Before expanding into Spain, learn more about the Spanish business culture

Updated: May 14

I dare to guess that the vast majority of you will say the former, that Spain belongs to a relational culture. And Yes, Spain has a deep relational business culture, as oppose to a transactional culture which many countries dominating the Business scene today have.

What follows is an attempt to give you my perception of how this type of culture shows in everyday Spanish life and also to challenge you to think of doing business more as if you would be thinking of enjoying life. Clue: You put personal relationships first.


Sun, Holidays, Fiesta, these are words that pop up for many non-Spaniards when they get asked what they associate with Spain. All of these words imply a sense of spending time with other people, directly or indirectly which is the default mode in Spain.

So are they just partying and enjoying life all the time?! I would say that the unfair stereotype of "Latin people are lazy"might come from the fact that they mix socializing and working in a way that other cultures don't. The enjoying life part is not necessarily kept separate from the doing business part. Doing Business happens while you are sort of doing both.


I'll elaborate on this type of relational culture with two everyday examples that still - after almost 3 years living in Spain - I find very funny and much unlike the Swedish, much more transactional culture that I grew up with. (Am born and raised in Stockholm.)


The supermarket product-jam


In the supermarket there are typically 2 "lanes" for the cashier to put the products to avoid "product-jam", mixing products from two customers. For me it's natural to follow that logic but in my supermarket, 9,9 out of 10 times, this is not applied and so I often have to interact with the person after me, to make sure I go home with my products, and only my products.


Physically close all the time


I'm small so I don't take up a lot of space in the street but even so I find myself being passed, from my perception quite intimately, by people walking by me very close, as they were about to hug me. I know by now that it's not at all personal, they just don't need so much personal space or rather they just like being close to each other.


Build relationships and the business will come


These two mundane examples are to highlight the Spaniards natural state of being close to each other - all the time- why I actually never feel alone in Spain. In Business this translates to many, many meetings talking about -yes, Business- but also about life in general, getting to know each other. Often taking place in a café or restaurant. Meeting in the conference room or in an office? Nope, a coffee or whatever beverage outside is often preferred.


On that note, I remember my first time in Madrid studying Spanish. The cafés and restaurants seemed to always be filled with all kinds of people and I asked myself (from my very Swedish perspective) isn't anyone working?! What I know now is that many of these meetings taking place were just regular business meetings. And probably successful ones.


Build trust, not deals


In my early days here I many times felt unsure, and frankly a bit uncomfortable, with not really grasping if I was in a Let's-do-business meeting or a just-get-to-know-each-other meeting. Now I know it's all about building trust. No business is done without establishing trust first, which comes from interacting in person, preferably many times in different scenarios.


Which makes perfect sense when you think about it but we are all so used to all the digital help nowadays that in many business negotiations worldwide it's perfectly fine to talk through various screens, to establish a good enough common ground over time, to agree to put pen to paper and sign a deal. In Spain not so much.


Feelings are not left aside


It may feel like many hours of "just hanging out" without any visible progress but this is how it is done in a relational business culture. Another thing I hear quite a lot is "The Spaniards are just so emotional", talking about both men and women. Yes, they are. You might say to yourself "but this is business, we need to leave feelings outside of the negotiation". Wrong! Not in this culture. Feel free to express, and maybe you will feel better in the process! :)


The upsides to a relational culture


Did you just scroll directly down to this headline? Ha,ha, I do understand! Here comes the good stuff. The expression "Go big or go home" is often used for planning an expansion into the US market, meaning come with A LOT of dollars to spend (much goes to lawyers..) or just don't try in the first place.


The equivalent for expanding into Spain could be "Come with patience and win big". (and less money is needed!)

Because using business terms and metrics, I'm sure you like "high retention", "low churn" and "recurring revenue". Right? These all come with the Relational package as a reward for your patience.


I often hear, from a frustrated business person from a transactional culture, "it just takes so much time here". True that. You need to be willing to nurture relationships for some time before you get the outcome you want.


But if the goal is to win a market with 46,5 million people with one of the highest forecasts of economic growth in the Eurozone, including an easier route to LATAM, isn't it worth it?!



For more on the Spanish business culture from an international perspective, check out this case study about 4 startups expanding into Spain from France, the US, Belgium and Sweden.

Did you find this interesting? Do you agree? Or disagree? I so love an interesting conversation and would love to hear your thoughts. Please do leave a comment!!


Crafted by Caroline Lagergren.

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