Drawing from my extensive experience in aiding companies worldwide to find tech buyers in Germany, I’ve compiled a list of valuable best practices and prevalent errors that could prove beneficial to salespeople and business owners.
Depending on your experience, some advice might seem obvious. However, when I wrote this article, I kept in mind some simple yet often overlooked aspects that aspiring engineers, young IT talents, and business administration students at the private university where I teach tend to miss. So, even if you’re experienced, it might be worth revisiting these steps to avoid common pitfalls when trying to find tech buyers in Germany.
Know Your Starting Point
If you’re looking to introduce your technical solution to the German market, understanding the prevailing tech industry trends in Germany is crucial. For example, you might want to find out how willing German companies are to invest in cloud-based solutions or use AI tools. What often escapes the attention of international tech companies is the rather low level of digitalisation in Germany and the potentially quite limited receptivity of German decision-makers to embrace novel technologies.
As a starting point when aiming to find tech buyers in Germany, you might think of acquiring market data through the purchase of industry reports. However, such reports offer no more than generic insights that might not align with your specific niche at all. On top of that, spending a considerable amount of money on them can significantly deplete your marketing budget, providing limited value in return.
Also, when referring to industry reports or expert interviews, always question the motives of the author or interviewee: consider whether the narrative presented is grounded in reality, driven by wishful thinking, or primarily aimed at promoting their very own solutions. Not every report is independent.
Internet Search to Find Tech Buyers in Germany
Another approach commonly used to find tech buyers in Germany is searching the internet. When employing search engines, again it’s imperative to scrutinise the information you uncover. Ask yourself two things: Is this information up to date? And is it from a reliable source?
For example, I had a student who cited a market statistic that he claimed to have just found on Google. I doubted the accuracy of the information he had gathered, so I asked him to share the link. It turned out that his reference dated back to the 1990s!
Always be vigilant regarding the date of the data you collect, and bear in mind that recently published articles may still reference outdated survey results or data from historical market reports.
It’s also important to critically reflect upon what data and insights you get access to. For instance, if you aim to market your products in Germany, it’s vital to learn about the perspectives of German CEOs and decision-makers. However, even when using translation tools, you may not be able to access German-language industry journals or other pertinent sources that are tailored to your business.
Google Translate or DeepL can help you convert German text into your native language, and I am always impressed by how nuanced these automated translations are nowadays. Nevertheless, be careful not to misinterpret what is written between the lines. For example, if you interview a German CTO or Head of Marketing, what might sound like a lack of confidence in a tech solution could actually just reflect their matter-of-fact attitude which is very common among Germans.
AI Tools Can Help You Find Tech Buyers in Germany
Certainly, ChatGPT and other AI tools can gather market data and compile reports about where to potentially find tech buyers in Germany. For example, you could use ChatGPT to interact with PDFs containing German market studies or business reports. Be cautious though whether ChatGPT is actually analysing the entire document or merely extracting information from just a few pages…
The importance of providing clear instructions cannot be overstated. While mastering the art of formulating effective prompts for AI tools is a skill in itself, asking the right questions becomes more straightforward when you possess a basic understanding of the subject you’re investigating.
Know Search Terms and Industry Jargon
When it comes to asking the right questions, I am reminded of a German market study I did a few years ago. My client, a Finnish company, wanted me to conduct a competitor analysis to see if a specific industry was ready for their IoT solution.
The first step was to familiarise myself with the industry jargon that was developing in that market. I created an English-German glossary of key terms, which turned out to be incredibly helpful. For example, Logistik 4.0 was a term that was used frequently in the German industry at the time, and I doubt that anyone from abroad would have thought to search for it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that German tech news and blogs are mainly in German. So, as a foreigner, you might not understand some of the stories or analogies that industry experts use in the German media. For example, in 2018, former Research Minister Anja Karliczek said in an interview that “5G ist nicht an jeder Milchkanne notwendig” (5G is not needed for every milk jug). This phrase is still quoted today, but if you don’t know the context or origin, the meaning can be confusing.
Which reminds me of a German market research I recently did for a startup that was targeting the process industry, and my “discovery” that in the northern parts of Germany, the term Meierei is often used to refer to a dairy company. Even I, as a native German, had never heard of it before. In the south of Germany, where I grew up, we would use other terms, such as Molkerei or Milchwerk, to refer to milk-processing companies. So, make sure you use the same terms as the potential tech buyers you want to find.
Social Media Might Not Be Straightforward
I don’t want to discourage you from trying to reach out to German decision-makers on LinkedIn. It’s wise though to lower your expectations when it comes to finding tech buyers in Germany.
In my experience, Germans tend to be less active on social media compared to people from many other countries; and they often are reluctant when it comes to engaging in sales conversations with strangers. It’s worth noting that social media influencers in the German tech industry might be an exception.
