In times past, people generally only engaged in commerce with those in their immediate vicinity, due to transportation and communication limits. Now, those limits have been all but eradicated, multinational corporations are growing in number, and international business across borders is becoming increasingly more common.
While the shift from local to global business is very positive, it does come with certain drawbacks, mostly in terms of language and culture barriers. Wherever you go, you should remember you’re a guest in that country and be cognizant of their expectations and sensitive to their customs. In this article, I’ll share some tips for doing business in Mexico that will not only keep you from offending but help you make a terrific impression.
Build Trusting Relationships
In Mexico, relationships are a key element of doing business. People there prefer to work with those they know and trust. For that reason, you can’t expect to go in and get a deal done right off the bat. You’ll need to put in the time to develop a rapport with your contacts first. Don’t be surprised if a business meeting starts out with a fair bit of small talk, and be prepared to answer questions about your life, your home, your hobbies, and your family. To avoid coming across as uninterested or rude, be sure to ask them about their lives as well. Relax, be yourself, and let them steer the conversation. Don’t be in a hurry to “get down to brass tacks”—that can be off-putting.
Also, your hosts might very well invite you to breakfast, lunch, or dinner with them—possibly even in the family home. Accept these invitations and be a gracious guest. Don’t limit yourself to talking shop. The more they feel they know you, the more likely your contacts are to collaborate with you.
Understand National Cultural Differences
Mexico is a large country divided into several different regions, and business culture can differ from area to area. In big cities like Mexico City, for example, executives tend to be more formal and hierarchical, placing greater emphasis on personal relationships and networking. Other cities, like Monterrey, have been notably influenced by US culture, so they tend to be more informal, focusing on efficiency, accountability and results. This is true for Northern Mexico and particularly border cities like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Mexicali, Nogales, Matamoros and Reynosa. Cities in Southern Mexico like Ciudad del Carmen and Merida, life is slower, there is more red tape, and knowing people in the right places helps to get things done.
From a cultural perspective, Mexico is separated into four main regions:
1) North Mexico – Nine states which have been markedly influenced by US culture.
2) Central North Mexico (also known as the Bajio region) – Seven states defined by their colonial past. Guadalajara, Queretaro, Leon, and Aguascalientes are well-known cities in this region.
3) Central Mexico – Six states, one of which houses Mexico’s largest and North America’s most populous city: Mexico City. Puebla is also part of Central Mexico.
4) The South – This region has historically been the poorest in Mexico. It comprises eight states and is the most linguistically and culturally diverse region in the country.
Before doing business in any of these regions, make sure you conduct some research to familiarize yourself with their commerce expectations.
Honor the Dress Code
Whereas in the States and Europe the business dress code has relaxed considerably, in Mexico they are still inclined to dress more formally, especially in the larger cities. Men generally wear sport coats with dress slacks to the office and at times suits and ties, and women also wear professional attire. In some of the hotter, less-crowded areas you may find they’ve loosened the standard, but make sure you look around or ask before you show up underdressed, as that can be seen as a lack of respect.
Speak the Language
I’m not suggesting you become fluent in Spanish before visiting Mexico, but you should make some effort to familiarize yourself with some phrases. If you can greet your hosts in Spanish, call them by their appropriate titles (Señor, Señora, Señorita, Don, or Doña—followed by their last name unless they invite you to use their first), and say goodbye in their native tongue, they’ll appreciate it.
Recognize the Hierarchy
Mexican business is quite hierarchical. If you want decisions to be made, make sure you’re meeting with the decision-makers, as their direct reports are unlikely to be able to move the needle. In a similar vein, they tend to be status conscious, so Cultural Atlas recommends you, “Book engagements in settings that are reflective of one’s position and status. For example, meet high-level representatives in first-class hotels and restaurants.”
Because Mexican culture puts so much value on relationships, they prefer meeting in person to communicating via email, text, or even phone calls or video conferencing. Take the time to meet with your contacts face-to-face, and then you can re-cap the meeting’s most important points via one of the abovementioned electronic methods.
Showing respect and consideration for your business contacts in a host country is a common courtesy that marks you as a decent human being. As an added bonus, it’s sure to make your business in that country go more smoothly and increase your chances of success. Mexico is no exception.
By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano
President & CEO of Barbachano International (BIP)
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement and Exe