situations. However, sometimes they feel it is impolite to say ” NO ” , so they prefer to get an easy way out and just disappear. Remember, you might have agreed on something verbally, and they can have changed their mind. To you it can seem that is impolite to disappear, for them however, they believe is better to disappear, than to say no in someone’s face.
5. Luxury and status are just an image
” Dress to impress” is often very valid when dealing with Russians. Lavish office, and expensive watch and a last model BMW all contribute to something very important for them – status. Sometimes, it happens that behind the image of success there is no real substance. Thus said, make sure to carefully check the counterparts you do business with. Nothing personal, just to be sure that the impressions they give you correspond to their actual financial and business reality.
6. Your first meeting is your first step
Perhaps you had a couple of calls and you exchanged a few emails with someone who is really interested in your product or service. You got a face to face meeting. You got your visa done. Plane ticket is booked. Great. The journey has just started. Like most Asians, Russians take some time to get started. In face to face meetings they see an opportunity to discuss things and make changes to initial agreements. Things can change and there can be disagreements. On a positive side, once you have had a couple of meetings things can move ahead pretty quickly.
7. Do not make Russians admit their mistakes
Russians like to be right, like most of us. However, for some strange reason it is difficult for them to admit they have done a mistake. Think of the heritage of the Soviet system and what happened to people who did mistakes. In delicate situations it is best not to tell directly that something has gone not as planned. It is perhaps better to tell your Russian counterparts that their ideas and actions are good and that as well other ones perhaps, have worked somewhere else and therefore it can be to their benefit if they tried to use them.
8. Treat a Russian to a …
It sounds like a cliche, but treating a Russian to a good meal, drink, etc can go a long way to help you advance your conversation. People often become less formal outside an office, so such an occasion can be a good opportunity for you to discover that generally, contrary to what the image is Russian people are friendly, warm and hospitable. You might also create a personal bond that helps.
9. Learn a couple of sentences in Russian
Like anywhere in the world having a basic understanding of their language is a good beginning and can open you more doors than what you would expect. Russians appreciate when people make an effort to understand them. Make a little effort for a big potential return.