This article from Auerbach International presents some Do’s and Don’ts to help expand your business.

German Business Culture and Language

There are many opportunities to expand your business into Germany. However, to succeed, you must know the differences in business culture between Germany and the US. You can fall into some definite traps if you do not appreciate those differences.

Cultural Differences

  • The German business culture and overall culture tends to be more formal than what we are used to in the United States. When people have an advanced degree such as a PhD, you address them by that title by calling the person “Dr.” followed by his or her last name.
  • You do not call people by their first name unless they offer it first. (They are not likely to offer that until much later in the process, if ever).
  • When you speak to people in English, you need to speak more slowly than usual because your German counterpart speaks English as the second language. He/she learned English (likely British English) in school some time ago. It is best not to use slang or highly idiomatic phrases.
  • When you want to do business in Germany, you must be well prepared. Chances are you would not even get the meeting unless the German company or organization has already done some homework on you. Now you need to show them that you really have what they need and expect. You have to undergo a thorough and somewhat time-consuming due diligence process. Expect that your German counterparts will subscribe to the principle of “uncertainty avoidance,” i.e., they want to be very sure that choosing you is the right choice and that the choice will not come back to haunt them later.
  • When you meet in person, make sure you give good eye contact, and a firm handshake. Also, make sure not to drag your feet because Germans may think it indicates you are lazy. When your nose is running, make sure to use a tissue promptly. These small issues can add up to your making a bad or good impression.
  • Communication is often dominated by giving precise, short answers, which is not considered rude but simply viewed as efficient.
  • Once you have survived the time-consuming, due-diligence process, are through the door and have impressed your German prospects, you are most likely going to enjoy doing business with them for a long time.

Need to translate?

  • Yes, many Germans read and speak some English. Yet, ask almost anyone whether he or she would rather consume your information in German – and whether it saves the person valuable time. Of course, the answer is Yes on both.
  • When translating your American website and/or offline marketing materials into German you must consider the cultural differences in the localization process.
  • You need to make sure the content on your website is researched well, factually correct and professionally presented. It does not serve you well to be too informal in your writing.
  • Research your target clients’ needs. They may be somewhat different that those of your American clients.
  • Become familiar with the right terms.

What about dialects?

Let us also talk about the different dialects you find in Germany. Different areas in Germany use different dialects in their spoken everyday language. But on web pages and marketing materials, it will not matter; those are written in “High German.” However, if you plan to do business in the German-speaking part of Switzerland (or Austria), some major differences in the language can occur.

All of the above illustrates that you really need a partner who can help you to expand your business into another country such as Germany. It is well worth doing, if and when you have a well thought-out marketing strategy and your product is needed in that market.

  • You must be clear on your intentions;
  • You must be well-prepared; and
  • You must have a partner who helps you look and sound your best.

With that in hand, you can create a business-expansion opportunity that likely will serve you well for many years to come.

About the Author

Dr. Stephie Althouse is the founder and CEO of Top-Notch CEO™ which guides talented companies and their people to greater productivity and profitability. With a PhD in chemistry and 20+ years’ experience in C-level leadership, she received the TR100 award as one of 100 “most promising young innovators under the age of 35” by MIT Technology Review magazine. She has also won two “Technology of the Year” awards; is a certified executive coach; and a member of the Institute of Coaching, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. For more details, see

As a global outreach firm, Auerbach International is both a premier language agency and a world marketing consultancy (distributors, research, strategies, cultures and skills to penetrate overseas markets). Please see and contact us at 415 592 0042 x 107.