Doing business in the US means adapting to the local culture. Here are 10 commandments you need to adopt to increase your chances of success:
- If you’re on time, you’re already late. Punctuality is key to making a good impression, being late to meetings will be interpreted as a lack of respect and interest.
- You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Once a business contact has decided that you’re not worth their time, you will not get them on the phone or Zoom ever again. Also, it’s much easier to get a first meeting than in France but that doesn’t mean there is interest (yet).
- Practice small talk. All business meetings, particularly with new contacts, start with small talk. Americans love to build rapport this way and find commonalities between them: where they’re from, where they went to school, what sports team they like. Lighten the mood and make people comfortable.
- Nobody cares about your labels. In the US, business people value accomplishments, hard work, and commitment. They do not care that you went to a fancy French business school or that you spent 3 years at McKinsey. You need to find a different way to create credibility. The only exception to this rule is if it's to connect with someone whose alma matter or prior employer you have in common.
- Understand the concept of social capital. People view their network as a major source of value. They will happily open up their network and recommend you if it makes them look good (conversely, if you don’t make a great impression, that’s just not happening). Actively work on your social capital by connecting the dots between people you know and let the magic happen.
- Act fast. An American’s out-of-office message: ”I’m out for the next 3 hours for major surgery, I’ll get back to you as soon as I wake up”. Cliché but true - be lightning fast (<2 hours ideally) at replying to important emails, especially if you’re being introduced to someone. That’s a mark of interest and respect.
- Ask for advice, get money. Ask for money, get advice. If you want to understand how a company works, who makes decisions, get potential sales interest… always ask for advice. People love to help but barriers will go up if you are too direct about wanting to sell.
- Everything is awesome. It’s important to reflect positivity in encounters in business and social settings, in verbal communication and body language (smile more!). Europeans tend to understate their achievements to show humility. This is not expected in the US, be proud of what you do/build/sell and put the most positive spin on it you can.
- Friendliness ≠ being friends. US culture is informal. Unless you work in finance, no one wears a suit. Everyone talks to each other using first names and there is no concept of “vouvoiement”. Don’t get confused however, friendliness doesn’t mean they’re your friends and keep a healthy distance.
- Expect less direct negative feedback. You often won’t get direct feedback or no’s from potential investors, clients, or partners if they don’t like what you have to offer. You might instead hear generalities, excuses (”the timing isn’t great”), or you will get ghosted. Listen to the subtle signs so you can manage those conversations better.
We might add the 11th commandment to this list, and that is if you're serious about expanding to the USA, get funded by Newfund.