Doing business in Italy: what is it really like? Italy is an important trading partner for the Netherlands. The country ranks sixth in importance, after Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. Conversely, the Netherlands is also Italy's sixth trading nation.
The Netherlands is therefore also an important partner for Italy in the economic field. A considerable number of Dutch companies have established themselves in Italy (mostly in the northern regions). Italy is also well represented in the Netherlands. On this website we have an overview of Italian companies in the Netherlands included.
Good business contacts mean that you have knowledge of the other person and his or her habits and customs. For Dutch people who want to do business in Italy, we have listed a number of important business etiquette. If you take these into account, the chance of business success in 'il bel paese' is a lot higher.
Meet your Italian business partner
A first acquaintance is preferably personal. Italians are not likely to do business after just a phone call or email. As a country in which the closest family and friends are the most important, there is a healthy suspicion of 'strangers'. The good news is that Italians are certainly open to making new friends. Especially if you show that you have good taste and know the unwritten rules a bit.
The SME sector is large in Italy. Many companies are family businesses, where the 'boss' decides almost everything. So you better make sure you get to speak to them. His employees often have limited decision-making powers. Keep in mind that there is often a large hierarchy within companies.
Italians often seem just as informal as we Dutch people, but when it comes to work, the boss is still often seen as the boss. You, as a business partner, can continue to vousvoye the Italian for a longer period of time. It also regularly happens that 'important people' are addressed as 'dottore' or 'dottore', even if they do not have that academic title.
Try to invest in the relationship in the first place. Italians don't like to 'make a deal quickly'. Doing business in Italy starts with building a relationship. Trust is important, not so much the impressive resume of your company that you bring with you. They must like you.
A good opportunity to explore each other is during an extensive business lunch. You can talk about business there, but certainly not all the time. At such a business lunch, wine is welcome. There is no smoking. This has not been allowed in public places in Italy for quite some time.
Knowledge of the Italian language
It helps if you have knowledge of the Italian language. Older Italians (such as SME bosses) don't really excel in their language skills. This does not apply to the younger generation: at least they had English at school. But even if your (potential) business partner speaks good English, it can be useful to know a good bit of Italian yourself.
Your business partner will commend you for your efforts to speak Italian and it will work well in building trust. Although Italians (just like the Dutch) often complain about their own country, a compliment about Italy will certainly be appreciated. Italians respect the organization of the northern European countries. But a condescending attitude towards Italy or its inhabitants is something they can only express themselves.
You can also feel free to ask about the region where your business partner comes from. Keep in mind that Italians do not speak nearly as directly as the Dutch. It is often about making the right decoration. The atmosphere during such a first business lunch is much more important than what is actually said.
You really can't compliment enough, don't let the quality of the food go unmentioned. Food is particularly important in Italian culture. Please refrain from criticizing anything at this stage.
Doing business in Italy: fare la bella figura
Everything revolves around 'la bella figura' in Italian culture. It is no different when doing business in Italy. You cannot easily exaggerate in your choice of clothing in Italy. A neat and well-fitting suit is essential for doing business. Either way, make sure you look good.
Casual wear is not appreciated. Not even a jacket over jeans. The Italian knows how to appreciate fashionable clothing and he pays particular attention to a matching tie, socks and shoes. With a carefully chosen outfit you show your Italian business partner how important the appointment is to you.
Business card and brochures
As in the Netherlands, it is customary when doing business in Italy to exchange a neat business card. The less information on the card, the more important the person. Make sure that your first name is also printed on the card.
If you are handing out brochures or folder material, it is best to include text in Italian as well. This increases your chances of success. You may also consider bringing a gift. Make sure it is really something beautiful. You don't make an Italian happy with a trinket from the promotional gift farmer.
Book about doing business in Italy
Do you want to know more about doing business in Italy? Then read the interesting and entertaining book 'Italiaanse Zaken' by Maarten Veeger. Also available at Bol.com.