By @SimonCocking

Christopher Jimeson @EI_CJimeson Consulting on business development across cultures for growth in France, pioneer & problem solver @Entirl  and @EI_Paris .

What are you up to in France?

I’ve been living in France for the past 11 years. I came from the States with my wife for a three year trial period and never left. Now we have three children and careers here in Paris.

What’s the goal of EI in Paris / France ?

The main goal of Enterprise Ireland’s French office is to support and assist our Irish client companies in increasing their sales in the French market. We do that via our wide network of in-market contacts and by access to the most up-to-date market information. We also keep a network of market experts and consultants who can support our Irish client companies in either starting to export or growing their exports to France.

Tips for Irish companies looking to set up in France?

The Irish are well regarded in France, but this fact doesn’t shortcut the sales process. The Irish offer will still have to stand on its own merits. In the private sector, French companies generally appreciate that foreign companies are often more sophisticated than their French peers. Provided Irish companies can reassure their French prospects that they can deliver the same level of service as a locally based supplier, they will never be discriminated against on the basis of being foreign.

It’s very important to have a reference site, preferably in France, or at best with another corporate group – particularly to one of the CAC 40 French multinationals.

French organisations and procurement teams need to see a proven track record and see that the Irish company has done similar kind of work, ideally in France.

Innovation, a focus on R&D, an entrepreneurial and risk-taking approach and being able to offer bespoke solutions all score well with French prospects.

Lean companies that are flexible and can be rapidly integrated into a production line or supply chain are also favourably received.

Competing on price alone is not advised, as it’s seen as undermining the market and French buyers view this type of behaviour negatively. However, a competitive price, on top of other forms of added value, will make it harder for rivals to match.

There are many possible ways to sell to the French market, including direct sales from Ireland, agents, partnering and distribution.

Enterprise Ireland’s Paris office broker contacts with business accelerators – experienced consultants with contacts and expertise in a particular sector who now provide their services to companies looking to sell into France.

It’s often worth exploring whether an existing employee of your company wishes to locate in France or even hiring an agent on a fixed-term contract at the early stage of business development, with a view to employing them on a more permanent basis later on.

French companies are open to joint ventures. This is commonly used in France as a way of formalising a strategic arrangement with another company. It involves setting up a new entity, with the Irish company and French partner each having equity shares. These vehicles are usually set up because one company brings local market knowledge and the other provides products or technology. In other cases, they can be used to co-develop products.

Many Irish companies have found the easiest way to become established in the market is to recruit a French person who has industry expertise in their target sector, and who may currently be working for a competitor. The advantages to this approach are that the recruit is likely to be familiar with your company’s product or service, and who will know the market and the customers. Native speakers will also remove the language barrier in building a sales pipeline in France. Keep in mind that France is an expensive country to recruit in; there are a lot of social contributions that have to be made on top of the salary.

Tips for French companies looking to come to Ireland?

We in Enterprise Ireland do not deal as much with French companies coming to set up in Ireland, except for the case where a French entrepreneur wishes to start-up in Ireland versus exporting from France.

Still any tips I would give would likely be on the order of cultural differences, to help the French company understand the Irish and build the trust necessary to do business.

Low vs. High context communication – the French generally have a propensity for higher-context communication than do the Irish. French companies should not therefore be surprised by Irish enterprises sending more direct, explicit messages, relying more on words (vs. contextual information) and honesty than perhaps the French are used to in doing business.

Tasks vs. Relationships – France has a relationship-oriented culture; whereas, the Irish in comparison could be described as task-oriented. French companies should be aware then that for the Irish, the first meeting is to learn enough to start doing business together, instead of getting to know the person. The Irish will see no issue in doing business if it makes good sense; whereas, the French will likely only do business once trust is squarely established. The Irish will view accomplishing a task as the basis of an effective relationship, but the French will tend to accomplish tasks only for those relationships that count.

Monochronism vs. Polychronism – French culture is more polychromic than is Irish culture. This means that the French will tend to rely more on multitasking than the Irish “do one thing at a time” preference. French companies generally will see punctuality and meeting deadlines as less important than do Irish companies. In France an agenda is guideline for discussion; whereas, in comparison the Irish expect meetings follow the agenda that was set.

4. Low vs. High power distance – one of the biggest tips I would give to French companies coming to Ireland is to make them aware of that Ireland generally prefers a low power distance way of doing business. In France, the high power distance culture has created steeper, more centralised “institutions” where status is attributed and the Director’s vision is nearly absolute. Coming to Ireland, where there are much flatter, decentralised structures, where status must be acquired and company management by comparison is much more democratic, French companies will have a big adjustment to make.

5. Uncertainty acceptance vs. avoidance – here again there is a big difference in the two cultures. The French value continuity and reliability much more than change and innovation. This is a boon for the Irish when the French come knocking – most likely to source innovation. However, as French companies fear failure and unknown possible consequences, change is resisted often beyond reason, certainly when compared to the Irish who do not consider failure as a ‘disaster’. The French will try if possible to defer risky decisions, so in Ireland the French will likely be uncomfortable with the push to shorten the decision-making process as much as possible.

6. Negative vs. Positive reinforcement – the French tend to use negative reinforcement to ‘motivate’ employees and partners; whereas, the Irish generally strive to motivate via positive reinforcement. French companies coming to Ireland need to be aware that the “glass is half full” mentality of the Irish can clash with the French’s own consideration that the “glass is half empty”. The tendency of the French to focus on what went wrong can be a deterrent to doing business with the Irish who prefer to focus on what went right.

7. Deductive vs. Inductive reasoning – perhaps the biggest difference between the two cultures finds its roots in the French’s entire system of thought – inculcated from the youngest age – based entirely on deductive reasoning (as opposed to the Irish inductive culture). French companies wishing to do business in Ireland must accept that Irish companies prefer informal logic based on observable facts, where thinking moves quickly if with less certainty. The Irish will tend to value results over method and the more quickly one can find a viable solution, the better. Irish though tends to approach problems from the bottom-up, or from the specific to the general. This is all alien to French culture, which prefers formal logic based on the relationship of ideas, methods, general theories that can then be applied to specific issues. As you can imagine, this is the source of huge problems in communication across the two cultures.


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