Customer-Supplier Collaboration

German Approach

In Germany two parties enter into a dialogue about matching a concrete request to the approach of the supplier. The what is then defined and agreed upon.

Once this dialogue is completed, there is limited input from the customer about the how, about the actual execution of the request. Responsibility for the how is transferred from customer to supplier.

Patterns

American Approach

Collaboration in the American business context is defined first und foremostly by the customer. Customers not only define what they want, but also to a significant extent how they want it.

Collaboration means a high level of client input in the how. Customer requests are understood by both parties not so much as open topics to be discussed by equal parters, but as orders formulated and issued by the customer. 

Patterns

German View

Germans feel very uncomfortable with one-sided relationships. Business or personal. Collaboration is for them per definition a two-way street. Germans are not happy working with a dominating business partner.

Too much customer-input on how they, the Germans, do their work is also very disturbing. “We’ve been contracted to help them. Because we have the expertise. Why is the customer telling us how we should put that expertise to work for them?”

American View

Americans often find the dialogue with Germans at the beginning far too time-consuming and detail-oriented. Americans want to get to work solving problems quickly and pragmatically. From the US point-of-view kicking off collaboration means kicking off constant dialogue.

And American suppliers want constant input from the customer. Including about the how. Because they’re the customer. It’s all about serving their needs. Germans customers and suppliers can come across to the American business partners as disengaged.

Advice to Germans

When American customers speak of a good collaborative relationship with a supplier they mean foremostly rapid reaction and flexibility of the supplier to the input of the customer concerning not only the what, but also the how, of the task.

The American customer wants to be involved in all phases of the execution, not just in the startup. This might surprise you, perhaps even be a distraction. It can seem like micromanagement. 

Therefore, choose the right moment early in the working relationship to address this point. It’s sensitive, but important. American customers want to remain informed, at times only generally, at other times in a very detailed way. They reserve the right to go down to the tactical level in order to address certain issues.

Advice to Americans

When German customers speak about collaboration between them and a supplier they mean primarily the initial phase of request definition and planning. The input of your German customer will stress the what of the business relationship and not the how. In other words, they want to be highly involved in the early stage, but less so in the various phases of the execution. 

This will surprise you. This style of collaboration will appear more like customer absence. Early in the business relationship discuss your role and the role of your German customer during the execution phase.

Be prepared to communicate less frequently with the customer. She has decided to put your services to work. She assumes that you are the expert, that you have established processes to deliver your solutions. She sees no reason to get involved in the details of execution. That is your job. Do not expect the customer to hand-hold you. She will not expect you to hand-hold her.

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