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To: President, XYZ Corporation
From: Foreign Relations Director
Subject: Important Info for your Business Trip to Mexico
On Thursday, October 20, you’ll be taking a one-week business trip to Mexico to meet with our potential clients there. As you have never visited the country before, I have prepared a short report for you on what you will need to know so as not to offend anybody.
Business Relationships
Mexicans place a good deal amount of emphasis on personal relationships. The key to a successful business trip to Mexico is establishing a close relationship with the client. Good personal relationships are the basis of business success in Mexico. In Mexican business culture, interpersonal skills such as “fitting in”, cultivating relationships, and, most importantly, winning the favor of others, are sometimes considered more important than professional competence or experience.
Mexicans prefer to do business only with people whom they “know”. Getting to “know” the clients will be a difficult task especially on your first trip. Because establishing close relationships, trust, and favor are so important in Mexico, it may take many return trips to Mexico to build these bonds.
You’ll find that Mexican business culture has a warm, friendly relaxed atmosphere, with a slower pace. Mexican men are warm, friendly, and may initiate physical contact. They often touch shoulders or hold the arm of another. Withdrawing from these affectionate gestures can be perceived as an insult. Personal space is not as important in Mexico as it is in the United States, therefore they may be only inches away when they talk to you. To avoid insulting them just relax and speak normally.
Many Mexican companies are family owned, and because families play such a dominant role in Mexican society and have such a large influence on individual behavior it is wise not to ignore or overlook any person in the meetings you will attend. Because Mexicans value close personal relationships, many extended families can include college friends and business associates.
Business Attire
The Business Attire in Mexico is similar to that of the United States. Standard office attire for women includes dresses, skirted suits, or skirts and blouses. Femininity is strongly encouraged in women’s dress. However nothing revealing should be worn in public or to a meeting. Women business travelers will want to bring hosiery and high heels. They will also appreciate a light coat for evening wear.
Jeans are an acceptable piece of casual wear if they are clean and are in good condition. They should only be worn to places more casual than an office meeting such as the client’s home, or at a meal. There are some strict rules that shorts and tennis shoes are never acceptable in Mexico City for any type of business meeting, and in the case of shorts should not be worn at all while you are on the trip. In addition, personal security is a problem in Mexico today, and both women and men should leave any valuables at home. This includes rings, watches, necklaces, etc.
Roles & Status
As this is your first trip to Mexico and business relationships are such an essential element to doing business in Mexico, you will want to use a person’s professional title when addressing them. First names are reserved for family and closer acquaintances. Wait to be invited before you start using first names, don’t be concerned if at the end of the business trip you are not on a first name basis. It may take several trips to develop that relationship.
Professional titles are an extremely important part of Mexican business protocol. Doctors, professors, engineers, lawyers, and architects are always addressed by their professional titles. If they are without a professional title then they should be addressed by the title of “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss” followed by a surname. If you don’t know someone’s last name, just use the courtesy title.
The proper way to say “Mr.” in Spanish is to say “Señor”. The proper way to say “Mrs.” is “Señora”. Finally the correct way to say “Miss” is to say “Señorita”. If you are unfamiliar with a women’s title you should address her as Señorita just as in the United States.
A few things about the role and status of women during a business deal in Mexico that you should know is that a woman traveling by herself should not invite a man to a business meal unless he is accompanied by his spouse or by one of his business partners. A woman should also hold a business luncheon in her own hotel restaurant and sign the bill in advance. Otherwise, a Mexican businessman will usually resist allowing her to pay.
Business Etiquette
In Mexico doing business can be very similar to doing business in the United States. However a number of things are different enough that you should be aware of them so as not to offend any of our potential clients.
Conversations occur at a much closer physical distance than you may be accustomed to in the United States. Moving away to establish distance is considered unfriendly. In response, a Mexican will often step forward and close the distance again. To avoid insulting them just relax and speak normally.
Many Mexicans treat appointments with foreigners as tentative until they know their person is actually in Mexico. Many veteran foreign businesspeople call from their hotels on arrival to confirm appointments or send confirming faxes. Either way, they ensure that the secretary knows that they are in Mexico and how to reach them.
When first meeting our clients you will want to initiate the handshake first. As in Mexico, women should always initiate handshakes with men. A gentle grip is all that is required when shaking hands. Nothing fancy is needed to impress our clients.
Studies have shown that excellent visuals in the presentations will greatly help influence a Mexican businessman. However presentations have little value unless they wish to actually see them. The presentations are no substitute for a good relationship. The appearance and presentation of letters, memos, reports, promotional literature, or any other type of document you present in your business dealings, are considered very important and will be subject to scrutiny.
During the meeting if you need to pass out documents to the clients, have somebody actually hand the documents to the clients. You should never throw the documents across the table to the person during a business meeting. This gesture is considered highly offensive. Other gestures that are considered highly offensive or vulgar are using the Lord’s name in vain, especially in public, is profoundly offensive to Mexicans. As well, the “O.K.” gesture with the thumb and index fingers is also considered vulgar.
Prior to starting negotiations, you should make sure that both parties understand the details of the anticipated deal and relationship and have established that you have the authority to act on the deal. Negotiations can be quite lengthy and may include a great deal of “haggling.” Be aware that Mexicans will avoid directly saying “no.” A “no” can often be disguised in responses such as “maybe” or “We’ll see.” When negotiating instead of coming straight to the point, it would be best if you used an indirect approach when coming to a deal. They may interpret a more direct approach as being rude and pushy. This will not help in establishing a relationship with them.
In Mexican business culture, subordinates are encouraged to give their input, however only the highest person in authority makes the final decision. So keep this in mind when dealing with the clients, but also remember that subordinates and business partners should be treated as the family of the owner or highest person in authority and should not be ignored.
Although giving a gift is not a requirement in Mexican business culture, presenting a small gift will generally be accepted as a gesture of good will between the two parties. If you decide that you wish to offer a gift to our clients, it would be best to bring something regional from our home state. Such as candy, or an illustrated book about the city we live in, or flowers.
However be careful of what type of flowers you present as according to Mexican folklore, yellow flowers symbolize death, red flowers cast spells, and white flowers lift spells. So if you wish to present flowers to them it would be best when you are in the florists shop to ask them for an appropriate type of flower.
A very appropriate gift for an initial visit would be something with the company’s logo on it. Such as mugs, pencils, little items that they can store around their office. For successive visits it may be more appropriate to bring a bottle of wine or scotch.
The one gift that you really should avoid is silver. Don’t bring silver and you may want to consider not wearing any either. Mexicans are very proud of their silver which is among the purest in the world. Products made from it win awards world wide. Bringing them silver which is not made in Mexico may very well offend them. As well wearing silver may bring up a conversation about silver which you may very well want to avoid.