I’m just back from two weeks in Spain educating wineries in DO Ribera del Duero and Rueda on the U.S. Market. One of the subjects most requested by the attendees was for insights on dealing with Americans from a cultural perspective. Here’s what I presented. (Spanish version posted under the English.)
CULTURAL TIPS FOR DOING BUSINESS IN AMERICA
What Defines Americans?
• Individualism, self-reliance and the drive to be successful.
• Anything is possible if you work hard enough.
• Getting things accomplished-and accomplished on time-is the primary goal, developing interpersonal relations as a way to get there is secondary.
• The future is more important than the present.
• Don’t like to waste time, always in a hurry, think time is money: time is kept, filled, saved, used, spent, lost, gained, planned, given and even killed.
• Competition…we love it! It brings out the best in any individual and system.
• We do everything fast: Patience is a waste of time. (quote from Victor Imbimbo)
• There is a difference between confidence and cockiness…what you’ve done matters, not what you say you’re going to do.
• Education, income, awards, popularity are highly valued and rewarded.
• We like to eat fast, not linger as you do in Europe…more often than not, the goal is to eat more than socialize.
• We value facts over theory, and especially when combined with knowledge, experience, passion, commitment in others.
• We appreciate persistence. It may take 10 or 15 attempts to get a response. Don’t take it personally.
• Change is good, new/innovative is prized. Old has a different meaning to Americans. If it’s old it’s probably not good.
• Generally ignorant of other countries and languages.
• We realize Americans are perceived by others as:
• Pushy, abrupt, inconsiderate and loud….and that describes the average American in a small city or town.
• In NY we consider these as art forms.
• Success is the highest value in American life… The American Dream: Money, status, possessions, fame, respect.
• Action is seen as the key to success. To not be busy can be considered lazy.
• We like to say “rules are meant to be broken,” but we never say “laws are meant to be broken.”
• “It’s amazing how successful I am when I am well prepared.”
• Punctuality is expected: 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable.
• Keep your distance/physical space…1-1.5 meters.
• Don’t ask someone’s age, income, or weight.
• Politeness: “Please,” “Thank you” and “You are welcome” for everything. It’s rude not to respond to “Thank you.”
• Don’t smoke. If you must, ask permission first, and don’t be surprised to hear “No.”
• Don’t be insulted if someone calls you by your given name if they find your surname too hard to pronounce. And unless it’s “Smith or Jones” it’s too hard to pronounce.
• Don’t talk about race, gender or sexual orientation.
• Don’t touch, especially between males.
• Americans say “pardon me” or “excuse me” if they touch someone by accident, get too close, or if they do not understand what someone has said.
• Kissing: Air kiss someone as a greeting only if you know someone or they initiate it.
• Hand shaking: Make sure to have a firm grip, 1-2 shakes. Once you know someone, if you really want to communicate deep personal connection and sincerity hold their elbow with your left hand as you shake. Do not do this the first time you meet someone.
• When introducing colleagues, give a little info… “This is John Jones. He designed the sell sheet I just gave you.” Or “He looks after our business in Scandinavia.”
• Tipping: Restaurants/Bars: 20% minimum. Doormen $1 for a cab, $1-$2/bag for bellman, hair/nails 15%,. Cabs 15%, you’re expected to sit in the back—and remember to fasten your seat belt.
• The person who extended the invitation is expected to pay for the meal.
• RSVP means you must respond. Even if nobody else does, you will gain respect if you do.
• Do not worry about hurting someone’s feelings by responding “No” to an invitation. But people will be offended if you say “Yes” and then don’t attend.
• Times for events are important. If it’s 6-8PM, leave very close to the ending time stated.
• Americans will assume you understand something if you do not tell them otherwise.
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand things…we ask a lot of questions and expect you to as well.
• If we’re speaking too fast, it’s ok to interrupt and ask us speak more slowly please.
• Agendas are critical, stick to them.
• The U.S. is a phone-driven culture, and now with the prevalence of smartphones, even more than ever. “Phone” extends to email, texting, What’s App, Skype.
• Handlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.
• Exchanging business cards is casual, expect yours will be accepted, not looked at, and just put in a pocket.
• “Yes” means yes. “No” means no. And “maybe” really means maybe…more information or time needed.
• Get it in writing. A verbal agreement has little value. A confirming email is a bare minimum to any agreement.
• Hire a lawyer when you’re making important agreements, and make sure it’s someone with experience in the wine industry.
• Americans commonly begin negotiations with unacceptable conditions or demands….recognize this is just a starting position from which they then have room to negotiate.
• Pace of negotiations is usually fast.
• Emails should get answered in no more than 24 hours, keep it short, specific, clear. Include your contact info on your signature line with your personal email address, not info@.
• NEVER WRITE EMAILS IN ALL CAPITALS .
A Few Wine Industry Cultural Things:
• Don’t be intimidated and absolutely don’t be unprepared…unless you want to be intimidated.
• Big companies=hubris. They deliver mass, momentum, safety. Small companies=innovation, creativity, nimbleness, risk.
• Talk in our terms: 9L cases not bottles. Degrees Fahrenheit, not Celsius.
• Understand the jargon: DA, bailment, POS, below the line, etc.
• Recognize your objectives aren’t your importer’s…”why don’t they just sell?” Answer, because they’re making more money with other brands.
• When you visit accounts, introduce yourself to the manager as soon as you walk in…you’re in their home.
• Come prepared.
o Have all your materials available in print as well as in emailable form or on a thumb drive (and don’t expect to the thumb drive back.)
o Be ready with the answers to the questions you expect and expected the unexpected.
o You can expect what you inspect.
• Show that you’re listening by asking, “Can I take notes.” Let them see you do it…it’s flattering.
• “So, help me understand”
• “What I’m hearing you say is.”
• Deadlines and commitments are REALLY important…meet them.
• Do NOT get involved in pricing conversations on work-withs or with retailers. It’s their job, and in some states it’s illegal.
• Your brand is more important than the wine. Having great wine is necessary but not sufficient. You need to have Point of Difference that Makes a Difference….have a story.
• We eat lunch between 12-2 and dinner 6:30-8:30.
• We tend toward informality in dress and interactions. Do not mistake it for impoliteness or lack of seriousness.
• Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.
• Lack of deference to age and authority is not disrespect, it’s rooted in the American tradition of equality.
• Try not to be insulted by our directness, we think it’s a virtue.
• To signal the end of a conversation, we say: “Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
• Small talk is important as a prelude to any conversation. It’s important to show interest in the person and their life before getting to the point. But get to the point.
o Good subjects for small talk: weather, traffic, movies, music, hobbies, food, restaurants, sports and work
o English is rich with polite conditional verb forms…would, could, can, may, might
• “How are you” is not a real question, just a phrase. Respond with: “Fine, great.”
• When Americans say “We’ll have to get together” or “Let’s do lunch” or “See you later” it’s not an invitation to or commitment to a next meeting, it’s just a friendly gesture. If no date is specified, it’s just a pleasantry.
• We don’t like silence. However that said, it can be a GREAT negotiating tool. Generally though, try to participate in the conversation, even if your English isn’t great…silence can also connote unpreparedness or not having anything important to contribute.
• Meetings usually end with a summary with action plans and assignments by person. Follow-up is mandatory.
• There are many people in any given business meeting who can say “No”, but only one person who can say “Yes.” When negotiating, make sure you know who that person is, and determine if they are in the room or not.
© 23 Feb 2015