Let us be clear straight away: if you take up contact with your new business partners in Sweden via a recommendation that is a great plus! Sweden is a small country as far as the size of the population and the number of enterprises goes. They know each other – within a region, a branch, within the power elite. It is customary to help each other – and recommendations are a part of that.
If you cannot show any personal recommendations (yet), you should name references. Depending on the branch and the product, this can be a contact person who if necessary is available for questions on the phone or digitally. Even if the Swedes will never make use of a personal inquiry with your referees, you are giving them a signal that you have cultivated a trusting and transparent relationship with your business partners up to now. That is judged very positively in Sweden.
The Best Season
It is best to try to initiate business in spring or autumn. Summer in Sweden is summer! That may sound trivial, but it is important. When, if not in summer, should you go on holiday? Think of the climatic conditions in Sweden… Swedish employees have a legal right to four continuous weeks of holiday in the period from June to August. And of course, all the bosses and entrepreneurs also want to take leave in the summer. That means that many firms are (almost) completely shut in the summer months. So you cannot expect them to agree to a meeting with you or that you will receive an answer, let alone a decision.
The Best Time Of Day
When making an appointment you should keep in mind that the suggested hour is between 9 am and 4 pm, because for Swedes their work-life balance is sacred. The family is given priority over fulfilling professional duties. How else could family life function?
Part of the Swedish attitude to life is not only taking for granted that family and work can be harmonised, but also, as mentioned above, that summer must be utilised. So in the bright months, there should be no Friday afternoon appointments.
Also, it is good to know that surprise visits are not at all well received! It would be crudely impolite to annoy people with an unannounced visit.
And With Whom?
Then there is the question with whom you should make an appointment. Some business people are inclined to enter into negotiations with managers, regional leaders, or at least people in charge of sections. For the very first contact, e.g., at network meetings or at trade fairs, a conversation at those levels is quite sensible. But if there is a (long-term) business relationship in the offing, you definitely should involve the project manager(s). Swedes are proud of their grassroots democracy, inside firms as well as outside. If you do not win over and convince the direct project managers, you will not achieve a business deal.
If despite a first contact that went pleasantly, Swedes do not immediately intensify your business relationship and take precise steps, that can have various reasons. For example, it could be that you have simply not heard the Swedish no. And that happens fairly frequently. But it could also be that a decision is simply not yet ready to be made from the viewpoint of your business partner. Time is a symbol of quality in Sweden. But you are surely interested in a long-term and high-quality relationship.
According to the branch and the size of the business you are aiming at, you should right at the start take time to get to know your Swedish business partners personally on the spot and build up trust. That is an investment! Once the trust has been established further communication can be well handled by telephone or e-mail. Again and again, supply your partners with relevant information and news, and keep up friendly contact without being importunate.
A Swedish satirist once said: ›Swedes are like a bottle of ketchup. For a long time, nothing at all comes out, and then suddenly all of it.‹ So be patient! It is worthwhile!
Extract from Business Culture Sweden, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag