How to Do Business in Norway
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Pechnenko Kopp, our Oil and Gas accounts manager, briefly
interviewed one of her clients for some current takeaways
for anyone wanting to do business in Norway, from an Oil
and Gas industry perspective. This is followed by more in-depth
information about the Oil and Gas industry in Norway, and
then we wrap things up with our usual brief notes on business
- A new trend in the oil industry is the
rapid increase of new small independent oil companies.
- Until a few years ago we had approximately
20 oil companies in Norway, all major companies and two-three
Norwegian including Statoil, the state oil company.
- Now that the Norwegian shelf has matured,
the big companies are losing some of their interest and
many small independent companies get in here to pick up
the “left-overs." Also a lot of small Norwegian
companies are formed by people who leave the big companies,
hoping they will make a fortune with some exploration
licenses. Many of those smaller companies will have limited
staff and will have to buy external services third party
- I (like to) think the Norwegians are
honest and easy to work with. Everybody speaks English
as their second language. Americans will often perceive
us as being a bit rude, because we don't emphasize the
importance of using as many polite phrases as an American
- Norway English is the “official”
language of the oil industry and therefore the official
language of an oil and gas company. I think it is common
for larger oil and oil service companies to have technical
writers (often from the UK or USA) on staff to make sure
main publications are done properly. We used to contract
the service before, but now we have a full time writer.
A knowledge society
Within the span of just a few decades, Norway
has been transformed from a natural resource-based economy
to a knowledge society. The Norwegian business sector works
to develop cost-effective, environmentally-sound and technologically-advanced
solutions, to increase industrial productivity and enhance
efficiency. A focus on R&D activities and joint ventures
with foreign companies has promoted the development of new
areas of national expertise, including software and communications
technology, space-related technology, the engineering industry,
Norway exports about 40 percent of the
goods and services it produces, while imports make up around
one-third of its GDP. Norway’s core markets include
the Nordic region and Europe, although certain products,
like oil, gas, minerals and seafood, are successfully marketed
worldwide. Although Norway is not a member of the European
Union (EU), its membership in the European Economic Area
(EEA) secures it full access to the EU’s internal
market. The EU presently accounts for some three-quarters
of Norway’s foreign trade.
The petroleum sector
The petroleum industry is very important
to Norway. The industry accounts for a third of state income
(2005 figures). Around 80,000 people are employed by petroleum-related
businesses, and the knock-on effects on other industries
are considerable. Norway is the world’s third-largest
exporter of oil and gas. In the 2006 national budget, the
value of remaining petroleum reserves on the Norwegian continental
shelf was estimated at NOK 4,210 billion. Less than a third
of Norway’s estimated petroleum reserves have been
extracted. There is a very high level of activity on the
Norwegian continental shelf. In 2005, 250 million standard
cubic meters of oil equivalents were produced. This equates
to the annual consumption of more than 100 million Norwegian
Successfully How to Do Business in Norway
Business meetings and negotiations
- Appointments should be set up well in
- Intermediaries are less important to
set up initial contacts and securing the deal than in
many other cultures.
- Dress conservatively – at least
until the host opens up for an open-shirt dress code.
- Be punctual. If you are only a few minutes
late for a business meeting, call your counterpart and
explain the delay.
Start of meeting
- Shake hands with everyone in the room
when you arrive and before you leave.
- Start out the meeting by suggesting the
time frame for the meeting.
- Exchange of business cards follows after
an initial small talk.
- Business people are not addressed by
their titles. Norwegians and Danes are generally less
formal than Germans and Swedes and address each other
rather informally. First names are used less than in the
US, so let your counterpart set the stage for how to address
- Norwegians are direct and do not focus
on rituals and social environments for the negotiations.
In the initial meeting Norwegians are ready to talk business
after only a few minutes of small talk. During business
meetings Norwegians are straightforward and direct.
- Norwegians use steady, moderate eye contact
- less direct than Arabs and Latins but more direct than
Japanese and Asians.
Presentation and negotiation tactics
- There is little secrecy about corporate
objectives and strategies and your counterpart will normally
be able to see your product in the strategic perspective
of his company. Although top managers make the decisions
they will be very reluctant not to endorse the recommendations
of project groups or lower managers.
- Norwegian companies are generally willing
to pay for quality. They are also willing to switch suppliers
to get better terms or better quality.
- You need to build trust. Bring a good
business presentation. Emphasize facts, benefits and profitability
during your presentation. It may be wise to give an honest
impression by even pointing out certain weaknesses/disadvantages.
Your personality and social skills are of some initial
importance but of little importance when decisions are
- Negotiators will be oriented towards
facts and figures rather than the broad corporate view.
- Do not over promise, and make sure that
you keep your deadline/schedule promises. Otherwise Norwegians
quickly lose interest.
- To Norwegians “new” is not
necessarily better. You need to present a convincing case
– not based on emotions but on usefulness and technical
quality. New concepts have to be proven as high quality,
practical and already well tested.