Before reaching out to a German businessperson on LinkedIn whom you haven’t previously interacted with, it’s a good practice to verify that their profile is kept up to date.
Based on insights from executives in my personal network, many no longer pay attention to their LinkedIn Inmails because their inboxes are inundated with what they consider to be unsolicited or spam messages.
If you choose to use LinkedIn to find tech buyers in Germany, it’s essential to be mindful and tailor or personalise your sales pitch so that you differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Information Embedded in the German Industrial History
It fascinates me to find patterns when researching a particular industry. Sometimes, a company’s name tells already where it’s from, and what its core competencies are.
If you understand certain concepts, you can target your search more effectively and avoid wasting time on dead ends. For example, if you’re researching energy-intensive industries in Germany, you might also want to get a list of German glass manufacturers. If your list includes companies with the word Manufaktur in their name, you may want to remove them in case you’re looking for larger accounts. The term Manufaktur often indicates a smaller, more specialized, or even traditional business that may not be a good fit for your cutting edge technology solution.
One of my former clients was interested in talking to companies that source injection moulded parts. At first glance, I thought that companies selling wall boxes for e-charging would be an interesting market. However, when I dug deeper, I realised that many of the companies currently trying to get a piece of the e-charging market have a history in the plastic processing industry themselves.
In other markets, your strategy might be to target large multinational corporations (MNCs). In Germany, you ‘re often better off looking at mid-sized companies and so-called Hidden Champions. Talking to SMEs could be your fast track to success in Germany. And while Germany isn’t exactly a hotbed for startups or venture capital, you still might want to check out if you can find tech buyers in the German startup scene.
Know in What Pond to Fish for German Tech Buyers
Unless a company’s size or market reach is a key factor for buying your tech solution, I would encourage you to delve deeper and explore B2B options beyond just the biggest tech companies or the leading technology distributors in Germany. Germans love specialisation, and a small, specialist re-seller might be a much better fit for you than any broadline distributor you would come across when downloading a list from an industry directory.
However, it can be tricky for a market outsider to swiftly evaluate who is an essential player in the German market and who is not. I recall assisting a Chinese PCB manufacturer during electronica, a prominent electronics industry trade show, to find tech buyers in Germany. When my client showed me the business cards he collected from new trade show contacts, it became apparent that he didn’t differentiate. From his perspective, the Head of Purchasing from a market leader in the German automation industry held the same sales value as the owner of a small shop.
Similarly, I sometimes get to see long Excel lists with company names that have been downloaded from a trade show exhibitor directory. Ticking all the relevant search filter boxes, for example, machines, product equipment, and industrial electronics, is a good start to finding tech buyers in Germany. Still, you might download a vast amount of data, including a high number of non-relevant companies, that is too much to handle in the end.
I also find the process of sifting through lead lists, often compiled through rather generic research done by temporary interns or inexperienced marketing staff, to be quite tedious. In my experience, investing substantial effort in working with these lists and reaching out to the many unqualified accounts tends to yield fewer promising results compared to starting afresh in a more professional manner.
Attending Trade Shows to Find Tech Buyers in Germany
This brings me to my last point on how to find tech buyers in Germany: attending trade shows. Technology trade shows or events are great for conducting some research, testing the waters for a tech product launch, or finding tech buyers, re-sellers and business partners in Germany.
Most of my clients are tech companies, and nearly all of them have either visited or intend to visit Hannover Messe, a widely recognised and sizable industry event in Germany. However, it might be more advantageous for you to consider attending smaller, more specialised events, such as embedded world in Nuremberg, automatica in Munich, or the light + building trade show in Frankfurt. For instance, the Wireless Congress in Munich serves as an excellent conference and networking event to connect with representatives from the electronics industry, particularly within the IoT sector in Germany.
Trade shows also provide many opportunities to witness new products in action. I recall a visit to the automatica trade show with one of my clients. Standing next to him facing various robots and production equipment proved to be an effective way to gain deeper insights into a particular value chain and what criteria to consider when searching for suitable tech buyers in Germany.
Foreign companies frequently encounter challenges when entering the German market because they mistakenly assume that it operates like their home markets or any other market, they’re already familiar with. This misconception can swiftly result in wasted time and lost money, along with many missed opportunities when trying to find tech buyers in Germany.
I am more than happy to assist you in
- gaining a deeper insight into the German market,
- obtaining a more comprehensive perspective of the industry landscape,
- pinpointing potential B2B opportunities that might have eluded your consideration,
- identifying smaller trade shows and industry events that are more suitable than Hannover Messe.
Collaborating with a local business development consultant like me who is willing to learn all about your products, business model, and business objectives will ensure that you embark on the right path to find tech buyers in Germany. Contact me today: hello[at]andra-ibf.com