Business in Italy: survival tips for business developers

by | May 3, 2019

Doing business in Italy and struggling getting results? Check out our survival tips to get your business development right and win Italian hearts.

As an International Business Developer, I do business with half of the world. But being Italian, I have a special spot in my heart for all my Italian deals. Italians are not the easiest people, especially business-wise and if you’re not Italian.

Let’s be clear. We actually love doing business with international companies. But we like to do it on our own time and terms.

These are some of the things you have to keep in mind if you want to do business in Italy and be good at it.

Focus on personal relationships

The most important thing you should know is the foundation of Italian culture. Everything is based on personal relationships. If you try to cold call – the number of people that are actually going to listen to you is 5%. Same goes for cold emails.

The most efficient and incisive way to reach your goals is through your friends. Your friends already have trust in you and the people they know trust them. If you realize that your company is interesting for your friends and they can become your fan, ask them to help you spread the word out there.

Kindly ask them to arrange informal meetings with their friends or just to have a chat together during a conference. This is great especially if you are just starting out and don’t know where to start to convince your prospective clients of your professionalism. It will create a pretty solid client database to grow in the future.

The same goes for strangers. When you want to really work with somebody but don’t have any common acquaintances, look twice. You may discover that on LinkedIn you have a common contact, that you studied at the same university, the same city, you support the same football team (double Italian score!). Ask your friends if they know that person. If nothing works, try to understand what their interests are and maybe you will find out that you share the same hobby.

Allow time for chitchat

Also, don’t forget the chitchat. We need 5 minutes to talk about nothing and just have a laugh together. Once the real talk kicks in, being direct is ok, but we are not Nordic. State your conditions and make them clear to your counterpart.

You’ll work on those together. At the same time, you don’t want to give too much at the beginning and might want to leave yourself some wiggle room for further discussion and negotiations.

Most of all, when you do all this, don’t act like a rookie. Italians are pretty conservative people, even though they don’t like to admit that. Creating trust helps if you are a Western-looking man, but overall you need to be as confident as possible when talking about your company or your product.

chitchat with italian customers italian business culture 


 Martina during a conference

Make it look bigger than what it is

You have to pretend that everybody already loves what you make and make others believe that – if they are good enough – they can have a piece of it too. Look for that one forward-looking, preferably prestigious, client and get them onboard.

As soon as this one prestigious partner is in, the other Italians will finally feel that they can trust you because nothing bad will happen to their money after all.

We take things slowly. Be patient.

Don’t think that this can happen overnight, like in every US-inspired fairytale. Italy has millennia of history and things happen slowly. Arm yourself with patience – it could take up years before the real money starts to roll in.

In the beginning, focus on the innovative clients that will create trust in others as well. 

Italians are actually very loyal customers

For the same reasons, once you’re in, it’s really hard that Italians will turn their backs on you. Switching to your competitor feels too much of a mental effort, so if you treat them well, it is very unlikely that they will jump ship.

Once you overcome the harder, first months, you will be able to conquer more and more market share in a growingly easy way. 

And of course, we love food

Extra bonus: whereas Finnish like to conclude business in a sauna, Italians like to do that at a table, with good food and wine. If they can eat with you, they can do business with you.

It’s also the time when they are more relaxed and open, so it’s going to be easier to get them to share a juicy secret.

business meeting in italy 


Martina during a business meeting

Ready to do business in Italy now? Share with us your experience with Italians!

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Martina Di Pasquale

Business Developer at The BD School

My energy comes from working for companies that meet the values I live by. I want to see them reach their full potential and virtuously influence the marketplace.


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