Doing business in Latin America: an interview with José Luis Brett


R&B: Good morning, José Luis. Thank you for the opportunity to gain insight from your experience and journey of covering a territory as vast, complex and colorful as Latin America, from the North American perspective.

You were responsible for managing sales in the region for two hi tech and telecommunication companies with headquarters in the United States. You pitched your products and services, you developed entry strategies, you built your sales funnel, you travelled to the territory and you were successful. Tell us a little about your story?

JLB: I covered the entire region, including Mexico, Central America, Brazil, South America and even the Caribbean. I learned that cultural awareness and sensibility in business is the key to success. Customers in Latin America want to do business with companies who understand them, treat them uniquely, speak their language and are willing to invest in a long-term business relationship.

As a Spanish native speaker, I still remember my first attempts to do business in Brazil without speaking Portuguese properly, only “Portuñol.”(a colloquial mix of Spanish and Portuguese). Delivering presentations half in English and half in Spanish was not helping my cause. So I pushed myself to learn Portuguese – the results were amazing, connecting with customers in their own language open doors to me.

R&B: What are the 5 key elements in building trust with customers in Latin America?

JLB: Trust is very important. Trusting Latin American customers will see you, not only as their ally in business delivering great products at great prices, but also as their ambassador, the one who will speak on their behalf and guide them through the maze of doing business with US based corporations.

In order to build trust with customers in Latin America, as with any other culture, you should:

  • Demonstrate that you understand their problem/pain points and are competent to solve them efficiently.

  • Show integrity, honor your commitments and remain transparent about the decisions made (the why and the how).

  • I can’t stress enough how important open two-way communication has to be, so communicate, communicate, communicate, and in doubt ask more questions.

  • Be a reliable source for your clients, their go to person, as their businesses depend on the product or service you will be providing.

  • Show that you truly care, that you are genuine and approachable.

R&B: What elements would have made your entrance to Latin American markets easier?

JLB: An important aspect that holds companies back when entering the Latin American markets is the lack of “regionalization”. The “one-size-fits-all” approach must evolve into connecting on a more local basis. What I mean by “regionalization” is having products created or adapted to the region’s needs, from specific features/functionalities, to pricing and all marketing and collateral material (product datasheets, brochures, and websites) in the appropriate language.

According to different market analysts, it is expected that by 2030 over 50% of the world’s GDP will come from regions other than North America, so adapting business models to those regions’ requirements will ensure success. And survival.

In the age of globalization, truly exceptional North American companies will succeed in Latin American markets if they pay attention and respect the diverse cultural patterns of the region, by taking their time to foster relationships with their customers.

R&B: What would you say were the language or cultural barriers when dealing with Latin American customers?

JLB: The English level of the customers in Latin America varies significantly from country to country, but it is “average” at best – able to maintain informal conversations but struggle to convey business-related ideas, issues or even negotiate.

Of course, there were both language and cultural barriers when customers in Latin America tried to do business with English-speaking companies; from having difficulties expressing what they were looking for to not understanding why they were being asked to pay the full transaction upfront.

It is very important to speak and convey the messages in their language. Regarding sales and collateral material properly translated into Spanish or Portuguese, there is still a lot to do out there. I urge companies to look for the services of a good translator, an expert in the regional differences between countries, who can translate ideas, not only words.

R&B: How many times a year on average did you travel to Latin America? In your opinion, what would be the optimum visits to close a deal?

JLB: At the beginning of my career, I was on a plane to Latin America every two or three weeks. Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Puerto Rico were my primary destinations. There were times I visited sixteen prospects and customers in a week (Monday through Friday). It was a tough start, but totally worth it.

In terms of the optimum amount of visits to close a sale, that’s a good question. It would depend on the product sales cycle and whether the project is attached to a public bid (government project) or it is a private customer deal. I would say it takes an average of three visits, in combination with continuous presence and follow up, to close a deal. However, a lot goes on during those times. You must develop the customers’ trust in order to gain access to the market. Time, effort and clear communication will pay off.

R&B: Do you have any last piece of advice for success in Latin American markets?

JLB: I believe the secret formula to be successful doing business in Latin America, apart from excellence in quality and competitive pricing, lies on the foundation of treating your customers the way you like to be treated, being genuine, being open to new experiences, listening actively and above all enjoy what you are doing!

Thank you, Jose Luis for your time and sharing your experiences. These tips and insights are a valuable source of information for anyone entering these developing markets, as well as for those who need to boost their sales by reviewing their strategies in the region, by overcoming communication barriers and well as increasing their cross cultural wisdom.

José Luis Brett is a business strategist and solution-oriented executive who has created and implemented successful strategies for demand generation, pipeline marketing, channel marketing and business development for telecommunications and hi-tech companies throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada. Through his graduate studies in Hamline University, in Minnesota, US, he has a passion for helping customers be successful and for building long-lasting business relationships.

If you need to know more on regionalization or help in raising your cultural awareness in order to enter the Latin American markets, contact us at erika@rblanguageconsulting.com

#LatinAmerica #Buildingtrust

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