So, you want to expand your business globally?
However, building relationships, decision-making, presentations, and meetings can differ widely from the U.S. business context. If you go to Europe assuming you can rely on your Irish or German ancestry to solidify partnerships, you have another thing coming. In fact, most Europeans don't actually care if we share ancestry with theirs, they care if you know how to act and behave while you're over there trying to do business with them.
Credibility is established by adopting a few key European ways of doing business. And even though each European country is unique in many ways, they all share the following principles:
Every Meal is the Most Important One of the Day
You know how business in the U.S. is often conducted on the back nine of the nearest golf course? In Europe, it's conducted over a plate. Much of the trust-building and even decision-making happens while eating and drinking.
It's a strategic sizing-up of one's business partners, and it will often make or break the success of a project. So suck up your jet lag and put on something nice, because you're going to dinner--and it might be a long one.
Time is Money (But Not the Way You Think)
In the US, there's a lot of focus on limiting how many meetings you have and how long they are. When you step off the plane, leave that thinking behind.
Europeans prefer to allow ample time for debate, digestion of ideas, reflection and processing--believing the art of discussion will lead to better results. So, don't micro-manage your time and be patient. Otherwise, you risk ostracizing business partners or worse, killing the deal altogether.
It's What You Know, Not Who You Know
A European will measure your worth by how much you know about current events, the world, and historical happenings. A good businessperson is well educated, intellectual and able to discuss topics of the day.
Inform yourself before you go abroad so you can speak to the context you're in. More importantly, bring something new to the table--don't just repeat the latest headlines. Europeans value knowledge, and you'll impress them greatly if they walk away feeling they learned something, even if it has nothing to do with the business at hand.
Pretend You're at a Wedding
When you're traveling for business, it's best to err on the side of formality. Like a wedding, it's likely an awkward situation all around--most people don't know each other and everyone is well-dressed, a bit stiff, and on very good behavior.
Europeans like more formal greetings, handshakes and kisses (even in business), and proper table manners. Be sure to brush up on appropriate etiquette (and chew with your mouth closed).
Don't Dress to Impress
Dress to blend in. Europeans don't like overly showy clothing and accessories, so aim for subtle elegance. Wear dark or neutral colors (think Hugo Boss or Jill Sander), minimal accessories, and lose the bling. Classic, high-quality leather shoes, bags and watches are always in style. Save the flashier stuff for a night on the town when you're back at home.
Just like you should think before you speak, think before you go abroad. Even though it may look and feel similar, there are very different nuances that can make or break a deal.