US vs EU

Why US Companies Have a Hard Time in EMEA

As both a US and UK citizen who has spent his whole life almost equally between the two continents, it occurred that I might be well placed to comment on why a lot of US companies have such a hard time getting started over here. You be the judge 🙂

Maybe I shouldn’t comment on our “special relationship”, especially as my wife’s family are Irish-American, lawyers, ridiculously intelligent, and gigantic.

That’s me in the middle, and I’m 6’/220lbs (1.83m/100kg);

Irish Giant Lawyers

There’s your first difference right there; I actually wrote weights and measures both ways so that everyone understands. Europeans and Americans both tend to get rather upset when they have to do the conversions. And don’t get me started on Celsius vs Fahrenheit, miles vs kilometres, S vs Z, or the date (EU 04/07/13 vs US 07/04/13).

These are minor, and amusing differences, but when a business suffers for the reasons I lay out below, no-one’s laughing (except perhaps the Chinese):

  1. Annual Leave – Americans get 2 weeks, and maybe a 3rd after the first 1,000 years of good service, Europeans start out with 4 – 5 weeks. Don’t question it, don’t even comment on it, just accept it. Americans work longer hours than the people of any other country I’ve ever been to (42 at last count). Well, it may be that they are AT work more than any other country, but it’s a mistake to think they work harder. US companies work year round at a certain rate, European countries do very little in August/September, but make up for it in other months. I’m sure someone smarter than me can provide statistics.The European way is better, MUCH better, it’s also healthier and more sustainable;
  2. The Personal Touch – I think because Americans are so busy, the face-to-face aspect of doing business has taken a back seat to email. Even a phone call is too much sometimes. This does not work in Europe, where business is conducted in person, and preferably with ‘friends’. The whole concept of “it’s business, nothing personal” does not fly here.
    For the Americans; go and see your clients, buy them coffee/tea/vodka, talk about football (not your kind), and let your client bring up business when THEY are ready.
    For the Europeans; help the Americans out, if you’re not getting the service / attention you need, just say so, they will not be offended in any way. Suffering in silence, while very British, is outdated and obsolete;
  3. Culture – In the US, it’s pretty much one culture from Washington State to Florida, from Southern California to Maine. It’s one currency, and one language (unless you live in Miami), so there are no issues providing services from anywhere, to anywhere.
    Not so in Europe, where you can drive 5 minutes and find an ancient enemy, a NEW enemy, 15 different dialects, and barter in chickens. OK, slight exaggeration, sheep are the common currency, but you get the point. You have to be careful sending someone from Greece to FYROM (if they’ll go), from Russia to anywhere else in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), from the UK to …well, anywhere else (hooliganism was invented here). And you want to do business in the Middle East too? Better have two passports.
    If you want to do business in France, hire a dedicated salesperson in France. If you want to do business in Germany, better hire a well known salesperson in Germany, and so on. I’ll translate a rather graphic US colloquialism into ‘Poo, or get off the potty.” i.e. commit local resources, or don’t even bother trying to do business there;
  4. Stop With The Discounts! – The American sales process is the most aggressive, and pressure-filled anywhere in the world. End of month, end of quarter, and especially end of year targets force salespeople to almost throw their services away.  And what do European buyers do? They WAIT for the end of month, end of quarter and end of year to GET the discounts!
    Now combine that with selling multi-year deals AT the big discount, and you’ve just tied yourself into a never-ending spiral of price compression. Not smart;
  5. Give Them Time! – Even more important than not discounting, is giving the European salespeople time to build up a pipeline. It takes a good salesperson a year (especially in security) or more to build up a decent client-base, and if you put too much pressure on too soon, they will quit, and you’ll start all over again. Have that happen too many times and you will ruin your reputation from both the client, and the hiring perspective.
    Don’t make the targets too high to reach, or the constant ‘failure’ will destroy their morale. Setting the bar high so they “don’t slack off the pace” is self-defeating, there are many other ways to motivate the sale-force towards excellence.
    Doing business in Europe is a long term investment, treat it as such. Unless of course you’re only out to make as much revenue as you can before you bail, and then by all means, carry on;
  6. Devolve the P&L – No culture likes to be controlled by a foreign nation (yes, I’m biting my tongue), so devolve the P&L to the local country/region. By all means maintain the US control over the goals/KPIs/targets and so on, but leave HOW they get there to local reps. And no offence, make sure the local reps are LOCAL reps, not ex-pats, unless they’re prepared to stay long-term;
  7. No Arbitrage – Nothing causes more consternation that two completely different bottom line reports because each side chose the most ‘favourable’ FX to make their point. Decide on EXACTLY which currency you will report with, and which FX you’re going to use, right from the beginning, and stick with it;
  8. Visit, and Visit Often – America is so vast and so diverse, it’s understandable that coming over to Europe, with our even stranger languages / cultures, and foods, – black pudding anyone? – can seem a little daunting, but it’s absolutely worth it. Not just to see the sights. Again, Europe is a face-to-face culture, if you want to do business here, you must be seen to care. At the highest levels, do a road trip at least once a year to the more significant of your regional offices, to show not only the clients, but the employees that you’re serious, committed, and approachable.

The population of the EU alone exceeds that of America by almost 200 million, the GDP is on par, and if you throw Africa, the ME, and APAC into the mix, the potential is even more enormous (there are 50 countries within a 4 hour flight from London!).

The world is getting smaller, English is the language of business, and most of the planet really does want what the US has to offer.

It just won’t be on the US’s terms.

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