Doing Business in Mexico
Mexican business and social culture differs substantially from the U.S. First and foremost, business is intensely personal. Relationships ordinarily must be cultivated carefully before business is forthcoming. A businessperson often finds him/herself in seemingly interminable and unproductive meetings, particularly meals which can go on for hours. Often business is only peripherally discussed; most of the discussion will center on background, family, and general discussions about culture and society. One must be careful to ask seemingly personal questions about such things as education, family members, etc. One good tip is to carry pictures of your family. Mexican counterparts often will show them to you.
There are many reasons for this. Unlike in the US, every company, from the mom-andpop store to billion-dollar companies, is owned by one individual or family. Decision-making in Mexico is nearly always concentrated at the very highest levels of a company. Doing business thus becomes a very personal decision, making personal relationships crucial. Mexicans in general are more family oriented, and identify very closely with their families. Outsiders must gain their confidence.
This has an upside and a downside. It can be very difficult for those trying to break into a circle of suppliers, but once inside, it is more difficult to be dislodged, since one is likely to be seen as not just a supplier, but also as a friend.
The key is patience. Little may be accomplished initially in terms of sales, but the groundwork is being laid. It will take time before many Mexican businessmen feel comfortable enough with you personally to do business.
One must, however, be careful to distinguish between support and putting off. Mexicans do not like to say no--they often feel it is impolite. They will often find circuitous ways of saying no. They may say yes, but really mean not now, or perhaps when other things happen. One must be careful to follow up any verbal agreements with concrete actions or documentation.
Time is another factor. Mexicans simply do not place as high a value on time and punctuality as Americans. It is not at all unusual to wait in an ante-room for up to an hour for a Mexican contact. This is not being rude by Mexican standards, so such waiting should not be interpreted as such.
Business hours are very different, particularly in government and financial services. This is changing slowly, and is less true in the north of Mexico where they are more influenced by U.S. practice. Many executives will not start work until 10:00 or 10:30. They then work until 2:00 or 3:00, take two to three hours for lunch (many go home for lunch since it is the main meal of the day), return to the office at 5:00 or 6:00, and work until 9:00 or 10:00. A business dinner may not begin until 9:00 or 10:00. In fact, except for coffee shop-type restaurants, it is often hard to get served in a Mexican restaurant before 8:00.
Be very careful about saying anything negative about Mexico. Mexicans can be very selfdeprecating, but they are extremely nationalistic and very wary of what they think is stereo-typing and arrogance on the part of "gringos." Mexico, for all its faults (which they may acknowledge but of which they do not like to be reminded by foreigners), is absolutely the greatest place on earth to Mexicans.
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