Business Culture in Kazakhstan

Business Culture in Kazakhstan

This guest blog is from Ben Godwin, the founder of innovative trading/exporting platform Export Tree, which provides access to customers and local representatives in the markets of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. You can read the original post and others at the Export Tree Blog. Ben originally started working in Kazakhstan in 2009 when he formed Capital Group, covering corporate training and consultancy services to private and public entities in sectors such as mining, oil and gas and finance. Ben Godwin is Wyn River's associate in Kazakhstan supporting our clients with local and regional contacts to facilitate trade and investment activity.

Every market has its own business culture. Here are ten tips to start you off in Kazakhstan based on our seven years experience in the field. 

1. Confirm meetings on the day: The Kazakhstan work day can be somewhat chaotic. So, no matter how much confirmation you receive ahead of time always confirm your meeting on the day. This will save embarrassment all round. 

2. Use a local representative: Your local representative can liaise with partners to organise meetings, give you good insight and advise on the questions you should be asking. Most importantly, however, they can follow up once you have returned home. Use the Export Tree database to find a local partner in your sector or use our consultancy services to plan your entry. 

3. Be formal: Kazakhstanis tend to wear expensive suits, have the latest iPhone and be keen on trading fancy business cards. Often meetings are run in large conference rooms by a senior figure surrounded by people that never say anything. Be prepared to meet this level of formality in order to win the respect of your partner. 

4. Don’t confuse friendliness with familiarity: In a cringeworthy scene one of our associates witnessed a British visitor try to take a selfie with a government official after a meeting. While Kazakhstanis tend to be very friendly it is important to remember that they value a respectful distance. 

5. All meetings are positive: Business meetings in Kazakhstan are often more like diplomatic affairs where ‘cooperation’ is discussed at length and memorandums - non-binding - are signed. While this all sounds positive don’t let it distract you from asking the questions you need answers to

6. Start with a meeting at their premises: While the international community is comfortable with the practice of business lunches and dinners in Kazakhstan this comes at a later stage in negotiations in Kazakhstan. Usually some trust has to be built first.

7. Plans change rapidly: When you are given information on plans for an upcoming project expect them to change - or not happen at all. This is very much the case with government bodies and state-owned enterprises. To establish how far down the road your partners have got we advise asking these key questions

8. Decision-making stays at the top: While heads of department or managing directors and may seem authoritative figures decision-making is often made right at the highest levels of the organisation. Don’t be afraid to ask who the decision makers are and about budgeting.

9. Don’t expect follow up: Kazakhstanis are famously bad at follow up. This is often due to an aversion to email and a lack of clarity about plans. It is almost impossible to to this at a distance. This is why Export Tree handles follow up locally or advises clients to appoint local representatives to do so. 

10. Email and telephone conversations are not binding: According to most Kazakhstani contracts only official correspondence is binding. This is usually official letter or fax. Email, telephone conversations and meetings that are not minuted do not count. So while you may receive promises verbally or by email do expect them to be considered binding. 

If you want further assistance planning your visit to Kazakhstan drop us a quick line here and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours. Or why not check out our Kazakhstan country profile or our tips on exporting to Kazakhstan?

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