Driving a Great American Product in (to) Europe

Jan. 24, 2014
While I was driving with my client in my RAM1500 pick up truck, he commented: “ It is funny; this is an American car and it does not have any rattling noise”.

Just visited couple of my friends in Germany. They are all entrepreneurs and, among other interesting things, we talked about sales.

Their perception is (pretty black and white though) that Americans are really good in selling but not innovative and Germans are exactly the opposite.

Another European entrepreneur had a ride in my RAM 1500 pickup truck ( Yes, I love to drive my American pick up truck in Europe!) and after a short while he made a comment: “ It is funny; this is an American car and it does not have any rattling noise.”

I didn’t say anything, I just thought, had he been a supplier he would have traveled the rest of the trip on my truck bed!

Germans think of themselves of “being the cradle and center of innovation.” French think modestly that they “invented the best part of the world.” Italians are just happy as long as they “get true Italian food for lunch and dinner and are well dressed at all times.” There are a lot more stereotypes about nationalities.

Now here we are; the “Cowboys from the new continent” are trying to sell their highly engineered and innovative products to customers in a region like Germany, France, Italy, etc.  Tall order for American SMEs.

Generally Europeans love to travel to USA for vacation, but when it comes to industrial technical products they usually buy only the products of large and well known US companies.

There is no rationale to it, It is only a matter of perception.

This is a EU perception and an American SME in Europe can overcome it.

I am talking about industrial products. Yes, I know we have NEMA, ISO, UL, CSA, SAE, VDA, British Std, etc.. These standards and requirements do vary sometimes considerably from each other adding more parameters into equation.

Unless you do have the-absolutely –one-of-a-kind--American-product, here are few thoughts for American SMEs trying to open up their sales channels in Europe:

  • Look for contacts that do have affinity with American products. There are EU distributors, that have a lot of experience in selling American products
  • Make your products more attractive to these potential distributors by perhaps modifying:
    • The marketing documentation to be compatible with EU look and feel
      • For instance German speaking purchasing engineers love to have lot of technical detail, sometimes more than necessary
    • The product look and feel, like HMI or color or materials
    • The packaging should look and feel like EU products
    • Finish and enclosure
  • Make sure that support for your products becomes locally available, by looking for distributors who are willing to go through extensive training
  • Check that your products are complying with the EU legislation and rules
  • Look for really good sales persons
  • Be aware though, that most EU sales people are not used to work with really high commissions. They usually have a relatively high fix salary, like 80% to 90%
  • Show the EU distribution channel regularly where your potential customers in Europe are
  • Make them contact them (this does not happen itself in the beginning) and report to you

As everything in companies, this expansion to Europe boils down to having good sales people.

Good salespersons are everywhere, but unfortunately really rare!

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