Dealing with suppliers and customers in Germany

Written by Linsey Perre November 2013. Posted in Int. Skills, Working with people

Dealing with suppliers and customers in Germany

Germany and Holland have always been connected in multiple areas: political economic, social and cultural. Especially the economic connection between Germany and Holland is important, as Germany is by far the most important export destination for Dutch products. The Germany market contains a quarter of the total Dutch exports, with a value of €75 bn. However, as the Germans are generally known for being serious, reserved, cold, ordered and disciplined, how do we keep those characteristics in mind when doing business with them? How can we deal with our neighbours in the best way and get the most out of our business opportunities?

Niels Bezner, CEO of Heilig BV, a company operating in the Germany transport industry, mentions the strict codes when it comes to addressing German people as being most important. You should never speak to people in an informal way, but instead use their full titles when addressing them. Mr Bezner also says you are expected to dress appropriately for the occasion as a sign of respect. For men, this means wearing a suit and tie and for women, a suit with a skirt. And as the Germans are very punctual, every meeting and project will be carefully planned and they will follow their schedules strictly. Overall, by being serious, on time and formal, Dutch businesspeople can adapt to the Germany strict and serious business culture.

Contracts and rules play a central role in German culture as companies have countless regulations, procedures and processes. As mentioned before, Germans are very serious but also very strict, punctual and precise, which shows their dedication to their detailed contracts and rules. German contracts can even be more detailed than American contracts which are known for being detailed and lengthy. Furthermore, the Germans have a tight and consistent application of the rules and strong penalties compared to other cultures. We can conclude that the large and detailed contracts need a lot of attention and you should take into account that contract negotiations can take a long time.

Communication in Germany will be very direct and explicit. They will tell you their opinion without consideration of your reaction, which can be interpreted as impolite and harsh rather than polite and friendly. This explicit communication style has been categorised by Edward T. Hall as low-context communication, where the information given has only one meaning. Because of the German openness and direct approach it is difficult for them to understand people who send messages ‘between the lines’. Germans will not pick up many signals or hints from indirect communication because they are used to directness. These different communication styles can create misunderstandings and irritation.

Considering that Germany is a major economic partner of great importance for Holland the Dutch should follow the German business values with doing business with them. As mentioned before, we should consider the reserved and ordered culture of the Germans and keep their detailed contracts in mind. Overall we can conclude that if we adapt to the German business culture which is operating on the values of strictness, directness and seriousness, we will have a long lasting and healthy business relationship.