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The Outsider’s Perspective

Americans are taught to sell themselves from an early age. Europeans, not so much. I became a salesman at age 8 when my elementary school announced its annual fundraiser. The school offered special prizes for the top sellers of low-grade chocolate bars, and I remember being especially motivated by a pizza party invitation. I had two main sales tactics for moving this “chocolate”: be eight and knock on as many doors as possible. So, after working on my pitch, I went door-to-door throughout my neighbourhood and sold as much low-quality chocolate bars as people would buy (and ended up eating a few myself in the process).

Openly Manipulative Sales Tactics

Most of my European colleagues do not have these types of stories from their childhoods. Some may have been entrepreneurial-minded, but they were never heavily encouraged by their public schools to wander neighbourhoods raising money. We can ignore the fact that most kids at my school did not sell much chocolate, and in the end, they ended up having to pay for the chocolate they ate themselves. This was an annual fundraiser! I participated in several fundraising sales throughout my childhood, which means I have too much experience selling junk food to strangers.

The problem with this early introduction is that it creates a broader acceptance of questionable sales tactics. Using children to push sales is not just a tactic; it is an entire industry. The Girl Scouts organisation is the best-known example. Every year, they sell roughly 200 million boxes of cookies for an annual revenue of over 700 million USD. Moreover, it just so happens we were always selling junk food, which the famously obese American population did not need.

Free Trials for Products

Americans love free trials, which is why advertisements often end with “or your money back”. Do not you like them? Maybe you are not their target consumer! Because free trials only work for certain personality types! A more dominant, status-minded person can lose their interest at that moment that somebody offers something for free. Why? Because there is no image and brand anymore if anybody can use the product, even if it is just for one trial! Free trials push you to buy first, ask questions later because really, you do not have to think! Why research on the internet when you can try something in person? You can just send it back, after all. This tactic mostly capitalises on laziness and the need for instant gratification. OK, so maybe you did not love the product as much as the man on the TV said you would, but you got the thrill of buying the product, and you do not hate it enough to go through the whole rigmarole of sending it back.

One reason this tactic does not work in Europe is shipping costs. Because shipping costs within the United States are far cheaper than shipping costs throughout Europe, it is normal for an American to buy something online, and then send it back. I remember buying a 120 EUR pair of gym shoes from a British company, but the fit was not ideal, so I wanted to send them back. I found that the cost of shipping the shoes back to the UK was roughly 100 EUR. So, even though I did not like the shoes that much, I still kept them, because I did not hate them enough to spend 100 EUR to get them out of my house. In Europe, free trials among different nations are just too costly to make business sense.

Pushy Sales Tactics: Buy one get one free! For a limited time only!

Buy one get one free is such a common sales tactic that it has now been reduced to “BOGO”. Granted, it is mostly used for low-level retail goods, but it is something that I simply do not see as often in Europe. Europeans expect a higher level of quality in their products, plain and simple. If a product’s price is suddenly cut in half, then there is no way that it can be a quality product. While some level of discount can help close a deal (depending on the personality type of the buyer), a 50% discount will undermine all confidence in the product (for image-oriented types especially). The same is true for end-of-the-month rates. When a European sees a drastic slash in the price for one-time or end-of-the-month deals, they sense that they should stay away. It erodes trust for Europeans, but Americans, who in general value lower prices more, are generally happy to get such a deal.

Europeans are far more likely to look for specialists instead of generalists when it comes to purchasing, which is another reason why pushy tactics do not work. A typical European will buy bread at a bakery, fruits and veggies from a greengrocer, and meat from a butcher. In contrast, Americans are far more likely to stop by a Whole Foods grocery store and buy everything at once. Obviously, quality control is much more challenging when you have to be a generalist, but many people are happy to get a deal.

This mentality extends beyond simple consumer goods; Europeans nations have long-term approaches to reputations and relationships that affect the premium markets. An Englishman may not like the French, but he will respect French wine for its quality. Americans also hold onto most of the same reputations (Swiss chocolate, Italian leather, and French wine are luxury items in the US), but they are not held as deeply, and they are rarely more important than price. So, the pushy tactics still work in the US, and I have seen many doors close because of similar tactics in Europe.

Contractors versus Employees: The right to hire and the right to fire

The use of contractors in Europe is far more widespread than it is in the United States. In the Euro Area, the percentage of contract workers is about 16%, whereas it is less than 4% in the United States. France, Italy, and Germany hover around the EU average, but Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands all have usage rates above 20%. One reason for this EU/US divide is that most American states do not have the types of protections for employees that European employees enjoy. These EU protections affect the critical areas of any employment contract, such as termination and paid leave. In fact, many states are referred to as “right to fire” states, where the employers have great flexibility in terminating their employees for virtually any reason. There are limitations and exceptions, of course (such as discrimination), but they are weak compared to typical European protections. Regarding paid leave, one of the easiest ways to distinguish American and European workers is by asking them about their amount of paid vacation; Europeans enjoy a minimum of four weeks per year, whereas Americans get only two.

What can frustrate businesses in Europe is the fact that workers seem to have too many protections. When employees are under-performing in the United States, it is generally much easier to fire them. But these protections, although good for European employees, have increased the use of contractors. Contractors do not enjoy most of the benefits of employees, and termination is generally governed by the contract or a statutory default in lieu of a contract. European employee protections have undermined their original purpose. By protecting employees, companies are refusing to make more people employees. Conversely, because Americans have not given employees as many protections; however, companies are less incentivised to hire contractors. Instead, they are far more willing to hire someone that can be valuable to the company long-term.

The Ex-pat Advantage

I have the luxury of viewing everything as an outsider. As someone who grew up in America, I cannot help but look at Europe from the American perspective. But after acclimating myself to the European market, I have enough distance and time now to look at America from the European perspective. Business is business, sure, but the way people go about their business has enormous impacts on everyday life. The question, then, is whether the US and Europe will come together or diverge.