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B2B in South Korea: 8 Tips To Build Trustful Relationships with Koreans

Doing business in South Korea can be challenging for Westerners; a lot of aspects and differences in cultures have to be taken into consideration. This research seeks to explore the best practices in South Korean business relations that would help to be on the same page with Koreans.

Art by Aadil Sharif.

Keep the partner posted to show your respect 
  • Constantly keep in touch, share updates, and take an interest in the activities of partners.
  • Make sure to send follow-ups.
Avoid sensitive topics
  • It is forbidden to be aggressive.
  • Avoid name-dropping when talking about competitors. 
  • Do not discuss finances and future plans outside of official negotiations. Partners may feel uncomfortable if you do this because sensitive information can be considered gossip.
Be polite in terms of communication
  • Communicate as politely as possible; use professional Korean instead of spoken.
  • Koreans don't like to say no, so rejection can be masked. Pay attention and read between the lines.
Answer quickly, but don’t be pushy
  • Replying as soon as possible is a feature of good service.
  • Many Koreans check their email about every 10 minutes.
  • Koreans don’t like pressure in communication. It may be okay to send a warm reminder once, but too many emails or catch-up call requests would not be good.

Heita Miyoshi, Co-Founder and CXO | H2 Interactive, Inc.

Koreans have a follow-up mindset. It is very important for the client to receive follow-up communication, even though this client might not spend a lot of money on our service. Good follow-up communication signals that the person is respected enough.

Show specifics and speak numbers
  • During the negotiation process, it’s important to provide some tried-and-true cases of successful partnerships with other companies. 
  • Any previous cases have to be presented in facts and figures.
Prove your expertise and impress partners, but embrace the Korean market’s uniqueness
  • Koreans need to make sure that their partners know the market inside and out — that they’re capable of solving any potential problem. Try to impress Korean partners with your excellent knowledge of the Korean market.
  • Koreans cherish their country’s identity and their market’s distinctiveness. They don’t appreciate when foreigners act as if some solution that worked in other regions would work in Korea.

Eric Lee, Business Development Lead, APAC | Xsolla

Knowing the local culture definitely helps, but in a global setting like today, basics help more than shortcuts. In many cases, American companies and their employees may not have detailed information about the Korean partners’ companies and their backgrounds. You should research as much as you can online (or wherever) before meeting with the respective partner. It feels like a bonus point if a non-Korean partner knows basic information about Korean partners.

Localize properly to be a reliable partner
  • Professional Korean localization is very important. A clumsy translation undermines the trust in a partner.
  • Localization must be done in professional Korean, not in everyday language.
  • Always check the translation with a native speaker.

Jayden Lee, Regional Director, APAC | Xsolla

Localization is very important. It can’t be well-managed by the headquarter abroad, so it is required to have a full korean team contributing to sales, marketing, account management, and so on. Then, you need to deliver the proper messages and services to clients in the local language.

Reveal all 8 tips to be successful in South Korea in full PDF:

  1. Use networking skills — personal connections can open any door
  2. Follow the rituals
  3. Hire locals
  4. Provide top-quality service
  5. Bonus facts about cultural peculiarities in South Korea

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