A face-to-face meeting with your international customer is absolutely essential to cement a quality business relationship -- and the practical aspects of international business travel can make or break your trip. Here’s a story I love sharing. It took place several years ago in Tokyo, Japan.
The first time I had to travel from my hotel in Tokyo to a customer's office a few miles away, I got a little more of an adventure than I bargained for. A normal person would have just jumped in a cab, given the driver the address and been assured of getting there cool, collected and on time. But when I travel, I always keep two central objectives firmly in mind: (a) growing as a person and (b) saving money. Not necessarily in that order.
But while I was clutching the phone in my 4'x 4' room listening to my customer's directions for getting from my hotel to his office via Japan's intricate subway system, I didn't have the heart to say I couldn't follow his rapid-fire Japanenglish to save my life. Besides, he seemed to have such a flattering confidence in my ability to conduct myself like an old pro that I was unwilling to give him cause to change his opinion. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I might go a bit astray and have to flag down a cab after all. So I closed the conversation, saying brightly, "I understand -- no problem! I'll see you at 3 p.m.!"
Then I flew straight to the concierge's desk, showed her my customer's address, and asked her to tell me in English how to get there via the subway system. She carefully mapped it out and patiently reviewed it with me, and once I thought I understood, I asked her to write it all down again in Japanese. That way, if I got lost and had to ask someone for help, I could just show them the piece of paper.
Well, it worked. I arrived at my customer's subway stop just in time -- only to find that I was by no means done sweating the details. It was a hot and humid day. I hit the street level, already rather worn and rumpled from the trip, and instantly felt beads of sweat begin to crawl down my neck. Before long I could feel thick strands of my hair sticking to my damp face. Just exactly the sort of first impression every businessperson wants to make! I looked around for my customer, and lo and behold, there he was standing next to his sporty little motor scooter that had room, just barely, for another person. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a broad smile, gestured to his bike and asked, "Do you mind?" "Of course not!" I said, smiling just as broadly, and hopped on, skirt, pumps, and all. What else was there to do?
Welcome to the world of international business travel! If there's one thing you can expect, it's the unexpected. And the more prepared you are for the predictable demands, stresses and pitfalls of travel beyond your borders, the more grounded and confident you'll feel when the unexpected happens.
Scouting the Territory Before You Leave
An excellent way to start planning your overseas trip is to surf the Internet, preferably well in advance of your departure date. It is an incredibly useful and powerful tool for finding out everything from the weather to the local currency exchange rate in the country you are about to visit.
Two particularly handy sites you'll want to check out are: U.S. State Department, which offers practical tips and advisories both to protect American travelers from potential harm and to help make your trip more enjoyable and profitable, and British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to offset the conservatism of the American travel alert site and to get a balanced picture of what’s really happening in a country.