When you start or expand your business in France, there are several cultural aspects that play a decisive role to define your final success or... not. Of course, Marketing and Sales are powerful success drivers but if not adapted fully to France, neither will work. Same applies for relations: if you're not recommended or nurturing a strong network, expansion can be very challenging.
Florent Coudyser, co-founder of weGrow, as a French native and having lived abroad for 15 years and working for businesses targeting France, decided to pin down the most important cultural aspects that you should bear in mind when doing business in France. Here are his top 5.
1. “Français de A à Z”
New mentalities are changing with the younger generations, moving more towards an English speaking culture. Still, France is one of those countries in which you absolutely need to get acquainted with, and adopt culture and language. “En France, on parle le Français” Bien sûr! A common mistake that I see happening too often when businesses enter France, is to assume that the target market will adjust to you. Wrong, and this is even more valid for France; you need to adjust to the market, not France to you ;-). What does this mean? Your product/service needs to be perceived as French by the French, from all angles. Not only you should have the right local payment methods and French trust labels in your field, but also use an engaging native tone of voice. Your team also needs to be connected into the French market - perceived to be so, at least. Common friends or acquaintances, offline and on LinkedIn play an important role.
2. Be introduced and recommended
We, French people, base our trust on what kind of relationships we have, and not based on the tasks we complete. While the economic context is now much better, the last decades were so not great, and because of this we tend to be skeptical and cautious compared to other nations; particularly in the capital as you may have heard. Recommendation by your network then becomes not only handy, but essential. Simply put in order to ‘attend the party’ or be introduced to a great potential client in France, especially in Paris, you must be invited by (several) friend(s) or acquaintance(s). No shortcuts ;-). Paris is the epicenter of France’s economical and political scene, so before starting anything, master your network.
3. Take hierarchy into consideration
Another important factor is that French people appreciate the seniority and experience accumulated over the years. It is a fast changing trend within the start-up world, however, if you decide to address corporate clients, status is very important. Think about the pyramidal model, in which conversations go boss- to- boss, CEO- to- CEO. In France, this ‘endless pyramid’ is what takes you away from fast decision making. The boss will have to have the final word. So it takes a while. However, once you establish a great relationship, you win - and not just in the short term.
4. Build (long-lasting) relationships
Obviously, you love French cuisine, right? Here is the opportunity to enjoy more ;-). Nurture your network to get introduced to people, and meet them over “déjeuner”. The lunch culture is part of doing business, and sometimes a deal is made over a meal while not discussing it at all. When it happens you know you understand the French culture.
5. The art of debating
A very typical and fascinating aspect that I have experienced consistently throughout these years is to see non-French people intrigued and puzzled by how we conclude a discussion or a decision. In this situation, there is some back-and-forth questioning of the scope and nature of the topic, during which the ‘why’ is always challenged. That is because French people don’t believe the world should be restricted to a few boxes, so there should always be room for discussion (otherwise we most probably won’t buy-in the concept). So be prepared to long-lasting sessions, debates and especially, master your ‘why’! When it happens, listen carefully and allow the debate to happen. It’s a great sign.
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We’ve seen it, been there, done it, learned from it, and still want to grow and address new challenges with people who share the same appetite.
Whether you want to set up in France or need to optimize your existing French operations, reach out to us.