Expanding your Company's Horizons
Doing Business in Germany
With its strategic location in central Europe and thriving economy, Germany is an important hub and powerhouse for those doing business in the EU. However, Germany is its own unique western nation, and cultural influences play a big part in how business gets done there. To succeed in the German market, you need to understand how your German counterparts approach and handle business dealings. Here’s a short summary to get you started:
Points worth understanding
- Overall, Germans believe that having a systematic approach facilitates success in both business and in life.
- The power of planning, and the structure and organization that goes hand in hand with it, cannot be overstated in regards to the German way of getting things done. In all things, you’ll want to show that you’ve planned ahead, and mapped out steps along the way.
- Most Germans keep their business and personal lives separate. They see no need to bridge the two, and instead prefer to keep strict boundaries to maintain order and avoid complications. Understanding and respecting this will aid in your success in business there.
- Germans value a person’s expertise and background in business over any personal relationship they have with them. This means you do not need to have a lot of contacts to have a successful business deal in Germany.
- Make an appointment for a meeting 1-2 weeks ahead of time.
- Follow-up with an email or other written communication to provide a meeting agenda if one hasn’t been given to you. And follow it.
- Punctuality is very important in Germany. Be on time. If you are going to be late, call immediately and give a clear reason why. Tardiness, especially at a first meeting, will reflect so poorly on you that it may cost you a business deal.
- Business meetings are quite formal in Germany. Show patience with and give respect to the process and protocol in order to show you’re a worthy business partner.
- Address your German counterparts by their last names and titles. Small talk will likely be quite brief at the beginning of a meeting. Germans like to get down to business quickly.
- Come prepared with materials in both English and German, even if the entire discussion is to be conducted in English.
- Expect your German colleagues to be frank and forthright in their discussions throughout the meeting. Germans generally communicate in a very direct manner.
- Go over details carefully in your presentation. Details are important to Germans and they will want to closely consider them.
- Note that first meetings are usually a sort of warm-up or interview process during which Germans will decide if you are reliable and whether they want to do business with you.
- Map out any follow-up steps that are necessary after your meeting. Then communicate these in written communication to your German counterparts, and get going on implementing them right away.
- Handshakes are the typical greeting in both personal and work situations. Offer a brief but firm handshake.
- Shake hands before a meeting and also after, even if you get up early to leave. If you are shaking hands in a room, start with the person with the highest seniority.
- Eye contact is maintained during communication in Germany.
- Business attire should be formal for both men and women. Wear dark suits, and make conservative choices in accessories.
More to Keep in Mind
- A paper trail is quite common to reinforce and confirm the expected steps to be taken in a business deal in Germany. This means e-mails and other written communication will be a significant part of your proceedings.
- Demonstrating that you are an efficient worker is key to success in Germany. (For example, staying late at work is not a sign of a committed employee; it is a sign of someone who mismanages their time!)
- Hierarchy and authority are important in German culture. Know your status and place in relation to the group, and do not overstep these bounds.
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