“If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen!” Willy Brandt (German Chancellor)
You are a British company who wants to sell their products and services to Germany? Congratulations, you have started a long, laborious, interesting journey! Here are a few tips to make it a successful and rewarding one.
Top stereotypes about doing business with Germans, in Germany – busted!
#1: Germans avoid risks at all cost
When meeting a new potential business partner, German companies want to know who they are dealing with. Who wouldn’t? So, building trust is vital for a newcomer in the German market. After the due diligence, reference checks, web research, that crucial first face to face meeting, and maybe the second one, you will learn very quickly if you have succeeded in building trust with your German prospect. It may still be a while until your first sale though. Germany is a big market, and it’s a big country with a federal, decentralised system. Regions are strong – a number of partners for distribution and support is therefore advisable. A great reflection of the need to build trust and of the regional economic structure are trade fairs. German businesses love attending trade fairs, they want to meet trade partners face to face, often in pre-scheduled appointments at a fair, so you should know the events calendar for your sector, and learn to love exhibiting.
German businesses are not averse to taking an entrepreneurial risk and explore new markets, new products or new ways of cooperating with partners. They just want to take a calculated risk. Forget quick sells, trial-and-error, short-term sales strategies when entering the German market. Be prepared for a long-haul sales process. The German-British Chamber of Commerce estimates that you need 2 years before you are fully operational, i.e. established in your business environment. You will need to invest in a German presence (perhaps through offices of local partners) and in German sales and marketing material. And you will have to speak German to your potential customers.
On the plus side, your long breath is likely to be rewarded. German customers are arguably among the most loyal customers in the world. We may be “laggards”, but we know what we like and don’t change our minds too often. Once you have gained trust in the market, have your first reference customer, your proven successful strategy probably does not need to change for a long time. Keep innovating, keep investing, and most importantly, keep going!