You got it wrong – Act 4

The customer isn’t king

Germans reject any relationship which even hints at a master-slave relationship. As suppliers, vendors, consultants – call them what you want – Germans want first and foremostly to be treated respectfully.

Seldom are they willing to sacrifice their self-respect, their self-understanding, doing whatever the customer demands, accepting anything the customer throws at them, even if it is profitable to do so. Germans would rather turn away the business. For them, the customer is not a king.

And here‘s the flipside of that logic. The German customer doesn‘t want a slave. They want an expert with backbone, who focuses on what is best for the customer, even if it involves telling the customer what she or he does not want to hear.

Even if doing that can threaten the business relationship. German customers don‘t see themselves as king. They‘re customers. „We have a need. You have the expertise. Let‘s work together.“

And Germans especially respect people who have the ability to dig deep, to „drill through the thickest boards“ as one of their common figures of speech goes. They want to be challenged, their ideas and operating assumptions.

When a German hires someone – whether as an employee or an external service provider – they want that person to know more than they do. It‘s implicit in the transaction that there is a gap to be filled, an area where they do not have the knowhow.

During my four-year engagement for this customer I had witnessed on several occasions – and had heard of several other – how he treated folks who did not challenge him, who were not prepared, who kowtowed to him, who did not “stick to their guns.” It wasn’t a very pretty scene.

Is this plausible to you? Would this approach work in the U.S. business context?