Even if sometimes rather unapproachable when expected to socialize in a somewhat personal context, Germans like to mix and mingle professionally. When it is to their advantage or it serves a larger cause, managers and company owners are often ready to cooperate with businesses that are in the same industry, sometimes even with their competitors. I am not talking about cartels and price rigging – which I do not deny may exist – but about a great variety of trade associations and initiatives.
Some important associations you should know
The Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau (VDMA), for example, represents more than 3,200 member companies in the mechanical and systems engineering industry in Germany and Europe, mainly looking at common economic, technological, and scientific interests. When I last accessed their website, the landing page of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) read “Quo vadis, Diesel?” The VDA currently represents more than 600 companies that manufacture cars, trailers, bodies, and buses, as well as parts and accessories; and, it is concerned with more than just the question of how the recent diesel emission scandal will affect the industry in the long run. One of their major activities is the staging of the IAA trade shows. There is even an association for enterprise federations, industry working groups, and industry-affiliated service providers, which is the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie e.V. (BDI). The Federation of German Industries focuses “the joint interests of its member associations and represent[s] these in dealings with parliament and society.” The BDI “represents the interests of 100,000 businesses with eight million employees.” But, there are many more smaller and often very specialized associations.
As you can see, personal relationships may become less relevant when you are embedded in a quite easily accessible and tightly institutionalized network that you can rely upon; and even you can tap these networks and try to make use of their resources! Some associations, like the Association of German Engineers (VDI), explicitly seek and maintain close relationships with an international audience. The network of the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHKs) consists of bilateral chambers of commerce abroad. They consult and represent German companies worldwide that wish to develop or expand their business activities in the respective countries. I suggest you get in touch with your local chamber and find out whether you can participate in conferences or networking events that target German business people wanting to do business in your country.
Associations are also always a good starting point when you need to learn about certain industry standards that are (maybe) relevant for exporting your products to Germany. If you want to sell electronic goods, for example, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) or Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) are matters you need to get acquainted with. For that purpose, I suggest you first try to get in touch with ZVEI, the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association. On their website, they inform about economic policies, business cycles and markets, and so on.
And, how would you identify the associations relevant for you? Either you go through the BDI’s website (https://english.bdi.eu/bdi/members/) or you check out who are the media partners of relevant trade fairs. Very often, the events are supported, if not organized, by the relevant associations. Or, simply try a keyword search: “my industry” plus “association” or (in German) “Verband.” Or, even better, get in touch with me!
How may I help you?
You want to develop your business in Germany? Then you may also face some very common pitfalls; the good news is that they can be quite easily avoided! You should hire me if you want to gain a better understanding of your opportunities, and you value a local’s help in finding buyers and potential business partners. Learn more about some past projects and what I can do for you: You’ll make it in Germany!
You are (only) interested in learning more about Germany?
Read more about what Germans understand by “small talk” and what (other) pitfalls you are likely to stumble upon when trying to do business with Germans…
Above are (slightly amended) snippets from my new book. If you want to learn more about Germany and how Germans like to do business, then try to grab a copy of Doing Business in Germany : A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices – or download the e-book. Either ask your bookseller to order a copy for you (might take a few days, though), or look out for it on amazon.