Despite the attractive potential Vietnam carries, people need to take into consideration the cultural differences between their own and the Vietnamese that can impact their ability to succeed to invest in Vietnam. We talk to Vanessa Doan, a business culture consultant at OML Consulting, about the reasons why people should consider investing in Vietnam and certain cultural and business etiquette that people should be equipped with when doing business in Vietnam.
Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?
Vanessa: My name is Vanessa Doan and I’m a business culture consultant at OML Consulting, covering the Vietnamese market. My job leans more towards the business development side. Part of my role includes outsourcing for contacts, helping Vietnamese companies in Vietnam to get funding from the Singapore government, mergers and acquisition, and helping to export PPE products from Vietnam to international markets. I am also teaching Vietnamese in corporate settings to help my clients with business opportunities and to better understand the culture.
Why do you think companies should invest in Vietnam instead of other countries in the region?
Vanessa: The Vietnamese economy is rapidly growing, especially right now due to the good management of the COVID-19 pandemic there. As the COVID-19 situation in Vietnam is well under control, it presents an opportunity for other countries to look into Vietnam. Vietnam also has a relatively low labour cost and provides attractive tax incentives, so these factors encourage foreigners to invest in Vietnam. Moreover, Vietnam has a young population that is also hardworking and intelligent, making it an attractive place to do business and invest in.
What is one mistake that people make when investing in Vietnam? How can they alleviate the consequences of that?
Vanessa: Coming from my perspective as a culture consultant, I find that people don’t understand the Vietnamese culture well. This is because the Vietnamese culture is different from the cultures of other countries; it’s more focused on relationship building.
You must know the culture well, and know a little bit of Vietnamese so that you will be included. There are a lot of cultural etiquette expectations, especially in business settings, that foreign investors need to pay close attention to when intending on doing business in Vietnam.
What are some resources that you would recommend to help people understand the culture a bit better?
Vanessa: There is a website called Vietnam Insider that shares news about Vietnam and gives people an insider view of the country. People can also look into a few law firms that specialise in investments. They usually have great resources for foreign investors. Moreover, some of these law companies will offer some basic Vietnamese language, culture, and social etiquette lessons to help investors be more prepared.
Could you share some common business etiquette that people should take note of when doing business in Vietnam?
Vanessa: The Northern Vietnamese lean more towards the white-collar culture, meaning that they are more formal. So when you go to a business meeting in the North of Vietnam, especially during the winter months, it will be better for you to wear a white shirt, together with a tie, and coat. For the Southern Vietnamese, it is more relaxed but still advisable for you to wear a long-sleeved shirt.
When you present your name card, you should hold it with both hands and give it to the most senior person in the meeting room first. When your Vietnamese counterpart gives you their business card, you should take the time to read through their business card first rather than tucking it into your pocket immediately. While having a business conversation, you should stay engaged by listening actively, nodding your head and smiling. Moreover, you should be humble as showing humility is very important when doing business in Vietnam.
Do you have any last words to share?
Vanessa: I would like to end off by saying that Vietnam’s economy has grown tremendously so it is time for you to invest in Vietnam before it gets too late. I have been observing that more and more people are interested in doing business in Vietnam. When I teach Vietnamese, I do see a strong interest in the language. This is the case for people seeking employment as well as Vietnam is striving to be another Silicon Valley in South East Asia. That is why many engineers are picking up Vietnamese so that they can stand a higher chance to work in Vietnam as an IT engineer.
Some people are also picking the language up to help run a business in Vietnam. For some entrepreneurs based in Singapore, they are able to take advantage of the government’s grant for business expansion. Therefore, many companies in Singapore are looking to expand their business in Vietnam, because of its close proximity to Singapore in terms of geographical location and culture.
Vanessa Doan is a partner at OML Consulting and cross culture business consultant, providing assistance to form connections among businesses in Singapore, Vietnam, and Europe. As a native Vietnamese, she assisted Kiên Giang and Phú Yên province with access to Singapore government bodies and other associations in Singapore related to seafood export and tourism development.