Guide To Doing Business In Germany

Every nation throughout the world has its own unique set of attitudes and values that help form the foundation of country’s business culture. In a working environment a lack of understanding can at best lead to miscommunication, or display ignorance and cause offence at its worst. If you’re considering forming a company in Germany then it’s important to appreciate that business etiquette is of paramount importance. Getting a few basics right will show that you’re well prepared and have shown due diligence in taking the time to understand what’s required for a successful working relationship.

Setting A Meeting

Business meetings are typically arranged weeks prior to the date of the appointment. If you’re trying to get a meeting via a letter or an email, then it would be worth taking the time to translate your message into German. While English is readily adopted and spoken by a large proportion of the business community, it’s better to be safe and the time taken will show consideration and respect; virtues that are held in high regard by German society. Don’t rely on Internet tools to do this, hire a translator.

Rank and title are very important in German business so correspondence should include your contact’s name as well as the appropriate business title.

Meeting Etiquette

As with all business matters, meetings are taken very seriously and tend to follow a strict structure including a start and finish time that’s unlikely to waver. Plan your meeting carefully to avoid overrunning.

Arriving even a few minutes late can not only cause offense, but illustrates poor time management and an inability to stick to a schedule. Not an auspicious start for a country whose economy is built on efficiency and process.

Cancelling at the last minute is seen as extremely rude and is certain to jeopardise your business relationship. If it is unavoidable, call as soon as you can to explain and apologise for the delay.

Detailed planning is a prerequisite before attending a meeting and Germans will tend to allocate a considerable amount of time prior to any appointment, enabling each individual to thoroughly debate their point of view. Suggesting an agenda with strict timings and defined topics of discussion will show consideration to their internal requirements. The outline will also ensure that all key topics are covered, delivering all the necessary information to key stakeholders in order for them to make a considered decision about your proposal.


German companies tend to favour a direct style of communication that may seem unfamiliar to those who have worked in the UK.  It may initially come across as overtly confrontation, perhaps even arrogant, but both assumptions would be incorrect. The straightforward approach is preferred to simply find the truth in any situation. Honesty, facts and statistics take precedence over personal emotions. There’s no harm intended, it’s simply a method of communication adopted to get the root of the issue.

While this type of approach may seem alien, it’s perfectly normal and a detailed line of questioning can even be a good indication that your proposal is being given serious consideration. To be prepared, try to pre-empt any technical questions and back-up answers with specific and detailed replies that will add credibility to your proposition.

Contrary to popular stereotypes Germans do have a great sense of humour, however there is a time and a place for everything. Work is serious and results driven and making light of the situation does not help anyone achieve these principal objectives.

Giving A Presentation

  • Presentations should be factual and backed up by facts, figures, charts and tables.
  • If you’re leaving a written copy of your presentation, leave one in German and one in English.
  • Hiring an interpreter to attend the meeting can avoid any potential confusion.
  • Don’t go for the “hard sell” as it can be counter-productive. The decision making process can take a long time and is often reached by consensus across a number of parties. Pushing too hard won’t speed up the process and may irritate your associates.
  • Include detailed case studies and examples of previous successes.
  • Germans are cautious by nature so include both contingency and action plans with clearly defined steps to deal with any eventuality.

The Follow Up

The German economy didn’t survive the recent recession without being efficient and productive. It sounds like a cliché but diligence and efficiency are very important when doing business in Germany. Follow up any meetings with detailed notes, a summary and action points within 24 hours.

There’s likely to be considerable internal discussion regarding your proposal so allow a few days for this to take place before following up with a call.

While contracts are inevitable and obviously required, any verbal agreements confirmed with a handshake are considered binding. If successful German organisations are less likely to change suppliers (providing you do a good job) and winning a contract could ensure you have a client for a number of years.

How To Address Someone

Formality, titles and respect are all extremely important in a German business environment. First names are typically reserved for social situations and it’s not uncommon for colleagues who have been working together for years to address each other by their surnames.

The formal etiquette when greeting someone, especially at the start of a new working relationship, would be to use Herr or Frau (Mr or Mrs), followed by the surname. Protocol dictates that you should continue using the formal greeting until you’re told otherwise. When that happens it implies a sense of trust and a readiness to develop the business relationship further.

Work Vs. Social Life

Germans value privacy and personal space opting to have a distinct separation between work and their social lives. While small talk is considered acceptable (however it won’t be long before you’re talking about work) it’s best to avoid any personal questions relating to family life.

Socialising outside of work won’t happen until you’ve developed a strong working relationship. Even then it’s always advisable to apply a certain degree of professionalism and be sure to remain polite, courteous and respectful.

As a country that’s survived the recent economic recession better than most, Germany is an extremely attractive option for both new and existing companies. By taking the time to research any cultural differences and understanding what’s important when developing new business relationships, you’ll give yourself and your company the best start you possibly can.

This post was written by We offer our clients a number services including German company incorporation, company formation, bookkeeping, virtual offices, accounting and immigration advice.

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