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15 Tips for doing business in Germany: Earning trust

If you’re looking for an amazing place to expand, Germany is the perfect spot to establish new business relations (also for software outsourcing to Poland). Thousands of meetings take place every day, calls are made and emails exchanged, but only a few of these turn into long-term business relationships. Why only a few? Perhaps because not everyone trying to put their foot in the door is aware of the cultural characteristics, rules, and soft skills’ requirements when trying to enter the German market.

This article expands on the subject of establishing business cooperation with Germany. I recently asked more than 70 LI users from Germany about their thoughts on the language barrier issues in business communication. Most of the comments pointed towards the fact that matters other than language play a more significant role here. The real challenges are related to cultural and behavioral differences between countries.

Here’s a little insight into your new business partners’ from Germany perspective on work environment and culture as well as few tips on how to adjust yourself to them.

1. Being very well organised

Germans are always well organized, preferring predictability over spontaneous decisions. You will see their love for order both in business and private life. They work by systematically ticking off tasks according to plan. So, if you are planning a meeting, make sure you give plenty of notice to ensure ample time for your prospect to adjust their schedule.

2. Punctuality

Being on time is an extremely important matter when doing business in Germany. Make sure you’re there 5-10 ahead to show respect for your prospect’s time. This will put you in a good light, showing you keep your deadlines. If you’re running late, call as soon as you can to explain and apologize. If you cancel an appointment without proper justification, you’re risking the future of the business relationship.

3. Agenda

Prepare your agenda early enough to send it to your prospects and give them the chance to familiarize themselves with it. Keeping in mind Germans are good organizers, so aim to prioritize the issues to be discussed in a way that will allow for the business meeting to conclude within the given timeframe.

4. Language – German vs English

Language German vs English

Although Germans command of English is quite impressive, it is considered a show of respect to at least make an attempt to communicate in German. Your attempts, even poorly delivered few expressions, are sure to be noticed and appreciated. If the talks progress to higher levels, it’s worth it to hire an interpreter to avoid miscommunication. More on language in my article „Does the language barrier exist in Germany? 7 things you need to know before entering the German market.

5. Titles

In Germany, the form of address plays an important role in business relations. Make sure you use the proper forms – Herr (Mr), Frau (Mrs) followed by the title ie. Herr Doktor Schmidt. Calling people by the first name is reserved for friends and family. Even after establishing a business relationship, stick to formal address, unless explicitly asked to call someone by name.

6. Dress code

The dress code in the German world of business remains formal and quite conservative. A suit, shirt, and tie are most common, whereas wearing flashy jewelry or accessories is rather frowned upon. IT is an exception here, the dress code being much more casual and easy going. When negotiating a deal, it’s best to stay on the safe side and stick to formal business attire.

7. First impression

You can only make it once, so make sure you’re thoroughly prepared for the first meeting. Make sure you do your homework before to be able to answer any questions your prospects might throw at you.  Doing business in Germany prepare some hard data – facts and numbers will work to your advantage. Your new business partners might be interested in official references from your clients, projects you’ve done so far and company history. If you’re going to communicate in English, make sure that any documentation is prepared in both English and German.

8. The initial meeting

The first business meeting serves the purpose of getting to know each other.

9. Personal matters

There’s a strict distinction between work and private life in Germany. Asking about personal matters or sharing your own private information is considered inappropriate. This is especially true for initial meetings, before establishing trust. Your prospects will not want to talk personal, so try to keep it as professional as possible.

10. Style of communication in business

Germans like to get straight down to business, giving small talk very little regard. they will be analyzing every word coming out of your mouth, so make sure your presentation is clear, precise and accurate. Trying to improvise or bluffing is not a good idea as it will most likely be recognized as unprofessional. Keep in mind you will be talking to people concentrated on problem-solving, so make sure you provide them with coherent information and logical arguments. It’s worth mentioning that written, formal communication is highly valued in Germany.

11. Business offer

Your business proposition should give a clear image of the value you are offering your potential client from Germany. Make sure you provide a detailed, orderly offer, so at agreeing on the final deal you have all the aspects of your contract thoroughly discussed. Avoid vagueness and ensure complete clarity, as you can count on the fact all the points in the contract will be strictly adhered to and the same will be expected from you. Make sure all doubts are cleared before signing and that your client has ample opportunity to ask questions.

12. Risk management

Germans are not particularly fond of taking risks. As such, you should not be surprised they will listen to your offer with some reservations. The German market remains a great target for selling innovative solutions. As long as you are able to understand your clients’ point of view, you’re on the right track to building mutual trust.

13. Deliver on the promises

In Germany (like probably everywhere else) delivering on the promise is very highly regarded. Remember never to over-promise, as agreeing to each and every request without consideration will make you appear desperate and untrustworthy. It’s much more important that you are able to explain why you are the best fit for doing business in Germany than to blindly accept any conditions. Proving your professionalism and expertise with references and examples of your work are sure to put you in a better light than being a desperate “yes-man”.

14. Decision making

The German business structure is hierarchical and all the binding decisions are made at the top management level. Negotiating a long-term cooperation deal can be a lengthy process. It is not advisable to try to rush a decision. If you try to hurry things along you might end up being seen as impatient and unprofessional.

Be patient with your prospects. Make sure you’re always available by phone or email to answer any additional questions they may have. Once everything is clear and they’re ready to make a decision, you will be the first to know. Good thing about this is that once you hear the positive answer, it’s pretty much set in stone.

15. Signing the deal

The final signing of the deal is usually done in a formal manner. As much as in many countries exchanging gifts on this occasion is acceptable, in Germany they shouldn’t be anything too valuable. The unspoken rules says you should’t be spending more than EUR30. After the deal is done, you can invite your new partners to a good restaurant to celebrate. This will give you a chance to start building the relationship in a less formal manner.

Summary – How to do business in Germany

At first glance, it seems that cooperation on many markets looks similar. However, paying attention to the details, we notice that these details play a huge role. They should be taken into account, because the ability to adapt to a given culture can determine the ultimate success.

The story of Walmart, which has withdrawn from the German market, can be a great example. Observers see one of the reasons for withdrawal was the issue of customer service. Walmart was working on the same values as in the USA. The company management did not try to understand the basic values of the German culture. The emphasis of Wal-Mart on cordial customer service or packing your bags by the store’s employees turned out counterproductive.

If you want to cooperate, show that you think of mutual benefits. Put yourself in the situation of your business partner, show real interest in solving their problems. Be empathic and listen and you will get sympathy that will allow you to establish closer relationships. Doing business in Germany, you should learn about culture, customs, and modern standards. It will gain you the respect of your interlocutors, and from there, it’s only a step to trust, which is the basis of long-term cooperation.

As itCraft specializing in Web & Mobile development solutions, we have successfully completed 130 projects for clients from 50 countries for 9 years of our activity. We are currently focusing on the German market.

We hope that the above tips will be useful also for other companies that plan to make their presence in this market. The fact that we have a great basis for this is confirmed by the opinion on Polish developers. I discuss this topic in more detail in my article about polish mobile app development companies in Germany.

15 Tips for doing business in Germany: Earning trust
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Michał Bryła, Business Development Manager

Michał Bryła, Business Development Manager

Business development manager focused on clients needs and sharing knowledge. A mobile technology enthusiast always on the lookout for new solutions to innovate and help grow clients' businesses.
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