Peak Translations

How to get ‘Vorsprung’ (a head start) in the world of German business

What do we envisage when we think of Germany? Beer, sauerkraut, Oktober fest and sturdy cars … but, did you know that Berlin has more bridges than Venice, 800 million portions of currywurst are consumed annually and it is home to the highest number of cultural activities and places worldwide?!

And what about as a business investment? Germany is a leading global economic powerhouse, especially in terms of its technological development and transport infrastructure as well as being noted for its climate and energy policies. So, how do other cultures go about initiating business negotiations with this interesting and impressive economic country? Das ist einfach (easy). Like the term ‘know your enemies’, it is important to understand your target market’s culture and business etiquette, otherwise you might as well give up before you’ve started. After all, you wouldn’t try and run before you could walk.

German flags waving in the wind at famous Reichstag building, seat of the German Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag), on a sunny day with blue sky and clouds, central Berlin Mitte district, Germany.

Here are a few pointers to get you started in the world of German business:-

Leave the game of risk at home
Germans are not keen risk players, which leads to a rather long, drawn out game of analysis, whereby all the details of the business proposal will be picked apart, leaving no stone unturned. The decision-making process is not taken lightly.

Don’t be late for a very important date!
German business people like to conduct their business as punctual to the minute as their country’s ‘Deutsche Bahn’ therefore, adopting the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland’s lack of punctuality is not the way to solidify a steadfast business venture with your potential German counterparts.

Remove the reserved façade and learn to love detail
As much as they are dogmatic about punctuality, they equally live by the book with regards business meetings, eager to adhere to agendas, which means meetings are formal procedures with clearly defined goals, rather than laid-back affairs of general discussions. Furthermore, avoid pussyfooting around when it comes to asking questions or delivering your business proposal, Germans are extremely plain spoken around negotiations and expect nothing less from their counterparts. Adding the odd few phrases of German will also go a long way to impress (similar to French be sure to use the polite form of you ‘sie’ not ‘du’). If you really want to give it a go, you could astonish them with your perfection of their longest word at 80 letters “Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerk-bauuntereamtengesellschaft“! – “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services” (the name of a pre-war club in Vienna).

There’s no room for pomp and circumstance
It’s a waste of time putting together an all singing and dancing, hard-selling and glitzy performance dolled up to the nines in memorable slogans and garish advertising for your ‘Deutsch kollegen’. It will not win them over. Think of their car adverts, direct and to the point with facts, figures and graphs; this will have them banging on your door to do business with them, more than a fancy show.

It’s all in a handshake
You might feel like you’re ‘hand-shaken out’ by the end of a German business meeting, but if you want to show them that you mean business, it is vital to follow protocol. Every person in the meeting room demands a handshake before business gets underway, starting with the highest-ranking businessperson (hierarchy is very important), so it is essential not to miss anyone out if you want to make the right impression. Likewise, a weak handshake reflects insecurity therefore ensure you give a good firm shake of the hand to inspire trustworthiness and confidence (although in French business, this would be a ‘faux pas’; light and quick is common practice).

Learn the language of gift giving
It is unusual these days to offer a gift in German business, but more customary during a social business event. Therefore, if invited to a German home for dinner, a bunch of flowers would be appropriate, although this carries many stipulations; a bunch of roses might lead your host(s) to think you are trying to seduce them, whilst an odd number of flowers, especially 13, would be seen as bad luck.

Like the ethos of the well-known Audi advert ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ (Advancement through technology), if you want progress through business, you will have more success if you understand how the other side works.

Berlin: DB Logo on the top of Bahn Tower. It's a 26-story, 103m skyscraper on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany. Office space for the German Railway (Deutsche Bahn) HQ

By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager) November 2016





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