In this interview, Enrico Panza, our business development director for southern Europe, discusses the unique traits of the Southern European market compared to Northern Europe and the United States. Enrico emphasizes the significance of relationships, shares strategies for connecting with clients, and recounts amusing cultural differences he's encountered.
RH: Can you briefly describe your experience in the intellectual property industry in southern Europe?
EP: Everything started 12 years ago when a very old friend of mine, who was a manager in Ipan, a German start-up, asked me to join them to strengthen their position in the southern European markets for administrative services like patents, annuities, and trademark renewals, which were the main services they were selling at that time.
It sounded like a nice challenge, and as besides Italian I also speak French and English, I thought that my experience in highly competitive industrial sectors - from electronics to chemicals - could be an asset to use in the IP services business. So, I took the opportunity, spent some time studying IP, and that's how everything started. After 12 years I'm still here, enjoying this incredibly inspiring business that IP is!
RH: What are some of the differences you see in Southern Europe compared to, for example, Northern Europe and Scandinavia?
EP: In the southern European market, both on the corporate side and practice side of IP business, things are a bit more conservative than in northern Europe. It's more relationship-driven and reciprocity-driven, especially when we talk about IP counsels and firms. The life cycle of data management and software solutions is longer.
RH: And in your experience, how is it compared to the United States?
EP: The principles are the same, but there are significant differences. When we talk about reciprocity, it's completely another world. For example, IP firms in the US have completely outsourced administrative services like patent annuities or trademark renewals, while Italian and French firms still handle these tasks mainly internally. Also, US corporates are more open to discussing IP services, automation, and software integration, whereas French and Italian companies tend to be more cautious in this regard.
RH: So, for you coming from the tech business, what is the key to approaching leads and potential customers in Southern Europe, maybe especially in France, Italy, and even Switzerland?
EP: As I mentioned earlier, it's a relationship-driven business, and being known in the community is crucial. Having a good reputation, connections and established relationships is essential in Southern European markets. Cold propositions don’t go through easily, and the sales process tends to be longer.
RH: So for you, it's about being everywhere.
EP: Exactly, but you must know how to be everywhere: you must be always up to date with the market, solutions, always open to listen to clients’ challenges and needs. You can learn so much by keeping your attention high on every potential business partner and only after that offer a solution.
RH: But how do you personally connect with potential customers? Do you have any secret tricks up your sleeve?
EP: I find that asking questions and showing genuine interest in learning about them is the key. IP managers, whether in a firm, practice, or corporate, face challenge every day in a highly complex business as IP is. They make choices that involve many different corporate levels. By talking to them, sharing your knowledge, you might bring some value to the process, while learning about the solution they are looking for. Many sales processes run through questions, not propositions, and sometimes even through a denial of delivery because you don’t’ have the right solution at that given moment. You won’t sell, but will win trust, ad open doors in the future.
RH: Yes, that's a good approach. Do you have any funny examples where cultural differences led to interesting situations?
EP: Oh, yes, there are many instances where cultural differences created amusing situations. For example, I worked in Germany, and there were clashes between Italians and Germans in business environments. Italian spontaneity and openness sometimes clashed with German adherence to decisions. Also, I had funny experiences in Japan, where the cultural differences were evident in simple things like gestures. Italians tend to use hand gestures to communicate, and in Japan it almost never worked as expected.
RH: Thank you so much for your time, Enrico. It's been a valuable insight into the cultural differences between southern and northern Europe.