How is business development in Italy? Read our complete guide and learn how to be a successful business developer in the Italian market.
Italy is one of those countries that everybody wants to visit at least once in their life. It has something for all tastes, from beautiful cities full of art and history to its Mediterranean coastline. Without forgetting its tasty food and welcoming and colorful people.
We all know these amazing things, but when it comes to business development, how do Italians like to do it?
Whether you’re an Italian Business Development Pro, or you’re trying to enter the Italian market, read our guide and learn the secrets to being successful in Italy.
You will discover:
- Italian market landscape
- Market trends in Italy
- Business development in Italy
- Distribution channels in Italy
- Communication channels in Italy
- Cold outreach in Italy
- Italian business culture
- Business development jobs in Italy
1 – Italian market landscape
With a population of 59.3 million, Italy is the world’s eighth-largest economy and the third-largest European economy. It has a GDP of US$2.18 trillion.
The Italian economy is a highly developed market economy that mainly depends on agriculture, tourism, and trade.
Since a big part of the trade involves exporting, Italy is very much oriented to international business. Although you won’t find many multinationals, in fact, the majority of companies in Italy are SMEs which are very often family-owned.
Besides tourism and trade, food is a very important industry in Italy. The North of Italy mainly produces grains, meat, and dairy products, while the South produces fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and wine.
One of the booming industries in Italy is e-commerce. In 2021, it gained over US$26 billion in revenue, placing Italy ahead of Brazil and Spain.
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2 – Market trends in Italy
One of the most important market trends in Italy is Fintech. In 2022, the Bank of Italy devoted €45 million to the development of artificial intelligence and technologies.
The investment focuses on open banking and customer experience. Moreover, they set the goal to invest more in research about AI and reinforce talent.
Another big trend regards the e-commerce market, which in 2021 grew by 31% compared to the year before placing itself second right after The Netherlands in which e-commerce grew by 43%.
In Italy, desktop computers are the most used. But, mobile commerce is expected to grow by 17% by 2023. 45% of mobile transactions are related to clothing. 32% are related to food and grocery. And, 18% are related to travel.
Another trend is sustainability in the fashion industry. Italian fashion producers are developing new ways of producing sustainable clothing.
For example, using citrus fruit by-products from Sicily. Also, they’re using aerospace waste products in Turin to dye clothes and fishing nets in Trentino to make nylon. This approach to sustainability is expected to grow in the coming years in Italy.
3 – Business development in Italy
Based on Linkedin, there are currently 412.000 business development professionals active in Italy. Business development in Italy is called “sviluppo aziendale“. Many companies use the English job title, however in these cases, the job involves mainly sales.
In Italy, a specialist in “sviluppo aziendale” is responsible to find growth opportunities through data analysis, partnerships, new product development, and business model generation.
Often international companies have prejudices about doing business in Italy. Mainly due to the language barrier or having watched too many movies (read The Godfather), there is some initial fear when entering Italy.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Italians love doing business with international companies and they’re generally open to external solicitations.
This doesn’t mean the process will be easy or short for that matter. Italians like to take their time before doing business with you. Many factors contribute to this:
- Hierarchy in the company
- Bureaucracy, especially in the public sector
- Building trust
So, if you want to work with Italian companies, you’ll need a lot of patience.
Business development in Italy: professional flexibility
Italy has a specific approach to business. Italians value family and personal time, meaning that there’s usually less stress related to work compared to other countries. However, this doesn’t mean productivity is not equally important.
We could consider Italy the country of “professional flexibility”, where work-life balance is important, but you’re expected to produce quality work in a professional way.
In many parts of Europe, business meetings tend to be straightforward with formal business etiquette. Sometimes, it can be difficult to have a more friendly conversation. Everyone follows an agenda and there’s little space allowed for distractions or flexibility.
This is not the case in Italy. Business meetings tend to be less formal and if you want to win over an Italian partner, consider inviting them for a nice lunch or dinner. Of course, with good wine and enough time to get to know each other.
Lunches in Italy tend to be longer than in other parts of the World, so make sure you don’t fill your agenda to avoid rushing your business meetings.
Business meetings usually are enriched with a lot of personal anecdotes. You can expect Italian business people to talk about their families, holidays, and everything in between. That’s how they build trust and you should embrace this cultural difference.
That doesn’t mean they are less efficient, there’s just more openness and communication involved. Moreover, Italians tend to be highly expressive. So if you find yourself in the middle of a heated conversation between your stakeholder and a waiter, don’t panic:
They’re probably just talking about the weather!
Italians and their relationship with time
In business development, time management is crucial. So, if you work as a business developer in Western Europe, your agenda is typically full with little time left for socialization. Forget about that in Italy. Being on time or respecting tight timelines is not a priority, this is mainly because for Italians socializing is more important than being on time.
So, generally, time is not a stress factor. However, be aware of the differences between the South and the North of Italy. If you’re doing business in Northern regions, you will quickly realize that being punctual and to the point is actually very important. Failing at being on time with a Milan-based company, will make you look unprofessional and not really trustworthy.
Of course, although these are general trends, always read the room and figure out what type of person you have in front of you. Adapt to their style and you’ll win conversations.
4 – Distribution channels
When we talk about distribution, we refer to the process of making a product or service available for the consumer or business user who needs it. When it comes to the Italian market, the choice of distribution channels depends on the industry you operate in.
However, generally speaking, the following are the most used distribution channels in Italy:
Franchising is widespread in Italy and it’s growing. Italy is the fourth largest market for franchises in Europe with a turnover of $31 billion in 2019.
Franchise networks are more common in Northern Italy. Franchise locations include malls, departments, and main streets. The other main distribution channel is wholesale and the last, is retail.
