If you think doing business at home is difficult, try expanding your company to another country.
The potential gains are great, but so are the potential disasters. Opening shop or exporting abroad successfully requires knowledge not only of that country’s laws and regulations, but also of its corporate culture and business etiquette.
Doing business in Mexico is no exception. The right sales pitch is not enough to persuade Mexican businesses to buy what you are selling.
Mexican people do business with whom they like at a personal level, so developing solid relationships is key.
To build these professional friendships, you must know how to speak and behave properly when interacting with Mexican business people. Do you know what they consider on-time and late? Should you use titles, first names or last names when addressing them? What approach is better: casual and personal or strictly professional?
Understanding Mexican business culture will give you confidence and improve your chances of closing the deal you covet.
The following guidelines will help you and your company make the best impression south of the border.
Mexico Business Etiquette Guide
Timing and scheduling
- Make sure you are punctual and on time for any meeting, but do not be surprised if your Mexican counterpart is 30 minutes late. It’s common in a lot of Latino cultures, so just be patient!
- Mexican punctuality is not rigid because of a cultural emphasis on personal life.
- It is not uncommon for Mexican business people to cancel meetings, and many consider meetings with Americans as tentative until they receive confirmation that the person is in Mexico. Therefore, it is a good idea to confirm meetings scheduled weeks or months ahead several times as the date approaches, including the night before.
- Mexicans often say “mañana” (“tomorrow” in English), when referencing the “next couple of days” or “sometime in the near future”. If in doubt, be sure to clarify when talking about schedules or delivery times.
- Use words when writing dates. In Mexico, the first number in a numeric date represents the day of the month. As a result, 3/5/17 (March 5, 2017, in the U.S.) means May 3, 2017, in Mexico.
- Mexican people observe long holiday periods during Easter and Christmas, which runs from Our Lady of Guadalupe Day on December 12 to Three Kings Day on January 6. Most government (federal, state and local) close during this period, is commonly known as “Guadalupe Reyes”.
Language and Communications
- Good manners and politeness go a long way in Mexico.
- While most Mexican business people speak English, you should learn basic phrases in Spanish such as “por favor” (please), “gracias” (thank you), “adios” (goodbye) and “disculpe” (excuse me).
- If you do not have a fully bilingual member in your team, you should consider hiring an interpreter, preferably a native speaker.
- The formal form of you—“usted”—is often used when addressing elders, employers, superiors, co-workers and strangers. The informal “tú” is used among friends, siblings and people who are on the same level.
- Avoid using first names unless invited to do so.
- Address people using “Señor” (Mr.), “Señora” (Mrs.) or “Señorita” (Miss) and their last name.
- Mexicans respect titles. You may address someone by his or her title only.
- When leaving a voicemail, keep in mind that most Mexican people will expect you to call again and therefore, are unlikely to return your call.
- Strangers shake hands when meeting and leaving each other. Mexicans usually hold the gesture longer than we do.
- Friends may hug or kiss each other on the cheek. Men often touch shoulders or pat each other on the back.
- Standing with hands on the hips may be considered aggressive.
- Mexicans do business with friends. If they feel uneasy around you, chances are you won’t be closing any deals.
- To develop relationships, be warm and friendly. Ask your Mexican counterparts about their family, friends, customs, hobbies, etc.
- Use intermediaries when necessary to make personal connections.
- Business in Mexico is done in person, not over the phone or email.
- Meetings usually start with small talk about family, the weather, etc.
- Do not refuse drinks (usually coffee) offered to you during the meeting.
- Being direct and to the point may be perceived as rude or aggressive. Be gracious and polite.
- Because relationships come first, negotiations tend to move slowly.
- Meetings typically are slow-paced, often going off topic.
- Hierarchy is important. Big decisions are made by top executives, and they expect to do business with same-level executives not with low-level representatives.
- Appearances matter—your clothes, jewelry, hotel accommodations, etc.
Meals & Meetings
- A typical business lunch in Mexico starts at 2 pm, lasts two to three hours, and includes lots of casual talk, with little time devoted to business.
- Breakfasts tend to be more productive when conducting business.
- Supper, which usually starts at 8-9 pm, is a light, minor affair and not good a time for business.
- Drinking in excess during a business meeting is considered inappropriate.
- Your offer to pick up the tab will be appreciated, but since you are the guest, most Mexican business people will insist on paying.
What to Wear
- Dress conservatively in the city. Dark suits never fail.
- Men should wear ties. Women should wear formal business attire.
- Jeans are not appropriate. Avoid low-cut shirts and very short or tight skirts.
- When in doubt, it is better to be overdressed.
With a genuine interest to assimilate the Mexican culture, American companies can develop successful business relationships in Mexico. Do your research.
Make a compelling effort to learn about the culture and business practices.
Focus on building strong relationships, and pave the way for profitable business opportunities in the future.