Maintain forward movement


“The Germans do not feel comfortable with aggressive, hard sales, including the American version of it. Americans, on the other hand, perceive their German colleagues as being sales-shy.

Taking this important cultural difference into account, how can we maintain forward movement in the U.S., especially since we often cannot predict whether a customer will commit or the size of the opportunity?”


This is a complex situation. And a highly important one. But it can be managed. And managed well.

First: Continually explain to your German colleagues the nature of the American business environment, especially the important of marketing, of sales, of building relationships. In the context of this question, the importance of aggressiveness in sales. 

Because marketing sales is understood differently in Germany, you have no other choice but to remind your colleagues time and again of the logic in the U.S. Including that American customers are comfortable with aggressive sales, expect it, and they, too, have aggressive sales people in their organization.

Always use concrete examples. Particularly effective is showing them how competitors are aggressively going after the same opportunities. And use examples from other sectors of the U.S. economy which illustrate the need to be aggressive.

Second: always acknowledge the rightness and legitimacy of the German logic. Honor the strengths of the German approach to marketing and sales. Which is also aggressive, but in a German way, in a more discreet, quiet, unemotional, determined way. Anticipate their unease with what you will be asking them for, with what you will be proposing to them. 

Third: spell out for your German colleagues what forward movement concretely looks like. Spell out what aggressive sales means literally, “on the ground”, in your conversations with customers and potential customers. Once understood, your German colleagues may just respond with: “Oh well, that is not so aggressive. That makes perfect sense. Or front-line sales folks would essentially do the same. Ok good, we can work with this. We can help you with this.”

Fourth. “especially since we often cannot predict whether a customer will commit or the size of the opportunity?” That’s all about risk. And you will see many Q&As on CI which in one form or the other address the differences in how Germans and Americans understand risk.

There is only one way to handle that: explain to your German colleagues what you can and cannot predict. Give them the best, the most accurate, risk-assessment as you can. In fact, perhaps the better term is success-assessment or hit-rate. 

Very important, whenever you provide Germany with these assessments, you need to explain not only the factors involved, you need to explain what those factors mean, the deeper logic. Again, your German colleagues are German and not American. What you as Americans take as a given, as self-stated, as not needing explanation, as universal, is not any of those things. 

When you, for example, provide an assessment of the chances that the customer will commit, explain, and in detail, what the factors are which move the customer in the one or in the other direction. The same goes for the size of the opportunity.

Folks, this will require a lot of patience on your part. You will have to do a lot of explaining. And explaining of things which for you as Americans in the U.S. business context are seldom discussed, seldom debated, seldom questions. It is what it is. 

Well, you are working in a global environment. Or more precisely, you are working in the US-German environment. You have no other choice but to address the deeper-lying cultural differences. Good. Do it. Get good at it. Combine the strengths of two great cultures. To the benefit of your customers. And to the detriment of your competitors !

Maintain forward movement