I have watched many Americans attempt to conduct successful business in Mexico and Latin America,without success. While it may appear on the first layer, that the American is well received and the Latin American is gracious, what lies beneath the surface layer can be the opposite, and kill a deal, because there was no understanding on the part of the American for the manner by which business is done in latin cultures. I reckon the diplomacy in the business conduct to that of the layers of an onion, and the patience to peel it back one layer at a time is the key to the success and longevity of the relationship. Ultimately, in Latin American countries, successful business is premised on exactly that; THE RELATIONSHIP.Cultural differences make the task of successful collaboration difficult to navigate.
Having conducted business within these parameters over the years, and understanding with acute awareness, the factors of the differences and the diplomacy required, I have been witness to some interesting if not entertaining relationships that resulted in lost business and a lack of understanding for the failure to launch successfully.
Key decisions, first and foremost are made by the top executives in business in Mexico. The sales person to the United States company, licensed to sell and conduct the negotiation is not seen as strategic nor respected, until he or she has proven themselves, and it is met with some disdain that the liason is not on the same professional platform as his or her counterpart. Overcoming this obstacle is the first step in the success of the relationship and ultimate deal. In many circumstances the sales representative will be sent back to the executive at his or her company with instructions to bring forward the leading executive. This situation can be perceived as a set back, because the American company sees the time wasted, and the ground work must be done all over again when the executive comes to the relationship.
Further is the manner by which business is handled in general. Much time is dedicated on the part of the Latin American to the relationship development on a personal level, to establish the credibility and trust in the relationship. The American however, is inclined to cut to the chase in a hurry with a sense of urgency, and literally unload his information within the first 10 minutes. This is viewed as questionable in Latin American cultures, and not a sound business practice. It is the practice of the Latin businessman to speak in generalities for the greater length of the conversation and wait until the last few minutes of the meeting time to discuss the agendas topic. To the Latin American, this is time well invested, to the American it is construed as wasted time. Herein lies the conundrum of doing business with diplomacy in a culture less respected or considered in strategy from either cultural perspective.
My dearest and most trusted advisor and business relationship in Mexico is the result of years invested in the relationship and the integrity of honoring my word. I met him on a trip to the destination with the objective of understanding his business. As it turned out, there were some service issues and misunderstanding between my company and his and a loss of profit to his company due to the miscommunication between both companies. He had little faith in the company I represented because they had not honored promises and agreements and he was on the short end of the deal. The first thing I did was establish the solution and take action in his presence and repair the damaged relationship, because this established my credibility in business and my personal integrity to keeping my word. While the relationship took years to grow and manifest, it is what it is today because I always kept my word and when I could not, took responsibility and action to find a solution. While I no longer work for that company, and the relationship has dissolved between that company and his, we are very good friends and trusted business advisors to one another on any platform, because we brought trust and credibility to the relationship over time and careful nurturing. Today we have embarked on a number of projects together, collaborating and developing opportunities, and regardless of my endeavors, he will do business with me, or find a way for his relationships to engage, because of the relationship we have. It is loyal branding at its best.
To the Latin American, the culture of business meetings is to start off slowly, with the Latin businessman’s relationship execution exhibiting behavior that is gentle and compromising as they warm up to the actual topics and purpose of the meeting. as previously mentioned there is a considerable gap between the executive level and the various levels of the rest of the company, causing the executive who well may agree with you to mentally translate how the rest of the corporation can and will execute. There is a sizable downshift process from top management levels to the execution levels in Mexico. Understanding this key element is crucial to how to conduct the meeting and leveraging your own company strategies in the United States.
Achieving the executive relationship in Mexico is more difficult than reaching the President of the United States! It is common to pass through several “secretaries” as you ascend the ladder to the decision maker and executive with the Latin American company. obtaining a phone number for the Executive’s line is key, and helpful to this, is the acquisition of a cellular number, as cellular phones are of the utmost importance to the Latin American Executive. It is more effective to be introduced to the Executive through a trusted relationship. An introduction and the endorsement offers mileage to the ultimate objective.
Understanding the timelines and priorities of the Latin American is relative to the patience that is imperative in U.S.-Latin American business relations. The typical Latin based business day starts at 7:00 am and ends at 7:00 pm. While this is similar to the U.S. business day, there is one key difference. Latin Americans take very long lunches. The Latin American’s business day is halted by a two-hour lunch, usually between the hours of 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. This is a custom that has existed for decades, transcends Continents and cultures of the Latin decent and not likely to change. It is the main meal of the day to the culture, and further understanding that if invited later to a meeting or dinner, this can go as late as 1 to 2am.
Another interesting cultural difference is the message. American’s when leaving a message, can generally expect a professional im his or her own culture to call back. This is not standard protocol in Latin American culture. As a matter of fact, one can leave many messages, but if the call is important, it is the general expectation of the Latin American that the call will be placed again, and again until he is reached, because it is on the caller to establish the connection in live or real-time.
