Doing business across cultural lines can be challenging. The spoken and unspoken rules will change depending on where in the world you find yourself. A misstep or unintended faux pas can be the difference between landing the deal or successfully negotiating a resolution to a disagreement and failing. This article is a companion piece to Episode 66 of Sheppard Mullin’s Nota Bene podcast where we discuss some of our tips for doing business in Mexico. Below are some quick pointers we discussed on the podcast. Although not perfectly transferable, these tips should also apply to business dealings in Latin America generally.
Make it personal: When speaking on the phone or in person at any business level avoid starting the conversation directly with the business matter at hand. Instead, make it personal. Ask about your counterparty’s family or interests. Remember your counterparty’s response for the next meeting. Although this “warm touch” to business development applies in the United States, it applies doubly in Mexico were loyalty and strong family bonds guide business decisions.
Connections only get you so far: It is very common in Mexico for people to stress their connections to officials as a way of getting things done quickly. A careful counterparty should take these representations with a grain of salt. A process may or may not be expedited, but it is best to follow all formalities and deadlines to avoid problems down the line.
Caution rules the day: It can be challenging in Mexico to resolve a business dispute through the courts. It is for this reasons that business is done through personal connections and family. Because it is harder to resolve a dispute when a business dispute goes sour, an initial counterparty may be cautious and reticent during the initial “get to know you period.” Conversely, any agreements should be signed and in writing. Mexico does not easily recognize verbal contracts and having everything documented will help protect you if things go south.
Timing can be elastic: Seek clarity when working on a tight timeline. Official processes generally take longer in Mexico. In addition, it is common for people to use the shorthand “mañana” (tomorrow) to generally refer to sometime in the near future and not literally tomorrow. To avoid misunderstandings, it is best to confirm and stress the expected date for any given performance.
Use Spanish, if you can: It is much easier to land a contract or seal the deal if somebody on your team is fluent in Spanish. Although many Mexican nationals engaged in international business are fluent in English, speaking in Spanish will help establish rapport and put your counterparty at ease. Cultural awareness will also pay dividends.
To take a deeper dive regarding business in Mexico, listen to Alex and Laura on Episode 66 of the Nota Bene podcast.