Given the fact that Europe’s largest and richest country lies right at our doorstep, clearly it makes for perhaps the first country to consider after having taken the decision to expand internationally.
Business-to-Business enterprises will normally find communicating with their continental clients relatively easy, not least since most German business people at C-Level can usually speak English, sometimes arguably better than their UK counterparts. As for German consumers, they are Europe’s wealthiest and citizens of Europe’s most populous country, and tend to be loyal.
However, as Walmart’s attempt to crack the German market demonstrates, size and money are not necessarily prerequisites for success in this attractive but demanding market. But the rewards for those that do manage to crack it are invariably considerable.
There are several types of business that can benefit by reaching out to the German market. UK media and creative agencies, for example, are generally perceived to be at the top of their game. The words ‘Made in Britain’ can be synonymous with quality and style. As for destinations, the wanderlust of the Germans is well known - those businesses that take the time and trouble to translate their website and other marketing collateral into German are much more likely to win more business from these experienced and seasoned travellers.
Online stores eager to capitalize on Germany’s e-commerce boom should bear in mind that German consumers are not so keen on credit cards – so it is important to be able to be paid using ‘Bankeinzug’ from their bank current accounts.
Websites that rely on translation automation tools such as Google translate are doing themselves and visitors to their site an enormous disservice – it is far better to engage in the services of a native human to communicate your message effectively.
One way SME’s can dip their toe into the German market quickly and cheaply is by creating the impression that they are already operational there. This is done by establishing a virtual office, which is much cheaper and easier to set-up than a real one. Image is important to Germans, and the address associated with such an ‘office’ can and should be prestigious one for companies where this is important. Mail-forwarding and having inbound telephone calls to a German number answered by a native speaker come as standard for such a service.
Communications and infrastructure in Germany are excellent. The German high-speed InterCity Express (ICE) trains offer fast, frequent and reliable services between all German cities. It gets better: soon it will be possible to board one at London’s St.Pancras and arrive in central Cologne just four hours later. Flying there lasts just over an hour, and regular flights are operated by most airline carriers. As one might expect, more often than not, taxis are usually Mercedes or Audi!
Consequently, business meetings can normally conducted within a working day and it’s normally therefore possible to get back home before Newsnight.
As within the United Kingdom, regional differences exist: getting a handshake in Düsseldorf, for example, is usually easier than in Hamburg. This having been said, there are many Anglophiles in North Germany who would welcome the opportunity to work with UK companies.
Working with a facilitator on the ground in Germany who understands the cultural nuances that exist within Germany itself will further improve the chances cracking that German nut.
Expanding into new markets is seldom easy, but the rewards for those that do can be significant – particularly with this one. And by reaching out Germany, it is usually easier to win business in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland – that’s a combined market of some 100m consumers, commonly referred to as the DACH market, who share the same language.
Succeeding in Germany will not be easy. But once customers or partners are won, they usually stay. This is what makes Germany a particular attractive market to conquer - so doing allows UK companies to start making Euros ‘made in Germany’ for many years to come.
Cicero once mused that the greater the difficulty, the greater the glory. Success in Germany would be glorious indeed.