America is a gigantic market full of opportunities, but also a complex one with a business culture entirely of its own. Robbie Claes, head of the Belgian Desk, offers a few practical tips.
‘Americans are very straightforward and dynamic – which is also reflected in the way they do business’, Claes says. ‘You can reach a verbal agreement very quickly.’ Flemish companies can be thrilled when they see how easy it is to make an initial deal in the US, but this is often followed by a reality check.
‘No document is ever drawn up here without it being scrutinised and negotiated – or even renegotiated – by the lawyers’, Claes continues. ‘It can easily take a year to finalise a deal that was concluded verbally after a couple of months.’
How can KBC help its clients in this regard? ‘We’re their interpreter. And I don’t just mean between English and Dutch: we explain to our clients precisely what is being asked for and why. That helps the parties reach an agreement faster.’
Another typical feature of the US market is that you need an introduction. ‘KBC has been active in the United States since 1977, so fortunately, we have already built up a broad network.
We also work closely with specialist advisers from various sectors and with Belgian representatives in the US, such as Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT). That means we can quickly put our clients in touch with the right people.
One last tip? ‘We often talk about America as if it were one market; but there really are a lot of regional differences’, Claes stresses. ‘So you should never target the entire internal American market in one go, but work from state to state. You have a much greater chance of succeeding that way.’