There is no second chance for the first impression: the most trivial and worn commonplace are very often the smartest one.
That’s the case. So how to start a sales meeting in the Bel Paese? What to say and what not to say if you want to look trustworthy and friendly? I always remember that wonderful sequence from Gung Ho, when Michael Keaton address the board of Nissan Motors to support the acquisition of the car plant where he works.
That’s a true masterpiece, a rich book full of hints of what you absolutely need to AVOID to start positively a meeting.
What about Italy then?
We need to distinguish two main populations: multinational companies and Italian owned companies, especially SME.
If you have a meeting with a director or a manager of Italian subsidiaries of multinational companies, like IBM, Shell, Toshiba, Volkswagen, Dell and so on, you could behave like in the international context: be professional, concise, straight to the point, do not indulge too much on greetings, don’t be too personal. Although Italian people seem to be very open and friendly, they want to decide with whom they like to share their privacy. Do not push us or we could react even firmly against what we believe could be a sort of violence and violation.
But if you are talking to a SME owner or director, you need to know that the first challenge you have to face is to overcome their skepticism. Italy has been overridden by many foreigners, I mean in its history. When the Roman Empire felt down our country has been conquered and spoiled by almost all the folks that lived in ancient Europe. German barbarians tribes? Name one and you found they invaded Italy and ravaged our cities and countryside.
And after that the French, the Spanish, the Austrian, the Turkish in the South, the Nazi…. So you can imagine people tend to be a little suspicious, even just for genetic reasons, something embedded in our DNA.
So first thing you should do: win their trust. Show them you have studied your lesson, did you homework: tell them you know something about their company, their history (website can help you), show them that you know something about the city they are based in, about Italian culture; avoid commonplace like I love Venice, love your food, love your wine. We take it for granted, we know we have the best food in the world and some of the most magnificent cities of the globe.
Try something different: what would you think of an Italian guy coming into your Manhattan office and start talking of Jo Torre and Derek Jeter or meeting you in Paris and quoting some Aznavour’s songs or Prevert’s poetries? A totally different approach…
Don’t overact. Better be calm, quite even cold, and then warm up during the meeting, that act too warmly and lose the grip of the meeting.. And if you need more hints, just write me.