Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.
Success in the German market, as elsewhere around the world, requires long-term commitment to market development and sales backup, especially if U.S. companies are to overcome the geographic handicap with respect to European competitors. Germans at times perceive U.S. suppliers as tending to process a U.S. domestic order before taking care of an export sale or being quick to bypass a local distributor to deal directly with its customer. Some German entrepreneurs with selective experience with U.S. companies are skeptical about their long-term commitment and after-sales support. U.S. firms entering Germany today are generally aware of the factors that make for a successful export relationship and are ready to establish a credible support network. However, U.S. firms should be ready to address any lingering doubts from prospective German clients/partners.
Trade Promotion and Advertising
Few countries in the world can match Germany when it comes to leading international trade fairs. Such a reputation should be no surprise given that the trade fair concept was born in Germany during the Middle Ages. Today, Germany hosts a major world-class trade event in virtually every industry sector, attracting buyers from around the world. Trade fairs thrive in Germany because they are true business events where contracts are negotiated, and deals are consummated. U.S. exhibitors at German fairs should be prepared to take full advantage of the business opportunities presented at these events. While U.S. exhibitors and visitors can conclude transactions, all attendees can use major German trade fairs to conduct market research, see what their worldwide competition is doing, and test pricing strategies. Finally, German fairs attract buyers from throughout the world, allowing U.S. exhibitors to conduct business here with buyers from across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, as well as with other U.S. companies.
German trade fairs, in general, attract impressive numbers of visitors and exhibitors. This reality confirms the conviction that there is no other venue where an American company can get so much product exposure for its marketing dollar. Trade fairs also provide a U.S. company interested in entering Germany with the opportunity to research its market and the potential of its product properly before making a business decision.
Many German Trade Fairs were cancelled or postponed in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID pandemic. However, many of these trade fairs have returned in 2022, predominantly in-person events supplemented by some virtual elements.
In addition to exhibiting at major German trade fairs, advertising plays a central role in most companies’ broad-based marketing programs. Regulation of advertising in Germany is a mix between basic rules and voluntary guidelines developed by the major industry associations. The “Law Against Unfair Competition” established legal rules at the beginning of the 20th Century. Although it has been modified over time, this law continues to be valid today. The law allows suits to be brought if advertising “violates accepted mores.”
Many advertising practices that are common in the United States, such as offering premiums, are not allowed in Germany. Any planned advertising campaigns should be discussed with a potential business partner or an advertising agency in Germany.
General EU Legislation
Please refer to our European Union Country Commercial Guide article on selling factors and techniques.
German customers are often very price sensitive. Consequently, price is an important competitive factor, but quality, timely delivery and service remain equally important, especially in B2B relations
Sales Service/Customer Support
The German commercial customer expects to be able to pick up the telephone, talk to his or her dealer and have replacement parts or service work immediately available. American exporters should avoid appointing distributors with impossibly large geographic areas, without firm commitments regarding parts inventories or service capabilities, and without agreements on dealer mark-ups.
Please refer to our European Union Country Commercial Guide article on consumer issues.
Local Professional Services
Business service providers active in Germany can be viewed on the website maintained by the Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Germany.
Major German Business Associations
Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI)
(Federation of German Industries)
Deutscher Industrie und Handelskammertag (DIHK)
(Federation of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce)
Bundesverband Grosshandel, Aussenhandel, Dienstleistungen
(Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services)
Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau (VDMA)
(German Association of Machinery and Plant Manufacturers)
Centralvereinigung Deutscher Wirtschaftsverbaende fuer Handelsvermittlung und Vertrieb (CDH)
(National Association of German Commercial Agencies and Distributors)
For industry-specific business associations, please visit our leading sectors section, which lists key contacts and resources by industry sector.
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
We are not aware of any limitations on manufacturing or service sectors that prohibit non-Germans from owning or selling these businesses in Germany.