How to build trust in international business relationships

Posted on 24 Jul 2017 by Niels Maas

Building international business is all about building trusted relationships. With customers, employees, service providers and authorities. This is an introduction to the topic, focussing on building trusted relationships with service providers.

Niels Maas identifies the key elements of building trust in international business relationships.

1 Build rapport

Because of cultural differences you will need to spend more time on building rapport. Read up on your new market, it’s customs and it’s history. Read local newspapers. Visit customers and competitors. Look into the personal career history of your potential business partners. Eat and drink together. Spend time in your new market. Make sure to create fertile ground on which to build trust.

2 Build transparency

First of all, be honest and open about who you are and what you are looking for in the business relationship you would like to build. Make sure it is easy for other companies to understand what your company is about. Have a clear website in multiple languages. Show your organisation. Who owns your company? Show major clients, key projects and major business partners.

 The same applies to yourself: have an extensive Linkedin profile. Start the relationship with an introduction by a trusted mutual partner or the local consulate of your country. Be transparent and only select business partners that are transparent as well. Prefer service providers with a clear service offering and with terms and conditions available on your request.

3 Be loyal

Loyalty is an important trust driver. Do employees stay long time at the company? Is there is a steady investor base? Are there many long-term clients? Are there board members that are on the board for multiple years? Does a company have a growing customer base? These are all good indicators for trust. Show them to others and look for these tell-tales when selecting partners.

4 Always improve

Show that you are an organisation with a steady pipeline of product improvements and enhancements. Show that you are entering new markets and that you have gained new quality certificates. Show that your employee base is growing and that you have recently won consumer or employer awards. Partners are looking for these sign as they are a key health indicator of your company.

5 Understand the others’ needs

A business relationship, like any relationship, is only successful if both partners understand and look after the interests of the other. You have to spend time listening to really understand the other and vice versa be understood. Better understanding equals better chances of developing a long-term business relationship. This includes understanding how the other is earning a margin and allowing for that. Think twin-win. And keep investing in mutual understanding.

6 Manage expectations

You will probably not trust a company that expects to be market leader in a month. Be realistic in your ambition, both in volumes and in timelines. A lot goes wrong in starting business relationships because companies are overselling themselves. Don’t do it. Make sure you are open and realistic about your business planning.

7 Keep your promises

One of the key drivers in building trust is doing what you promise. Both in small (I will call you at 10 am) and in big things (delivering that new oil rig in time). Deliver what you promise. A nd create a culture in which both partners deliver what they promise! Make sure you really manage this well.

8 Correct mistakes

Gracefully admit to any failing on your part and explain your transgression in a way others can understand. When you need to break a promise (because you unwittingly over-committed, or because of circumstances beyond your control) quickly inform the other person with the bad news.  Apologize for not being able to fulfil the promise and then make a new promise in order to make it up.

9 Be accountable

If you are accountable for mistakes, pay up for them. Report frequently on your performance. What was good, what needs improvement. Be specific on when this will happen. Both parties should do this and invest in taking accountability. In any business relationship both parties have accountabilities.

About the author

Niels Maas is founder and CEO of Forglobal. Niels worked in international retail in Europe and Asia and studied Industrial Engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology. He is a strong advocate for open economies and global citizenship. Niels lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, close to the beautiful Amsterdam Zoo.