As an affluent, highly functional society, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a prime target for exports, but the market is very demanding and competitive. If you decide to enter it, you should also keep in mind the tough negotiating style of Dutch businesspeople.
The Dutch are assertive and try to win as many benefits as they can from negotiations. Even seemingly small details can make or break a deal. They do not like to back down from their sought objectives, and they are skilled at keeping those objectives in focus and making them priorities. It will benefit you to keep in mind that the country's society is generally highly organized and places emphasis on social responsibility and hard work.
Businesspeople through history and temperament
Trade has a long tradition in the country, and perhaps that is the root of the energetic Dutch business spirit. They are tolerant partners with strong team spirit and appreciate gezelligheid (friendly togetherness). Netherlands culture supports the belief that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, which when combined with excellent education levels and logical ways of thinking, makes the Dutch excellent negotiators and formidable adversaries. They will respect your point of view - but they may outthink you.
The Dutch style is to plan clearly in advance what they want to achieve from negotiations. They very much dislike making concessions, and when they do it is usually near the conclusion of negotiations. They are quite comfortable exhibiting stubborn determination, often putting unrelenting pressure on their partners to turn the situation around to their favor. Therefore, winning them over to your point of view can be tricky. However, if contact and good cooperation have already been established, you can expect loyalty and a friendly relationship.
The Dutch expect their business partners to be highly prepared, as far as the relevance of conversation, knowledge of one's own business, and coming prepared with materials, such as prospectuses, photo galleries and price lists processed in detail. When negotiations have been completed, they often make a summary of discussed matters and details, and they assume that this review of highlighted points constitutes confirmation of the deal by both sides. They often send the summary to the other party and wait to see if the other party takes a similar approach. For them it is important to confirm that both parties have understood the agreed arrangements correctly, and they are known for keeping their word and respecting agreements, even those that have only been agreed upon verbally.
The first impression is a basis
Great emphasis is generally placed on etiquette. Precision of communication is required not only in connection with offered products and services, but also during the negotiations themselves. Like the Scandinavians, the Dutch appreciate style and simplicity. If you have nice business cards, do not hesitate to pass them out immediately after the presentation. Using titles on business cards is more common than in English-speaking countries, but there is not a lot of significance placed on card contents.
It is customary to introduce yourself first by giving your last name. If there is not a major generational difference among individual business partners, everyone can subsequently address each other by first names only. A conversation should be started by brief casual conversation before immediately getting to the heart of the matter.
Direct negotiations and speed will be appreciated the most. Unless you are negotiating with representatives of smaller companies in which formality is not considered as important, it is not recommended to gesticulate a lot or be too familiar. During discussions, maintain an "intimate zone" of at least half a meter separation, and ensure that you maintain reasonable eye contact. The Dutch assign much importance to personal distance, so don't be surprised if even the chairs around the negotiating table are relatively far apart.
Meetings should be scheduled properly in advance. It is important to pay attention to punctuality, because being late even by just minutes can be a warning of future problems to the Dutch, since they are generally on time or even early. The best time for a business meeting is around 10 o'clock in the morning or in the early afternoon. Although the official language is Dutch, almost no one will have a problem with English, and you will often be able to communicate in German or French as well.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a rich nation, but the people do not show it off. Instead, they generally like to scrimp and save. Therefore, giving gifts to business partners is not even customary, although no woman will be insulted by flowers.
They do not display luxury excessively in the style of their attire either, never insisting on a formal style of dressing; elegant, tasteful and nicely coordinated attire is sufficient. Depending on the sector, quality jeans may even be sufficient for meetings. No dress code needs to be followed for the most part, even when one is invited to a gathering other than a business meeting.
The Dutch do not place much emphasis on dining. They usually have something cold for lunch, and they most often have dinner with their families, so business partners are most often invited to friendly meetings over coffee or tea. This stems to a certain extent from their frugal habits, and in keeping with that, it is also typical for everyone to pay his own bill. Tips do not need to be given, because in most restaurants they are included in the price.
As comfortable world travelers, another thing the Dutch appreciate is being invited to other cities and countries. Therefore, making it known that you look forward to welcoming them to your own homeland sometime in the future is another way of securing their friendship.