A country where business culture can seem very formal, it’s important to adopt the correct approach to etiquette and relationship building if you’re hoping to secure a deal in France.
Protocol is key for many of the French when it comes to business, with most meetings and discussions kept on a very professional level.
There’s often a strong sense of division between business and personal life, so while it’s good to spend some time getting to know your French business associates and you may be invited to a business lunch, it’s rare to socialise with business partners and colleagues in the evening and it’s not commonplace to ask (or be asked) probing personal questions. Instead, conversations should centre around topics such as French cuisine, art, music and philosophy.
Making a good first impression can be highly dependent on your appearance, with quality, conservative business wear that’s stylishly accessorised being the standard attire. If you are invited to a social gathering that requires ‘informal’ dress, this usually means a jacket and tie for men, rather than casual clothes.
Expect to shake hands when meeting and parting, with the possible addition of some air kissing, although you should let your business associates take the lead on this and respond accordingly.
Learning some French words and phrases is a common courtesy, although it’s likely those in attendance will speak English confidently, so conversation is likely to quickly revert back to English. With this in mind there’s no need to have translated, double-sided business cards, although you should make sure that your cards mention your position, as well as your university degree.
It’s customary to only use first names having been invited to do so, instead you should use Monsieur or Madame followed by the surname.
How to close a deal
It’s not considered appropriate to ‘drop in’ when doing business in France and all meetings should be booked in advance.
While you should be punctual, it’s usually not a problem to arrive 10 minutes after the scheduled time, with timings becoming more flexible the further south you travel.
During meetings, the French style of communication is often direct and probing, meaning it’s important you prepare an organised and well prepared proposal in advance and to be sure of your facts and figures. Presenting arguments in a rational, low-key way that clearly highlights the business benefits is generally the best way to achieve success, as you will be judged on your demeanour and logic.
Good posture and eye contact are also important and touching and patting during business meetings can be commonplace, but avoid snapping fingers, slapping an open palm over a closed fist and doing the ‘ok’ sign with your hands, as are all considered to be rude.
In order to close a deal in France, be prepared for negotiations to become passionate with an expectation that you may challenge their position by logically presenting a different approach in order to reach an agreement.
Once decisions are made, they are rarely overturned, unless there is a well-argued case to do so.