Canada’s economy has been intimately connected to Mexico’s since 1994 when both countries signed the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico is the world’s 13th largest economy and the 12th most populated country with 127.5 million people.
While the renegotiation of NAFTA may change the relationship, there’s no question Canadians and Mexicans will continue to do business together. To that end, we consulted Nathan Nelson, Chief Representative for EDC in Mexico, to give us some tips on doing business there.
1. Learn the lingo: Learn a little Spanish. The Mexicans appreciate any effort you make on this front, but stick with the basics, such as “good morning,” “pleasure to meet you.” If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t try to do your pitch in Spanish. “Keep it to simple phrases,” Nelson said. “If you make a mistake, it’s not an issue. You can share a laugh about it.”
2. Embrace the country: Mexicans are proud people and will appreciate your appreciation of their country. Talk about their beautiful city and culture. “You can become familiar with the landmarks in the city and talk about those, for example,” he said.
3. Visit often: There’s no substitute for face-to-face encounters and this is particularly true in Mexico. Mexicans will expect you to make multiple visits and take the time to build the key relationships.
4. Ace the small talk: Before getting down to business, Mexicans tend to start business conversations with small talk about culture, the city you’re in or the weather. Learn a little about the culture, including researching famous Mexicans and knowing a bit about Mexico’s sporting passion — soccer. You can also expect some questions about your culture. Nelson has received many questions about Canadian winter sports, for example.
5. Engage local help: In Mexico, having a local representative or partner will be invaluable to solve problems and issues. “Good relationships with local contacts can help in getting responses, dealing with logistical issues and following up. “You need someone on the ground,” Nelson said, “to know the local processes and thinking.”
6. Mind the clock: Never show up late to a meeting, but fully expect that your Mexican counterparts might. Traffic disruptions in big cities, such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, are very common. In addition, there tends to be a more relaxed view toward time in Latin America, though it’s more common in rural areas than in the big cities.
7. Keep an eye on queues: Try to get to meetings early because the security process always seems to take longer than expected and can be extremely strict. In some cases, particularly in a factory or plant, visitors are asked for a passport. In 95 per cent of the cases, he said you don’t have to leave your passport at the security gate, but they will ask you to leave photo identification, so it’s important to have another option. “I would suggest you challenge having to leave your passport,” he said. “Ask if you can just show it and leave your other photo identification, such as a driver’s licence or health card, behind.”
8. When yes means no: Mexicans do not like to say no, so understanding body language is important and it will come with time. There are, again, regional differences on this tip. It’s more common to get a straight no in larger cities, but even there, it happens that your counterpart might say yes when they mean no. “That’s why face-to-face is best,” Nelson said. “You can walk away from a conference-call thinking everything is splendid, but if you’d seen their face and body language, you’d know better.”
9. Bureaucracy abounds: Negotiations or processes can sometimes be slow. The government and even some large private enterprises can have extremely cumbersome bureaucratic processes. “Again, that’s why it’s good to have someone on the ground, getting the information you need,” he said.
10. Breaking bread (or tortillas): Breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings are common, but meals are rarely offered at a first meeting. When they do happen, lunches and dinners can be very long engagements. “It’s not uncommon for people on Thursdays or Friday to go out for lunch at 2 or 3 p.m. and not return to the office,” Nelson said.
11. Dress for success: It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. In business centres such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, one should dress formally for meetings, whereas in other smaller cities, the dress code is often more relaxed, mostly due to extreme heat. On the coast, men often wear very lightweight long-sleeved white shirts called a guayabera.
12. Business cards are boss: Business cards are still readily exchanged so keep them handy. “You might want to bring some extras,” Nelson said. It is also important to have your cellphone number on your card and don’t hesitate to ask for potential clients’ cellphone numbers as well.