German Cultural Considerations

Germany’s economy is one of the largest Europe, with an impressive manufacturing sector and excellent import and export potential. It is for these reasons, amongst many others, that an increasing number of companies are looking to Germany to boost their sales figures. Indeed, business with German companies makes up over 20% of our own turnover at The Translation People. Here, our German team looks at some aspects of the German business landscape you may want to consider if you want to make the most out of your German business.

Language – Although Germans generally have a good grasp of English, this isn’t always the case and assuming that your contacts speak English will certainly be frowned upon. As such, you may want to take measures to cover this, such as hiring an interpreter or a German speaking sales rep. If you are going to learn some German to impress your associates, bear in mind that German has different ways of saying ‘you’ according to the formality of the situation, so using the wrong variant can cause confusion or even offend! Likewise, using someone’s first name is usually reserved for close friends and family, with the Herr or Frau title followed by surname being the norm for business.

Translation – Companies will often translate their websites or other marketing tools into German, which is generally accepted as a must in order to win confidence, however it is also important to adjust the message of your content accordingly. German marketing language is much less flowery than English and much more focussed on factual information, therefore if you just translate what you have in English, it may sound like a translation rather than a tailored German message. Work with the translator or agency you have commissioned in order to create a message that will sound German while respecting your brand identity. Tailoring your product/service offering to what clients in Germany buy is also key to success, rather than assuming they will buy in the same way as clients in your country.

Trade Shows – Germany hosts a multitude of large, key exhibitions which are an excellent place for meeting prospective clients. These include Medica (Düsseldorf – Healthcare), Innotrans (Berlin – Rail), Bau/Bauma (Munich – Construction) and Achema (Frankfurt – Chemical). Meeting clients at these exhibitions, by visiting or exhibiting, can certainly enhance your reputation.

Regional Industry – Certain regions in Germany are renowned for their specialisation in certain areas, so research this before starting your approach. Automotive is the country’s largest industry with a focus around Munich, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg. Transport and logistics is also a huge industry in Germany, with excellent infrastructure and major hubs in Berlin, Hamburg and Ruhr area. Biotechnology is also a very high profile industry, with large clusters in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Munich. Lastly, Germany is the world’s third largest pharmaceutical market with large clusters around Munich, Berlin, the Rhine-Neckar triangle and the Ruhr area.

Facts – German business people tend to make decisions based on fact rather than persuasive sales techniques. Expect your business proposal to be analysed meticulously and be prepared to back up your proposal with concrete facts and figures. Germans are notoriously averse to risk, so it’s key that you alleviate this with some hard evidence if you want to impress them. In the same way, Germans are generally happy to get straight to the point and negotiate by telling you exactly what they want and think.

Cold Calling – It is technically illegal to approach businesses in Germany in a completely unsolicited way so, whilst you may not run into serious trouble for this, it is certainly not considered a serious or fruitful way to approach companies.

Seniority – German business culture tends to view seniority in a more formal way than in other countries. If you are entering a business meeting, greet the most senior attendee first, usually with a brief, firm handshake.

Website – Companies wishing to operate in Germany must add a page to their website (an ‘impressum page’) that contains factual information about the company. This is not a page that typically exists on other language variants, but is key for operating in Germany, so you must bear this in mind when creating your German website.

An ever-expanding global market means that many businesses can now work anywhere in the world. In order to grasp this opportunity fully, adapting your message and approach to the culture of Germany is key. Although your company’s products or services may be different to what exists in Germany, it is equally important to show the customers that you understand their business, their culture and their needs in order to build solid relationships.

Jasmin Schneider, Operations Manager at The Translation People, adds, “English speaking companies stand a much better chance of getting in front of German clients if they present themselves in German and in a German context, however that’s just the first step. German business people are like any others, they are looking for excellent and innovative products and want to work with companies that understand their business, regardless of where they are from.”

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