Selling in Denmark: The Danish approach vs the US approach
One of my clients, an industrial company in Jutland, sent two of its sales representatives to meet with a customer in the USA.
The Danish company’s representatives were expecting a small meeting with one or two people from the customer team, where they could present the advantages of their latest heavy machinery.
Instead, they were surprised to find the meeting room filled with 15 people from all levels of the company, from executives with purchase authority to administrative staff to several skilled workmen from the industrial floor.
“Why were there so many people in my sales meeting?” one of the Danes asked me later.
Americans find sales pitches entertaining
While not knowing the specifics of an event that had taken place so far away, I had an educated guess: Americans find sales pitches entertaining.
No doubt the staff were eager to meet these men from a magical land called Denmark, men who helped make some of the machinery they relied on every day.
The Americans were looking forward to hearing about the new machinery these men were proposing, and about its exciting new features, which they hoped would be revealed in a dynamic and colorful manner.
Selling in Denmark: Hyperbole is a turnoff
This is one of the major differences between selling in the USA and selling in Denmark: while Danes are turned off by the idea that someone is “just trying to sell me something,” many Americans actually enjoy the process.
And while Danes prefer a sales rep who underpromises instead of overpromises – (trustworthiness is everything!) – Americans are accustomed to hyperbole and automatically discount for it.
An American is perfectly happy to hear statements like “This machine will be the best investment you ever made” and can automatically translate this to “He says it’s a good investment” without offense at the overstatement.
(This is true in American social life as well: the American friend who promises to introduce you to “the nicest guy ever” “the coolest band in the world” or “chocolate cake to die for” expects you to discount for the hyperbole inside your own head.)
Danish buyers are skeptical
But Danish buyers are turned off by exaggeration, and want solid proof of any claims. And they’re also left cold by appeals to the emotional side of buying.
Sales skill, from a Danish point of view, consists of deep product knowledge and a readiness to explain specific benefits, delivered in a calm, steady tone.
Trustworthiness is the most important thing about selling in Denmark, as well as a comprehensive understanding of what the product can offer and how it performs against its competitors in the Danish market. A Danish-language interface won’t hurt, either.
In general, the Danes believe that a good product sells itself.
When these approaches clash
These approaches can clash if an American salesperson puts on an exciting show that a Danish buyer finds uninformative and manipulative….or if a Danish salesperson delivers a pitch so calm and steady that the American buyer nearly falls asleep.
Americans tend to take a lack of enthusiasm as a lack of confidence in one’s product, so Danes selling in the US might want to turn up their energy level a bit.
Conversely, Americans selling in Denmark might turn down the big smiles and body language to a somewhat lower volume setting.
If you’d like to learn more
If you’d like to learn more about Danish working culture, consider Kay Xander Mellish’s books on Denmark.
Kay’s book How to Work in Denmark is an easy guide to the basics of Danish workplace culture.
And her flip book Working with Danes: Tips for Americans and Working with Americans: Tips for Danes provides a useful guide for companies working across these two cultures.
All of Kay’s books are available in audio format from Audible, Storytel, and Nextory.
You can also book Kay for a presentation to your group or organization about Danish working culture. Both virtual and in-person presentations can be booked via Kay’s events page.
Read more about culture shock for an American in Denmark.