5 – Communication channels in Italy
Digital communication in Italy is popular. However, one important thing to keep in mind is that businesses have still to fully digitalize in Italy with the exception being the e-commerce industry. Whereas in many parts of Europe, businesses use digital tools for sales and customer interactions, Italy is a different case.
For example, most Italian businesses still rely on traditional call centers for customer interactions. Also, they rely on having physical stores for sales.
The good news is that there’s an increase in digital marketing tools used for promotional purposes. So, you can use it as an opportunity to gain customers and generate more revenue, while you don’t have many competitors yet.
Most used digital channels in Italy
When it comes to digital communication channels, Facebook is the most used by Italians with over 22.8 million users.
As a business developer, you can use Facebook Groups to find relevant communities and Messenger to communicate with your customers.
Apart from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are also very popular. You should consider increasing your presence on these channels to get in touch with potential customers or partners.
If you work in the B2B space, you probably thought of using LinkedIn. Although the adoption of LinkedIn is rapidly increasing, it isn’t yet widely spread. The majority of its users at the moment are in the age group 25-34.
Therefore if you work in a traditional industry or your stakeholders are older, we suggest using more traditional channels like calls or emails. On the other hand, if you work with a younger audience, you should consider using TikTok or Instagram.
6 – Cold outreach in Italy
Generally speaking, cold outreach is well tolerated in the B2B scene. Use emails and cold calls to maximize results. If you use cold calls, remember to never call from a private number or from a landline of a major city like Milan or Rome.
This is because some companies – especially in the telecommunication sector – use very pushy telemarketing practices. They tend to call the same person over and over again on their private cell numbers. Therefore people learned that when they receive a call from a private number or a major city, it’s likely to be an advertisement and they don’t pick up.
Moreover, there are privacy laws that you need to respect, GDPR is one of them in addition to national laws. In particular, in Italy, there is a registry where you can signup if you don’t want to receive telemarketing calls. If you contact someone from this registry they can report you and you’ll be fined up to € 20 Million.
In order to avoid such sanctions, consider attending events, especially offline ones. Find relevant events and go to meet your audience face to face. It will help you build trust faster and eventually achieve your business development goals.
7 – Italian business culture
Working as a business developer in Europe is unique. Each country is very specific, and you need to learn how they work to be successful in them.
Italy is no exception, its culture is rich and the more you know about it, the easier it will be for you to build relationships and do business in Italy.
– Learn a few words in Italian
Italians are not famous for their ability to speak English, only 34% of the population speaks English. This can be an obstacle when working with Italians. However, the good news for you is that Italians will always find a way to communicate with you. Sometimes use a mix of other languages or use their renowned body language.
In short, Italians are not scared to communicate with internationals and, if you show them you took the time to learn some Italian words, you’ll win their hearts.
Knowing Italian will help you when you attend networking events and conferences. At these places, you meet hundreds of people. You can use English. But, speaking Italian shows respect to your Italian peers. They will appreciate your effort to blend in.
You can use expressions like “Come stai?” for “How are you?” or “Piacere di conoscerti!” which means “Nice to meet you!”
Refrain from using common words like “pizza, pasta, Berlusconi”. You might come across as offensive because you reduce Italian culture to a few keywords. Instead, talk about regions you visited, things you like about Italy, or personalities you admire.
Go one level deeper and don’t stay at the surface.
– Trust and personal relationships in Italy
Personal relationships are crucial in Italy. Because Italian business culture values open communication, relationships are easier to form. Italians tend to be more social and will become your friends very easily.
You can befriend them and work with them to meet your business goals. So, invest time in learning how to improve your communication skills. Doing this will help you form strong bonds with customers and partners alike.
Another important thing to remember is that Italians value trust. They prefer working with people that they know and trust. So, when you are prospecting, try to find people that you have something or someone in common with. Then, use your common connections to build trust with your stakeholders.
Also, when you’re meeting with clients and partners, be friendly. You’ll be more valued and they’ll be more interested in doing business with you. So, try to avoid having an attitude where you come across as cold or unreachable.
– Hierarchy in Italy
In Italy roles matter and you are expected to respect people with higher job titles than yours. When you meet someone for the first time, shake hands firmly and use the formal pronoun “Lei“. For example, you can say “Piacere di conoscerla” which means “nice to meet you” in a formal way.
Once you’re in the conversation and you built rapport you can ask to switch to the informal “Tu“. Use the sentence “Possiamo darci del tu?” which means “can we use the informal pronoun?”
– Dress code in Italy
Italians care a lot about dress code, just have a stroll in the streets and you will notice that everyone is well dressed and pays attention to details. Italians have a love for fashion, besides they associate your way of dressing with your social status and that plays a huge role.
If you’re in a business context, use a semi-formal dress code. You’re expected to wear a shirt, business trousers, and good quality shoes. Using renowned brands can also help build a positive image of yourself, but don’t go crazy spending insane amounts of money just for a business meeting.
In the end, you need to feel comfortable and confident in your own clothes.
8 – Business development jobs in Italy
If you’re looking to kickstart or advance your career in BD in Italy, there are a few steps you can take.
The first thing to do is update your CV. Every job will ask you to have experience. There are many skills employers look for in your CV.
They can range from communication skills to tech skills. Being a confident and assertive communicator is essential in business development. Tech skills involve computer software use and digital apps. Both types of skills are necessary as they help you achieve your tasks and meet your business goals.
So, taking time to invest in these skills can be highly beneficial for you as a business developer.
Once you have your CV updated, you can start looking for jobs. These are the most common job platforms in Italy:
If you like more creative platforms, we recommend checking Just Jnock. Their recruitment process is very innovative because it doesn’t involve standard interviews. Instead, you’ll have to solve a challenge for the company you want to work for.
Are you ready to succeed in business development in Italy?