Estonia is a country with an open economy that willingly welcomes foreign investors but certain rules regarding behavior apply, which foreign investors should follow during business negotiations.
Estonia’s desirability as an Eastern European market has been influenced by the country's advantageous geographical position, the adoption of the euro and the population's openness to new ideas. Estonians in general possess high levels of education, a creative approach to business, and high self-esteem, which stems from their successful efforts to distance themselves from Russian influence.
This is apparent, for example, in their knowledge of English, the language which they prioritize for business negotiations. Many locals understand Russian, but it is never a good idea to begin a conversation with it, because it could prompt an atmosphere of mistrust.
As in the other Baltic states, it should not be assumed that Estonia could be a destination for goods that have not succeeded in Western markets. Estonia conducts approximately 70% of its foreign trade with partners from the EU.
Figures for the recent period show that the drop in trade, which occurred during the financial crisis, has already been overcome. Currently there is significant growth in exports to Estonia, and this trend is expected to last. However, the Estonian market is relatively demanding, and everyone who wants to enter it should understand the specifics of the market there and basic principles to follow during business negotiations.
Professionalism and respect
Estonians give priority to straightforward behavior, conducting business formally, with a focus on the relevant facts, while strictly separating their work and personal lives. So how should one negotiate with business partners there? Communication must always be conducted officially and with an appropriate level of professionalism. You should only switch to a friendlier tone if your business partner speaks in a relaxed manner and shows signs of trust. Only then should clients regularly address Estonian partners by their first names in everyday conversation.
Estonians possess firm values and consider punctuality important, with late or very early arrivals considered highly inappropriate. If you know that you cannot arrive on time, the best decision is to postpone the meeting.
Accuracy and honesty are also expected during business negotiations. Everything must be cleared up on the spot, through discussions that are swift and to the point. Generally attentive to the details, and accustomed to negotiating with attention to regulations and prepared scenarios, Estonians are relatively tough and uncompromising negotiators, who do not have a problem saying no.
Estonians are not used to accepting compromises, and so a courteous and confident attitude can impress them in situations where you wish to achieve some level of compromise. The most important quality to present is an assertive approach while maintaining eye contact, which encourages trust and willingness. It makes sense to emphasize the quality of products and services you offer, but without too much pressure, unless communication has reached a deadlock.
Working with foreigners is a common practice among Estonians. If you offer better prices, faster services or a larger offering of products, it will increase your chances for success. Once you’ve reached an agreement, it always makes sense to have financial arrangements confirmed in writing. When making follow up business telephone calls, it is standard procedure to contact the assistants first, who will advise you whom to contact regarding the particular matter at hand.
Non-Russian companies with quality services are highly appreciated. You can expect honesty and straightforwardness from bilateral cooperation. Most of the time, an individual and professional approach is prioritized, and informal conversations are conducted only rarely.