Doing Business in Germany

Berlin, Germany | BCBusiness

Hard-working and detail-oriented, Germans may come off as blunt when compared to their Canadian counterparts. Here’s what you need to know to close deals

The Greeting

THE HANDSHAKE Shake hands and make eye contact when greeting your hosts. If you’re meeting with a group, it’s courteous to greet each person individually with a handshake.

OLD VERSUS NEW With traditional companies, use your host’s title (i.e. Dr.), or Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs.) followed by their surname. But with younger, international companies, start off on a first-name basis from the get-go. If in doubt, follow the lead of your hosts.

The Meeting

COME PREPARED TO WORK Germans are hard-working and underpaid by global standards and you don’t want to come across as a North American fat cat. Come prepared, get down to details quickly and don’t start looking furtively at your watch if it looks like the meeting might cut into your cocktail hour.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS When making a presentation, be sure to back up all arguments with supporting facts and details. Go easy on the hype and try to avoid general statements.

LOCATION If your meeting includes a presentation, it will take place in a boardroom during regular office hours. Meetings may also take place at a restaurant over a meal.

GETTING AROUND Germany is considered home to the fastest highway in the world. If the autobahn isn’t for you, try the expansive subway system or “U-Bahn.”

The Meal

DRINKING AND DINING Yes, Germans are famous for their beer, and those of the old school might be offended if you decline a tipple. That doesn’t mean you have to keep up: making a fool of yourself is verboten in any culture.

CHEERS “Guten Appetit,” or “good appetite,” is said before meals. When raising a glass, announce “prost” and clink each person’s glass while making eye contact.

THE BILL The party who invites, pays. However, if it’s a casual lunch or dinner, it’s common to pay separately.

Social Customs

DRESS FOR SUCCESS Conservative suits for both men and women are standard when it comes to German business attire.

NEGOTIATIONS Most Germans don’t favour a tough, bottom line-driven negotiating style, but instead appreciate fact-based arguments.

EMAIL ETIQUETTE Always sign off when e-mailing German business partners and keep in mind that a quick email can come off as impolite. money talks Salaries and personal income are rarely discussed in Germany.

OUR EXPERTS Guy Wilson-Roberts, director, Go Media Consultants; Alexia and Stephan Petersen, communication consultants; Chadwick Wasilenkoff, CEO, Fortress Paper Ltd.; Boris Wertz, founder, Version One Ventures