How to get ready for trade shows in the U.S.

Business development at German companies is often done via attendance at trade fairs. It is at least a large building block for marketing and showcasing products and services to existing clients and prospects. Most traditional German companies are strong supporters of the Messe for their respective industry. To some extent this is also true for industries in the U.S. and companies from Germany who have a serious interest in the North American market usually make it a point to visit or exhibit there.

BayernIntl1For European companies, having a little primer on how business in the U.S. is conducted differently might be helpful. In fact, I would generally advocate a solid intercultural preparation course for companies and their attending staff prior to visiting any new country.

Bayern International, the foreign trade agency for the State of Bavaria in Germany, recently asked me to write an article about some of the key points for German companies to consider when participating in trade shows in America. It has been published in the latest issue of Außenwirtschaft im Fokus, the agency’s semi-annual publication for trade delegations and companies that do or intend to do business internationally.

You can read and browse the magazine (in German) online in an e-version here. You’ll find my piece on page 17. In the article I’m addressing issues like logistics, language, and what makes the U.S. market attractive for European exhibitors.

The main point of the story, however: Know before you go! American-style business communication and conduct is often significantly different than in German-speaking countries. Being aware of how to prepare for the trade show months in advance, following up with your prospects weeks before the actual event, staying on your American counterpart’s radar – all of these behaviors may differ from business development in Germany.


For instance, at U.S. industry trade shows it is very common that the actual “talking business” part doesn’t take place at the booth in the exhibit hall. Instead, potential new partners often seek each other out before the show and arrange for more intimate meetings off site. They’ll still mingle and network in the expo halls but they will want to connect on a more personal level over dinner or drinks.

Jet-lagged as you may be, having enough fuel in the tank to go an extra after-hours round may just win you the deal. And if you are visiting American trade shows to cultivate or expand existing business relationships, you should be prapared to venture away from the exhibition grounds: Don’t be surprised if you get an invite to take a look at the production site of your U.S. business partner – 150 miles away. By American standards that’s a short trip.

Final thought for German readers: By all means, avoid the cardinal mistake made by too many German companies abroad – displaying what I call “engineering arrogance.” Yes, German enigneering is highly regarded around the world. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should roll in with a “we know best” attitude which will earn you plenty of frowns and eventually will cost you dearly.

On the American side, if you are hosting a delegation from overseas there are of course several things to consider and I have written about some of them before: Find these articles here and here. There is also some relevant video content you may want to watch.

Is your business located in the Southeastern region of the U.S. and are you currently importing/exporting or dealing with foreign-owned entities? I encourage you to register for one of our upcoming cultural competency workshops. It is easy to get in touch with us: Just visit The Culture Mastery website and click on the “Get Started” button. I look forward to our conversations.

ch (April'14).2Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!

One thought on “How to get ready for trade shows in the U.S.

  1. Thanks Christian once again great article. Your postings are always very thought provoking, thorough, yet simple for all those interested or involved in cross cultural communications. Look forward to the next one!

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