Business etiquette is a tricky matter to talk about. What professionals expect from their business visitors consciously and – more importantly – unconsciously, varies greatly with things like:
- The kind of business – think banks vs. game designers vs. a movie or film studio
- The location – think the New York / Boston area vs. the Southeast vs. the West
- The person visited – think a lab technician vs. a financial guy
A good sales person or customer rep can easily pick up on the vibes and undercurrents as they are present or developing in a business call. Nevertheless, I found a few things to be universally true across all of the above mentioned conditions:
- Every business call starts with small talk. It is so important and very frequently underestimated by European visitors. Never be the one who changes the topic from small talk to the business at hand – it’s the host’s prerogative. I’ll write a separate post just about this topic.
- Avoid emotionally negative language about things or persons outside the room, like competitors or competing products. Of course, you can and should compare your product with the competition, but only in an objective, matter-of-factly way.
- Don’t be the one who ends the call, for instance because of your itinerary. Some people really enjoy the opportunity talking to foreigners, and you don’t want to leave them with the feeling that your time was too precious for that.
- Consequently, plan AMPLE time for your visit, at least for the first one. I had plenty of calls lasting up to 2 hours, with the time for the business topic being less than half of that. Later on, once you know who you’re going to meet, you can plan more realistically. Will it happen that you are out after 20 minutes? Absolutely, but better wasting 100 minutes than the opportunity to make a new customer, right?