Customs and Business Practices in the U.S.

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The United States is generally a less formal and more relaxed nation than many other countries. Despite that, it is necessary to be aware of a few main customs and business practices present in the U.S.

Having participated in numerous international business meetings in the United States, Green Gate Consulting has observed and summarized business customs and practices dominating in the U.S. market. Below we present the most important of them.

Undoubtedly, the most important principle in all aspects of doing business in the U.S. is an American saying “Time is Money”. For Americans, time is literally money. One needs to keep it in mind and respect the time of an American business partner, both in electronic correspondence and during personal business meetings.

Americans are very direct in the way they communicate. They respect logical thinking and expect their business partner to communicate clearly and understandably. They do not have time for second guessing and they wish to get to the point in a timely manner.

Electronic correspondence with an American business partner should be brief and strictly to the point. One should expect such correspondence to be rather informal and not falling into a framework of a business protocol.

Personal meetings are a strongly preferred and more fruitful way of business interactions with Americans.

One should always arrive at such meetings on time, which means about five minutes before an actual time of the meeting. Americans consider a late arrival to a business meeting to be disrespectful and showing a lack of personal disciplines, which, in their opinion, automatically translates into a sign of poor business organization.

In case of a delay more than 10-15 minutes, one needs to call to inform of such a delay and to apologize for it. It is, of course, unacceptable to not show up on the pre-arranged meeting with an American business partner without explanation, because it can mean a missed opportunity for another meeting.

Missing business meetings without prior notification speaks negatively not only about the person and his/her company, but it also presents a negative perception of his/her country.

Business meetings with Americans usually take place in a relaxed atmosphere, but they are serious in terms of their content and purpose.

During the first personal meeting there is only a short window of opportunity to build trust and understanding.

Americans develop their opinion about a trade partner within the first few minutes of a meeting. It is important, therefore, to be not only punctual, but to also have a proper appearance – from proper business attire, to an enthusiastic approach to a meeting and a proper company’s presentation.

Business attire in the United States varies depending on the region of the country and the type of business. A person meeting with a Wall Street banker will, for example, dress differently from a person meeting with a Californian entrepreneur. In general, however, American people on the East coast dress more formally, while people on the West coast are known for being less formal. If in doubt, it is always better to dress more formally or inquire from someone in advance.

It is also important to show enthusiasm in face of the upcoming trade talks. Americans are enthusiastic and full of energy people who like to see the same traits in others.

Business talks usually begin by exchanging business cards and short conversations on general topics to ease the atmosphere. Americans almost immediately start calling each other by the first name. Often, a business meeting agenda with participants’ names is distributed.

Proper preparation for the actual business talks is an extremely important issue.

It is important to properly present promotional materials including catalogs, brochures and company’s leaflets. During business meetings Americans like to receive something “tangible”. All promotional materials should be prepared in flawless English and they should have an interesting, eye catching graphic design.

All business presentations should be specific, not too long and they should contain only the most important information. Americans have no time or inclination to listen to a long and boring presentation.

One principle that we successfully use at Green Gate Consulting and recommend to our clients is to prepare a presentation in such a way, in which you would like to hear it without knowing a certain subject. Such rule always works!

During a business meeting Americans expect questions. They consider questions a form of expressed interest and they assume that the raised issues are understood if there are no questions asked. A person who does not at all speak during a meeting is perceived as either not prepared or having nothing to contribute.

All participants in the meetings with Americans are encouraged to speak. Americans feel uncomfortable when the meeting becomes silent. They also have a tendency to repeat the earlier verbal agreements to summarize and clarify the next steps of action.

In the American culture, a successful business meeting is usually short and to the point. Conclusion of such a meeting with an American partner is clear, and its success is determined by whether or not specific and measurable agreements have been made.

In the American business practices there is no room for guessing, because Americans do not have time for speculations. They prefer direct and clear communication, where the words “yes” and “no” are thoroughly understood, and the word “maybe” means literally “maybe”-not “no”.

Americans put a great deal of value to written agreements. Verbal contracts are rarely legally binding. Americans do not sign any business agreements without consulting a lawyer and they expect the same from their business partners.

The purpose of any trade negotiations in the United States is to sign a contract, and not to create friendly relations with a business partner. Americans are people who strive to achieve a certain goal and they generally do not have time for anything else besides achieving this goal.

It is important to know that in the United States business relationships are formed between companies, and not between specific people. Americans take care of business first, and only later pay attention to personal relations.

Therefore, one should not generally expect from American trade partners any relationships beyond formal business meetings. In the case of any social intercourses, they are usually short and evolve around business themes.

The key to success is a proper continuation of the meeting, the so-called “follow up”.

After a business meeting with an American partner, one should send electronically (or better yet via conventional mail, which might be more appreciated and better remembered) a “thank you” note for a meeting with emphasized desire to continue the previous agreements. Americans often, even in case of small pleasantries, use the word “thank you” and they expect the same from their business partners.

No longer than one week after a personal meeting, it is also very important to send to an American business partner a letter confirming the desire to do business, and to provide any additional information that might have been previously requested. One should absolutely not hesitate to send such a “follow up” letter, because Americans expect, and even wait for “follow up”.

Additionally, as in any business relationship, it is worth it to remember to always meet the deadlines. Americans are professionally disciplined people and they require the same from their business partners. In all circumstances and as a general rule, one should treat an American partner with the same respect as one would like to receive him or herself in business interactions.

One should also remember that American women are treated on an equal footing with men in all aspects of life in the United States, including business relationships. Women in the U.S. are independent, extremely ambitious and self-sufficient. Therefore, one should never assume any secondary role for them in business relationships.

Business practices in the United States are generally rather informal. It is worth it, however, to remember some American business customs in order to know what to expect during business talks with Americans, and thus ensuring personal business success.

Green Gate Consulting represents international companies on the U.S. market and we offer our support in this respect.