Important to take into consideration is the time allowance for meetings, once agreed upon. For some, “being late,” is cultural. Examples of this is the Mexican business persons, as they do not hold much stock in making an agreed upon meeting time. Late is a way of life and patience is key, however….take it from my personal experience, the AMERICAN should always be on time!
When I had a dinner meeting with a relationship in Mexico, I assumed he would be late, because it is, after all part of the culture. He in turn, out of respect for the American way, made a point of being on time! I was very embarrassed and he was very concerned. Don’t let this happen to you! While he and I continue to laugh about this first experience to this day, I have never forgotten the valuable lesson in culture and business and the integrity of conduct.
About a year ago, I was a liason in a meeting between a group of American Businessmen and a Mexican Businessman. The meeting, while social, was to begin at 8pm. The Americans having travelled that day, were tired and weary and dinner was late by comparison to business dinners in the United States. I recall relaying to the Americans and their respective wives, that conduct, professionalism and alertness at dinner were fundamental to the foundation of the relationship being established. When dinnertime came around, and the evening went late, complaints were launched indirectly by the Americans and wives were wilting and slumped at the table in exhaustion. The credibility of the relationship was lost in a heartbeat. Game over. There was no respect to the hosting party, or the endeavors to show his guests a traditional Mexican evening of food and entertainment and the exhibition of impatience on the part of the Americans was deemed disrespectful and disappointing. I was embarrassed. After all, it was on my recommendation that the relationship be established and I endorsed the relationship directly.
It has been my personal experience to “hold it together” no matter how exhausted, or worn out, through the evening into the wee small hours of the morning out of respect for my hosts and the cultural diversity, and because the relationship was more important to me in the long run, than the sleep I was losing, I can always catch up on sleep. If for any reason this stands to be an issue, it is advised that a day be allowed in the travel itinerary to acclimate to the time zone, climate and travel related exhaustion.
Some other keys to the success of the relationship include the understanding that while in the United States it has become customary to use an associate’s first name within minutes of the initial meeting, Latin Americans are not pleased with being addressed so casually, and they will wait for your invitation to use a first name.
There is also the barrier of language difficulties. Latin American business people speak English,however business language can be more difficult to navigate and therefore the Latin American businessman retains Spanish language speech patterns. Hispanics tend to invert phrases in English. For example I might say to you, “The completion of the project is for 2010,” rather than “We have 2010 scheduled for the completion of the project”.
Also interesting to note is the communication techniques of the Latin American. The sentences structured to sound like questions or queries…. attaching the word “no” to the end of a comment, turns each statement into a question (isn’t it?). Many statements are not rhetorical! A Latin American will however ask a question that will degrade something of value to him such as “Our city here is quite dirty, no?”or “my English is very bad, no?” The correct response is not “yes it is!”….Instead it should be countered with the contrary in a positive response such as “no, I find its enchanting.” or, “its wonderful”. ALWAYS upbeat and always positive! Careful not to insult the relationship.
Remembering to engage in the country and culture of business is key to the international business relationship. Observance of different Holiday schedules, recognition of extended weekends or cultural events and respect for the differences is a key element to the success of the relationship long-term. 12 days of Christmas are celebrated in Mexico in which NO business is conducted, Easter Holy Week is another extended period of time in which business is placed on hold in favor of family values, in Mexico and Latin American countries.
Also understanding that in Mexico and most Latin American countries the 6 day work week is prevalent, and your phone just might ring on Saturday when you are mowing the lawn or at your child’s soccer match, is probable, with an expectation that you won’t have any trouble working in that moment.
Latin American and American companies can develop profitable business relationships but we must work closely to develop and maintain them. As well, the cultural differences between the two countries.
To many, the Latin American business culture seems antiquated and outdated. It is chalked full of “wasted time’ in socializing and real conversations. Conference calls supercede emails and technology appears on the outside to allude the Latin American. In reality nothing could be further from the truth!!! By and large the typical Latin businessman is fluent in technology, social media and correspondence. He is well versed in internet and immediate communication, including texting and development. What he is not willing to do, is compromise the human experience and the value of the relationship in real time, with live conversation, for all of the intonation and emotion involved in the exchange, because it is under this umbrella that he defines who you are as a person, the company you represent, and the ultimate credibility and value of doing business with you, because he is, after all, doing you the favor of buying into your business, and not the other way around. He is in the relationship for the long haul. He wants to know YOU as a person, a family man/woman and your beliefs. He wants to witness you “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk” and if you can assert yourself, honor the cultural differences, show decency and respect and be honorable, you are most assured that he/she will follow you on your career path and personal life journey in earnest and loyalty forever forward.
This is what you are doing it for: There is a saying among Latino’s and especially Mexican’s that I have learned to love and have experienced first hand, personally learning through experience that money is not the driving force behind the relationships.
“If you haven’t money in Mexico, it’s okay, because you always have friends”. It is this that defines the business acumen of the Latin American and the key to your success in endeavoring to grow the relationship.