When doing business in a foreign country, being aware of the national regulation is not enough. You have to blend in with the local business etiquette and behaviors. To help you understand how the French people do business in 2018, we will be inviting both French and American experts to share their vision with you and give you advice to avoid any missteps. You might be surprised by what they have to say!
Our first guest on this series is Philippe Andres, founder & CEO of B2In Consulting LLC. and former Orange executive, who has been living in New York for 6 years. Philippe is committed to fight some hard-to-die stereotypes. Let us know in the comments if you agree with his take on the French in business!
1. Don’t be worried about not speaking fluent French, but at least try to say a few polite phrases in French. OK it remains an ideal for both American and French salespeople, to speak as well as your prospective client in the same language. If you are able to speak a few courtesies in French, your client will appreciate the effort and it will help break the ice. Don’t forget that even if most of the managers and executives within French companies speak English, they always appreciate any effort you will do to speak a little bit slower than you naturally would. And think about their personal assistants, because you will need their help and most of them don’t speak English very well.
2. Remember French people don’t like to mix their professional and private life. Especially when you are still in the acquisition process, don’t invite your prospects to drink wine or beers and spend time at the restaurant, whatever stereotypes you might have heard about the behavior of French people. Yes, French like to drink wine and have a good dinner but with their friends and relatives and most of the time on the weekend. Regarding your attire, you don’t have to wear a tie throughout the working day but I would recommend you still wear shirt and suit.
3. Share with your prospects your past experience and accomplishments. From my point of view, one of the most important differences between the American and French culture, is that in France everybody always asks you what you have done whereas in the US everybody asks you what you are going to do. I think that’s because France is an old country with a long history and past while the US is the country where the American Dream is still possible.
4. Discuss deals at the highest hierarchical level possible. Indeed, French companies are managed in a very hierarchical way, and the true buyer is always among high executives. At the same time don’t neglect the people you will be working with when the contract will be signed, because most of the time they have the power to influence the choice made by their boss.
5. Rely on personal network and word of mouth introductions. Most senior executives are graduates of the same engineering or business school. They are members of alumni associations and are always sensitive to a recommendation coming from one of their fellows with whom you have been in touch or doing business.
6. Be patient and don’t be too eager to close a deal. French are a very Cartesian people and they like to carefully weigh the pros and cons, especially when they have to spend money. Moreover, the French are also very political, that means within companies most of the buyers wants to make sure there is a consensus before making a decisions.
7. Be proud to be American because most of the French managers are still fascinated by the US. More and more of them have studied or done an internship in the US and they know very well how innovative and efficient US companies are, especially when it comes to marketing and customer experience.
Based on these few recommendations, good luck and be reassured you will be successful and welcomed to this attractive country.
Philippe ANDRES is CEO and Founder of B2In Consulting LLC, a young company he has just launched and based in New York. Philippe ANDRES has acquired a great international and managerial experience within different entities, especially focused on Telecommunications and High Technologies. In particular, Philippe ANDRES worked many years for the European Telco ORANGE (previously named France Telecom) pursuing a very diversified career in different jobs and level of responsibilities. He was Board Member of France Telecom and principal private secretary of the Chairman. He was also Board Member of La Poste, the French Postal Service, the computer company Group Bull and Innovacom a venture capital firm owned by Orange. He was also auditor to the French Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale and he is reserve colonel in the French Air force. Philippe ANDRES is a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the French National Order of Merit.