Uruguay is not Argentina
When you are traveling through another continent you will notice that people consider Europe to be one unified region. People are not aware of the differences between European countries, apart from obvious stereotypes such as that the Swiss are punctual and that the Germans are hard-working.
In fact, we have met people who think that Belgium and The Netherlands share the same culture just because we share a border and even a language. Even though we are geographically neighbors, we are very different indeed. So imagine how different an Italian is from a Dane, or a Croatian from a German. Europe, with its 28 countries and 24 official languages, is a cultural melting pot that shares mainly one thing: the continent they belong to.
Latin America is often similarly misunderstood, portrayed as a series of stereotypes that include “hospitable” and “they are not pushyl”. When you visit two different countries you will notice some distinct differences in the way they look and operate, and in the way people behave, much like Europe. Learning these cultural differences necessitates experience. One that can only be gained by going abroad, visiting a place and immersing yourself in the culture. You will find many of the same kind of Art Deco buildings in Montevideo in Uruguay as in (after a 45 minutes flight) Buenos Aires in Argentina, but people are very different: Argentinians are in general far more distant than Uruguayans.
When your flight back leaves is not leading
Some time ago we were approached by a company that was looking to expand into Latin America. The general brief we received implied that the new market would have to adjust to the product if they wanted to use it, and we were expected to use the same sales approach we have in Europe. This, of course, is never a good idea when trying to approach a market from a different culture. While large companies and corporations all around the world have similar technical goals and targets such as a budget to stick to and KPIs to reach, it is the journey to get there that differs.
To start off with, if you want to do business in Latin America, people need to know you on a personal level before buying your services. This does not mean that you need to be eating at their family home and hanging out on the weekends, they just need some time to warm up to you as a person. Many foreign companies go there with the wrong strategy. They start talking about contracts at the end of the initial talk, and they expect to have an answer within a certain timeframe. In fact, sometimes they do not even show up to the second demo if the prospect hasn’t given them a timeline for the final decision. This quick business approach might work in the United States or some European countries, but in Latin America the process is much more informal and it takes a bit of time to get used to it. Thanks to our knowledge and experience in this regard, our sales strategy was much more approachable. And as a result it was not that hard to beat our US competitor.
This is not to say that we haven’t made some mistake in the past. A few years ago, we were taking care of a deal in Brazil. We arrived to Rio with a pre-sales team and were fully prepared for the two days of meetings and workshops. We had done our research, investigated the prospect’s problem, and devised a solution that would resolve it. It all seemed perfect. At the end of the presentation, we met up with one of the interpreters we had hired to help out with translating for those in the audience who didn’t speak English. We were 100% happy with the result, but wanted his honest feedback and asked him to be completely open. How did we go in his opinion? To our shock, he said that we would never close the deal. He said our presentation was way too formal and we were too distant, we should’ve relaxed a little and laughed a lot more than we did.
We believed the opposite. It was very clear to us that the prospect loved our product a lot more than our competitor’s one, so we initially discarded his comments. After all, the approach we used and this type of workshop had helped us close several big deals and was a proven success… in the UK. The more we thought about the interpreter’s comments, and the more we discussed it with colleagues, the more it became clear to us that while this approach might work in Europe, Brazil was a completely different ball game and we might have made a mistake. European clients have a much more direct approach. They know exactly what they want and need, and how they want to do business. It is not that simple in Latin America. Clients are professional, they are focused on beating the competition and are looking for the best deal, but they want YOU to take charge and guide them through the whole process. To them, your experience is of utmost importance and they are happy to follow your lead, without feeling like they are being pushed into making a decision.
Once we understood this basic difference, we went back to the drawing board. We needed to come up with a different strategy, one that would win the deal. We scheduled informal meetings based around drinks, dinners and lunches, and made sure we increased the client’s knowledge on our products and services at every single meeting. We didn’t overwhelm them with the information all at once, but rather slipped it in conversation little by little, and gave it all some time to sink in. When we felt the time was right, we pushed to formalize the process a bit more. At this point of the negotiation, we asked to meet with a more influential figure in the company. Usually that’s either the procurement department, the teams writing the RFI’s and RFP’s, or even the CEO. Due to the solid work on our relationship and the level of trust we had built up, the final few steps needed went smoothly.
By now, you might be wondering why it takes so much more effort in one country when you only need a couple of meetings in another to get to the same result. The answer is Cultural Differences, and it is the number one factor you need to take into consideration when planning a sales strategy to sell a product or a service to a new geographical market. It’s a bit like asking why you need to take extra care of the roses you’re growing in the garden, while a cactus only needs to be watered twice a year. It is true that they are both plants, but they are different types of plants, ones that grow very differently in fact. Roses grow faster and a bit all over the place, so they need to be patiently pruned in order to achieve a visually pleasant result. Cacti on the other hand grow slowly and steadily and they don’t need much aesthetic care, however you need to ensure they are kept in an adequate environment in order to stay alive.
Much like plants, humans are not all the same. We all come from various countries, backgrounds and beliefs, and while most of us have similar goals in life, we are usually accustomed to getting there in different ways. Our job is to understand these differences no matter how subtle they are, and to navigate cultural differences at the right pace, ensuring a positive outcome.
And the Brazil opportunity, you may ask? Well, we did close the deal.
Dronyc.nl helps software vendors sell their solutions in new geographical markets.