Open, friendly and optimistic: these characteristics best describe the general attitude of US-American business people. If you want to do business in the United States successfully, you should present yourself as being full of confidence and positive.
Formal business dress code
On a business trip to the United States, you should be aware that the dress code tends to be formal. However, this also depends on the region and the respective industry.
Men should wear a suit and tie, women a business suit, either with trousers or a knee-length skirt in classic colours. Also, tights and closed shoes are a must for businesswomen even at high temperatures in summer. Refrain from too much jewellery, shrill colours or even strong fragrances.
Casual clothing is appropriate in creative industries or in the IT sector as well as on Casual Fridays.
A warm welcome
As in many other countries, you shake hands in the USA, but only at the first encounter! However, when greeting business partners from outside the company, formal handshakes are appropriate at every meeting even if you know each other.
In either situation, a US-American will ask, “How are you?” It is important to note that this is only a phrase and not a sincere request for details. Therefore, you shouldn’t describe how you are feeling today, but simply answer with: “I’m fine. How are you?“
“To be a nice guy“ is of high importance in US-American business life. This is shown above all in non-verbal communication. Friendliness, smiling, showing attention and interest are considered good manners. This is also how you can make a good first impression.
Small Talk is Big Talk
US-Americans demonstrate their openness right from the beginning of a first meeting. After a short while, they will offer to address them by their first name and immediately present ideas for joint activities. For Non-Americans, this is considered overfamiliar, or they might make the wrong assumption that they have found a new friend for life already.
US-Americans do believe that “Small Talk is the glue between people.” Small Talk is used to create a pleasant atmosphere for business talks. No more, no less!
Thus, for small talk with US-Americans choose pleasant topics only. Sports and leisure activities are popular topics, while anything that is connected to religion or political crises should definitely be avoided.
During these conversations, US-Americans might spontaneously invite you to dinner. However, you shouldn’t always believe that this is a real invitation and immediately suggest a date and time. This would be perceived by US-Americans as unpleasantly intrusive. Just say that this is a wonderful idea and agree that you should meet up soon.
Once a pleasant atmosphere has been established, US-Americans will start to talk about business topics. They will announce this by saying something like: „Let’s get down to business now.“
US-Americans usually don’t have time for long explanations or unnecessary details. Therefore follow the motto: K.I.S.S. – “Keep it short and simple“ or “Keep it short and straight“. Refrain from communicating far too many details, instead limit yourself to the information you really need to make your matter understandable. Come to the heart of the matter as soon as possible. The motto is now: Time is money!
Presenting your company and products
When presenting your products or services, keep in mind that in the USA you also sell yourself as a person. Above all, the introduction to your presentation should be as positive as possible. Tell a short story or make some self-deprecating remarks.
After this positive introduction though, you should follow the motto K.I.S.S. – „Keep it short and simple“ or „Keep it short and straight“ once again. An exhaustive description of your company’s history is out of place in presentations for US-Americans. Refrain from going too much into detail when talking about the background of things or any procedures. Only present the information and details, your US-American audience needs to be able to understand your products and services. Come straight to the point. Always emphasize customer benefits and practical advantages of your products or services. US-Americans don’t have time for exhaustive theoretical explanations. Don’t forget: Time is money!
Repeat the customer benefits again. If everything goes well, finish your presentation with the offer to call back next week having an individual quote ready. People in the US focus on the present. This means they don’t like to wait for long. A very quick response is expected, because as mentioned already: Time is money!
Business cards and titles
At the end of your first meeting hand over your business card showing all contact details as well as your position in the company. Make sure that your business title on an English or bilingual business card corresponds to the US-American system. In many countries, employees get an English business title that isn’t used in the US or at least doesn’t equal the same hierarchical rank.
Anyway, with your business card, you mainly provide your contact details before leaving. In the USA business cards don’t serve the purpose to demonstrate that according to all your titles you are the right man or woman for the job like this is the case in many other countries at the beginning of a business meeting. In the USA you’ll enjoy a much higher level of trust and don’t need to prove anything by showing a business card first.
Staying in touch
You should keep in touch with your new US-American business partners. After your return, either send the promised quote as soon as possible or otherwise just say thank you for the interesting conversations or the opportunity to present your company. Later, you should get in touch on a regular basis. Present a new idea, an interesting piece of information or other news to maintain the relationship.