Every team is imbedded in business relationships. As customer. As supplier. Internal or external to the company. But, how are those relationships understood and lived?

Consult vs. Serve

The Germans prefer consulting over serving. To consult the customer, to consult with the customer, is to work auf Augenhöhe, literally at eye-level, with the customer. The German people instinctively reject any form of master-slave business relationship.

And, the German customer prefers a supplier, consultant, vendor who insists on a business relationship auf Augenhöhe. Germans don’t want to be served, they want to bbe consulted, by an expert, at eye-level. It is a shared logic. All companies are both customer and supplier.


Americans do not make as clear a distinction between serving and consulting. They go hand-in-hand. Two sides of the same coin. Consulting is always a service to the customer.

Serving should always include bringing into play ones subject matter expertise. However, an American consultant, supplier, vendor, seldom sees themselves at eye-level with the customer. The customer is in charge.

And the American customer sees the relationship in the same way. It is a shared logic, a shared understanding. American customers want to be served. And yes, they want an expert. But an expert who is fully oriented towards their needs, as defined by them, the customer.


Customer-Supplier Collaboration

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.


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. 


Customer-Supplier Expectations

The German customer expects the supplier to complete the requested task correctly and expertly, meaning almost without error. The task is to be completed within schedule and budget.

These boundary conditions should be negotiated and held to as precisely as possible. Germans, however, will sacrifice schedule and budget in order to receive the product or service they ordered. 


The American customer expects the supplier of a product or a service to complete a specific job. This task is defined by the customer. The customer, in other words, orders a product or service.

The customer expects the supplier to orient himself fully towards her individual needs and to respond as quickly as possible. At the same time, the supplier is expected to adapt to any change in scope of the task.