ELIA ND Munich 2013: Doing Business in Germany

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I am currently in Germany taking part in the European Language Industry Association (ELIA) Networking Days conference which takes part twice a year. As members we really like ELIA, its members and what is does for the translation and language sector.

As I am tomorrow giving a workshop on “Blogging for Business”, I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and do a little blog each day on my general thoughts or findings.

Today I attended a few workshops and seminars on different topics. The two standout presentations for me were by Luigi Riboldi on e-Commerce and Paul Doherty entitled “Was Ist Dach?” Although both were fantastic and useful, I wanted to write a few words about Paul’s presentation as I feel it would be more useful for many of our clients who see Germany as a key and strategic market.

Paul, VP of Sales in Europe for SDL, gave a great introductory overview of how to enter the German market and do business in the country. Although lots was covered I wanted to re-tell a few of the more salient points he so eloquently summarised for us.

Understanding German business and “Mittelstand”

Have you heard of any of these brands? Playmobil? Karcher? CLAAS? Viessmann? More than likely you have come across one of them. I certainly had but I never realised these were businesses that live in the middle of fields next to tiny villages. “Think small village – big factory” was the message Paul stressed.

Playmobil factory in Dietenhofen in Germany
[The Playmobil factory on the outskirts of Dietenhofen]

These companies, what we would term SMEs in the UK, are at the heart of the German economy and need to be understood if you are going to break into the market. Some of the key points included:

– 95% of these companies are family owned and/or run
– They like and want stable relationships
– They have strong ties to their regions and locale
– They are long-term orientated
– They value innovation
– They use sounds financial models
– They are supported by government

So lesson one was really about appreciating that these large global brands, are actually family inspired or run enterprises. They are innovative yet value tradition and are conservative at the same time.

Selling to German Companies

German companies export. Export drives the economy and is the engine of Europe’s economy. As a result German companies are outward looking and want to know how to sell better and more abroad. Some of the tips Paul presented to us on selling to German companies included:

– They like process, structure and technology
– They value a consultative approach
– They want statistics, figures and hard evidence to any claims
– They prefer to buy local and from Germans
– They are very conservative
– They don’t see price as the number one consideration
– They remain loyal to their suppliers
– They don’t make decisions overnight
– They don’t like the “hard” sell

Paul concluded in no uncertain terms that if you want to sell into Germany, you need a German presence and you need German staff doing the selling.

PPT slide about German culture

[A slide on stereotypes of Germans]


Business Etiquette in Germany

The presentation was rounded off with some great tips on etiquette and protocol for doing business in Germany.

– Always be on time – punctuality is crucial
– Use titles and surnames – formality is best
– Shake hands if in doubt
– Dress conservatively
– It’s business not personal
– Keep your distance
– Say what you mean
– Guten Appetit – eat, drink and be merry when the chance arises

Paul gave a very interesting anecdote about keeping your distance and keeping business and private life separate. He once complemented a female member on a nose job which he believed beatified her further. The next day he received a note making it clear that such an intrusion into their personal lives was inappropriate! Now, he said, he just keeps his mouth shut!

Thank you Paul for a great presentation!

For those not familiar with ELIA or their Networking Days check out the ELIA Website.

Oh and could you please share this via one of the social media platforms below so I can show attendees in my blogging session tomorrow how good it is to share? 🙂

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