How to Talk to Your American Audience: Selling People Your Business in the U.S. Versus in Germany

Written by Christian Jorg (CEO of Opentopic, German Accelerator Mentor in New York)

Understanding your audience is critical when perfecting your sales approach. When you start selling your product in a new market, it also means you’ll have to adapt your sales strategy to an entirely new audience. Ultimately, everyone has the same goal – a happy customer. Still, U.S. companies approach sales quite differently than their German counterparts.

Selling the Business Case Over the Product

Germans are typically quite product-focused. They sell their elite features first – and trust their product to be so convincing that no customer will be able to say no. Americans, on the other hand, will sell their accomplishments and their business first. For example, they might boast that their product was voted #1 on Amazon and they are backed by a celebrity investor. Thus, they win over the customer before even communicating what the product does. The success of this strategy in the U.S. market may be attributed to Americans, in general, being less wary of trying new products from companies they are unfamiliar with. Therefore, U.S. startups are able to woo potential customers by getting straight to their selling points.

In Germany, there are plenty of established companies with positive reputations and dependable products. In general, however, it takes more convincing to get a German customer to try a new product they’ve never heard of before. A German approach, emphasis on the end product, may not be an effective use of valuable face time with American clients. In the U.S. market, one must and get right to why their business is the right choice for a customer – and what proves this.

The American Benefit of the Doubt

“In Germany, you must earn the chance. In the U.S., people give you a chance.”

– Philipp Rogge, Founder & CEO of Styla (New York Class of Winter 2017)

In Germany, the general sentiment towards startups has positively changed in recent years. However, new German businesses still face an uphill battle establishing trust between their products and the German audience. Thus, in Germany, the onus is on the startup to prove their worth.

Young companies don’t have this problem in the U.S. Many Americans are aware that startups can turn into large companies quickly, and customers do not want to fall behind – no one enjoys being the last one in the group to know what an Uber is. This is why it’s safe to say that Americans are comfortable using a new product they may have never heard of before, as long as it sounds promising. In America, people know that a business can go from the abstract to a household name overnight.

Why Don’t We Meet?

Philipp Rogge, Founder & CEO of Styla (New York Class of Winter 2017), found that in New York City, there is a low entry barrier to meet with clients. This helps businesses acquire customers more easily and enables them to scale at a faster rate.

In New York City, virtually every major enterprise company has a local office or representative just a short subway ride away. Meanwhile, in Germany, Philipp would sometimes have to travel across the country just to meet with one client. He says, “At times NYC feels like an entire country in one city.” Philipp has been able to meet with multiple American target clients in one afternoon – something that he was not used to doing before coming to the U.S. If a potential client in Germany is a long train ride away from a startup they have no immediate interest in, they may be hesitant to take a meeting. This is because requesting someone to travel so extensively to meet may send the wrong message.

Americans, on the other hand, will be more open to having a brief meeting or a short phone call with a startup, even if, going into it, they know it will not lead to an immediate sale or anything substantial. They will feel no guilt for hosting a “pointless” meeting since there is a low commitment for both parties. Multiple “pointless” meetings can quickly transform into lasting relationships. These relationships may be extremely helpful further down the line when the timing is right. Startups will be smart to take advantage of any opportunity to have “pointless” meetings because, well, you never know what it may turn into.

That being said, time is still money for Americans. The U.S. business world is noisy and everyone has somewhere else to be and ten other people to meet. This is why quickly getting the point across is crucial.

So, Let’s Get to the Point

Once a meeting is set, it’s time to wow the audience. A sales pitch should rely heavily on visuals, be sped up, and get to the value proposition quickly. It’s crucial to grab attention fast: When someone in the U.S. thinks your idea is cool, it can spread like wildfire.

Americans are very quick to leverage their network. Philipp learned this within the first few days of operating in New York. After he gave a quick pitch to one person, they opened up their entire network to him and offered introductions to several people that would be interested in Styla. Philipp discovered how different German and U.S. sales really is.

Adapting to the U.S. audience by selling your business case, taking advantage of meetings and introductions, and thus building a large network is key to the U.S. sales mentality. Keeping pace with the American business speed can land a German startup at the top. Conversely, maintaining a German pace in the U.S. can leave a startup lost in the noise.