Known internationally for their friendly and informal approach, doing business in the USA can require a dramatic shift in approach and pace, which you must be prepared for in order to achieve success.
A country founded on the belief that hard work is rewarded, ‘time is money’ in the USA. This means much of its business culture is centred around getting to the point quickly. Communication styles are very direct and meetings and other interactions rarely adhere to any formal protocol.
While some business practices differ across America’s 50 states, with those in the west broadly being considered to be less formal and more relaxed than those in the east, generally the emphasis is on ‘getting down to business’.
Business attire is usually formal for executives, but can differ for more junior members of the team, depending on the region and the industry. It’s advisable to dress conservatively for initial meetings, with suits for men and suits or dresses for women, unless you are certain the firm is casual.
It’s customary to greet with a firm, brief handshake, while maintaining eye contact. Men and women are considered equal in the workplace in the USA and you should greet everyone you meet as equal, regardless of gender, race, sex, or age.
While you may want to initially use titles and surnames as a courtesy, in most situations people will expect to be called by their first names, or even insist on you using their nickname.
Business cards are exchanged as part of introductions, but are presented with little ceremony and may just be placed in a wallet placed in the back pocket, which should not been seen as an insult.
How to close a deal
Punctuality for meetings is important, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, where being late is seen as a sign of disrespect. Things can be a little more relaxed in the Southern and Western States, but it’s still best to arrive on time, even if this means you are then left waiting.
Although some meetings may seem relaxed, you will find there’s very little small talk, with time considered a valuable resource and business often conducted rapidly.
Unlike business cultures in many other countries, the primary emphasis is on closing a deal, as opposed to building a business relationship. In general relationships develop once a contract has been signed and business breakfasts, lunches or dinners are commonplace. If invited to a business meal, be aware that business discussions do not usually take place until everyone has ordered and that you should not take a drink until your host has proposed a toast.
Meetings will usually have an agenda, which will be closely followed and presentations are expected to be professional and prompt. It’s wise to prepare an “elevator pitch”, which concisely summarises your thoughts in just a few minutes, which you can deliver to present your proposal if you find you are very rushed for time.
Meetings will generally conclude with a summary of matters discussed and decisions made and a list of the next steps. It’s common to try and reach an oral agreement by the end of a meeting, which means you often only get one chance to succeed.
In order to close a deal in the USA, avoid phrases such as “we can’t” and “we don’t have” and make it clear that you will be able to deliver as promised. Failure to do may well result in your American business counterparts looking elsewhere, as loyalty rarely play a part in business decisions.