Presenting a proposal
- If you have made a proposal you will
need to stick to it. To your Norwegian counterpart trust
is important. Turning around and changing or adding surprising
new elements is generally not popular. It is also hard
to renegotiate terms after an agreement has been made,
even if circumstances have changed.
- Norwegians are normally not tactical
negotiators. If they say your product is too expensive
they probably mean it.
- Present a firm, realistic and competitive
initial offer and expect some bargaining. Yield something
for psychological reasons but do not drop your initial
offer so much that the initial offer appears as a bargaining
technique. The counterpart could perceive that as dishonesty.
- In Norwegian corporations there may be
a low level of individual risk taking – making it
difficult to get the final signature even when you have
convinced the negotiator. To press for greater speed can
Dos and don’ts
- Avoid excessive gift giving or any other
action that can be perceived as a bribe. Scandinavia probably
ranks as the most corruption free area in the world. Moderately
expensive Christmas gifts and logo items are acceptable.
The most successful gift giving practice will be to ask
your Norwegian host beforehand if he would like you to
bring your tax-free quota when you fly in. Due to the
high local prices for these popular items your initiative
will almost certainly be appreciated and accepted.
- Hard selling techniques will get you
nowhere in Norway. Avoid bragging and exaggerations and
make a well-documented presentation that gets your counterpart
involved and lets him/her buy from you rather than you
selling through one-way communication.
- Norwegian body language and tone of voice
is less expressive than in North America and southern
countries. Do not misinterpret this as lack of interest.
- Southern Europeans and South Americans
should be aware that interrupting a Scandinavian speaker
is considered rude.
- Do not complain about the high cost of
living in Norway – the Norwegians are tired of that
topic and they largely think the high cost of living is
the price they have to pay for maintaining the welfare
state in a sparsely populated country.
- Do not light up a cigarette in a Norwegian
home or office without asking permission.
- During conversations with Norwegians
you should be careful with culture related humor unless
it is self-depreciating or gives a blow to Swedes. You
will find that Norwegians have a brotherly love-hate relationship
with their Swedish neighbors.
Business related dining in Norway
- Norway does not have a lunch culture
similar to what is found in Sweden or France. Twenty years
ago you could hardly find a restaurant serving warm lunches
in Norwegian cities. Although they still can be observed
eating open-faced sandwiches, the lunch selections have
improved fantastically. Your host will normally host the
- A female business visitor will have no
problem inviting to lunch or dinner and paying the bill.
- Alcoholic beverages during lunch are
limited and after-work cocktails are unusual.
- The person who invites pays the bill.
However, if you have been invited you might make a slight
effort to pay the bill (but do not insist).
- Be aware of Norwegian toasting procedures.
The Vikings used to drink from the empty skulls of their
departed enemies, and the “skaal” toasting
ritual (English “scole,” French “scaulle”
and German “skohl”) is still an important
part of Scandinavian social and business gatherings. The
host will start by toasting you, the guest. To respond:
raise your glass to mid-chest height, look the host in
the eyes, drink, lower the glass to mid-chest height again,
look each other in the eyes again and return to normal.
- Norwegians have traditionally been a
people who eat to live – unlike other European countries
where meals are culture. Things have changed and there
is a strong international influx. Norwegian chefs during
the 1990s have won gold and silver medals in the Bocuse
d’Or (the culinary world championship) – on
occasions even beating and impressing their French colleagues.
- Chances are you will be introduced to
Aquavit while in Scandinavia. Aquavit dates back to the
1530s, then introduced as aqua vitae – “the
cure of all ills.” It is made from neutral potato
spirits and is aged for 3-5 years in oak barrels. The
most famous brand is Line Aquavit which passes on Norwegian
ships back and forth over the Equator to Australia. The
bottle label gives you information on the name of the
ship and its route.
Visiting business relations in their
- If invited to a local Norwegian home
you are experiencing an honor that should be gratefully
accepted. Settle dress code beforehand.
- Dinner is normally eaten by 5:00 –
6:00 pm. Be punctual. Under no circumstances arrive more
than 10 – 15 minutes after the agreed time.
- Bring flowers, chocolates, your tax-free
quota of wine and liquor or a souvenir from your homeland.
Present the gift to the hostess.
- Be prepared for the “skaal”
toasting. The host will start by toasting you, the guest.
To respond: raise your glass to mid-chest height, look
the host in the eyes, drink, lower the glass to mid-chest
height again, look each other in the eyes again and return
to normal. Usually only the hostess is expected to initiate
a “skaal” to the female guests. Visitors should
start out by toasting the hostess. Say “Takk”
(thank you). Later on you should toast the host.
- When the meal is over thank the hostess
by saying “Takk for maten.”
- If the next day is a working day it would
be normal to leave by 10:00 – 11:00 pm.
- It is a nice gesture to send flowers
to the home along with a “thank you letter”
the next day.
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