20 tips for doing business in Germany

Are you preparing to do business in Germany?

You will make a good impression by coming across as an expert in your subject, who has thoroughly researched the German market and is able to answer detailed technical questions. You will be smartly dressed, a straight-talker, efficient and decisive. Academic qualifications impress Germans.

Germans are very private people and it takes time to build personal relationships, particularly with the formal setup in most offices. You will find them polite and sometimes a little distant, but open and direct when they want to make a point. It is important to recognize this as a typical way of communicating.

Test how prepared you are for doing business in Germany 

Here are 10 tips for success in Germany:

  1. Take your time. It can take a while to get to know a German contact well as people draw a firm line between business and social life.
  2. Do not be alarmed at seemingly frank comments. Germans are very direct.
  3. Keep feelings to yourself. Reliability and integrity are more important than emotions in business.
  4. Keep small talk to a minimum. Germans like to get down to business quickly.
  5. Germans tend to work long hours, although strong unions mean working hours are technically strictly regulated.
  6. Be punctual, above all else. Even being a few minutes late is considered very rude, while letting a meeting run over schedule is considered inefficient.
  7. Take a long-term view. Germans prefer to be methodical than to rush a project.
  8. Stick to an agenda. Meetings will go through a schedule, point by point.
  9. Introduce yourself. Explain why you are there, mention your professional credentials and experience.
  10. Keep presentations concise, run to time and build in time for questions at the end. Expect these to be detailed and try to anticipate in advance, so you can have answers ready.
  11. Prepare to be interrupted. Germans do not consider it rude to ask a question during a presentation if a technical point needs elaborating on.
  12. Keep it formal. Even people who have worked together for years often use the polite ‘Sie’ form of address. Using the familiar form, ‘du’, would be a serious gaffe.
  13. Be direct. Germans appreciate clarity, honesty and respect. They are direct communicators and value a person who sticks to their word.
  14. Appreciate process. Germans have a strong desire to do things the correct way, whether this means a technical task or a social function. Deviating from the norm is not appreciated.
  15. Keep standards high. The features and performance of a product is more important than its look or image, although Germans do have a strong eye for aesthetic appeal as well.
  16. Understand the social fabric. Society is highly structured and life is conducted according to a set of rules, right down to something as simple as the ritual of greeting a shopkeeper when you enter a shop.
  17. German businesses are hierarchical, usually run by a hands-on board of directors.
  18. Job positions are compartmentalized and roles are clearly defined.
  19. Expect many layers of management and a complex system of decision makers, some of whom will be specialists from outside the company.
  20. Do not expect to come across a nation of entrepreneurs; most Germans are in employment, rather than self-employed.

Test your knowledge of German culture.

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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