The US Science Mexico Needs
The United States of America is the superpower of selling. A nation that bombards its populace with direct mail, billboard advertising, commercials, infomercials, telemarketing, and armies of sales folks who approach you at home, in your office, in stores, and on the streets. A nation that rewards selling handsomely – one of the highest paid professions. This century’s lead salesman, Lee Iacoca, became a billionaire and was seriously considered as a candidate for the presidency as a result of his ability to sell. Ronald Reagan was called The Great Communicator because of his ability to sell us soap in the early days of television and later selling us “trickle down economics” and Starwars as President. So good at selling he could sell us Vodoo economics and a huge boost in the cold war.
In addition to salespeeople we have millions of folks who provide sales support, marketing or research: psychologists, sociologists, demographers, market specialists, statisticians, graphic designers, cinematographers, choreographers, actors, writer, composer, editors, comics, announcers, technicians, focus group leader, scientists, computer experts, various celebrities-all engaged in studying our buying habbits or motivation us to buy a particular product or service.
In 1996 the Secretary for Tourism of Mexico, Sylvia Hernandez, appeareed in an American Express commercial that caused a flurry of criticism in this country. I doubt the same criticism would have befallen a politician in the States. That is a major difference between the two country’s attitudes toward selling. In the U.S. we give out awards for the best sales pitches (television commercials). In Mexico, selling is not only an undeveloped science it is viewed as something that “professionals” do not engage in. This negative attitude toward selling is hurting Mexico’s chances to compete internationally.
The historical precedence for this lack of salesmanship comes from a variety of cultural traditions and lack of competition in the marketplace. Until the mid 1980’s the banks, transportation, telecommunications and many major manufactureres were government owned entities without competition. An isolated economy with prohibitively high tariffs on imported goods.
U.S. manufacturers have been producing products in Mexico since the 1970’s, however, they were only allowed to export the products they were only allowed to export their manufactured products. One of the problems that NAFTA created for Mexican manufacturers was a fifty year pent up demand for U.S. made goods that flooded the market upon passage of NAFTA. Prior to 1989 Mexico’s access to foreign made goods resembled cold war Russia where tourists were approached on the street of Moscow by natives wanting to buy their jeans. Similarly, here in Ensenada, in the 1980’s Mexican friends would ask me to bring them Levis from the States.
Aside from isolationist policies prior to 1990, well ingrained cultural values, as mentioned, run counter to encouraging agressive selling in Mexico. Selling as we know it in the States involves a bit of bragging and comparative criticizing of the competition. In 1960’s U.S., it was still considered bad taste to knock the competition.
I worked for IBM in the 60’s. If a prospective customer decidied on a competitive product, it was considered highly unethical to engage in discouraging that decision. More than unethical, violating this rule would result in dismissal. We called it “unhooking” the customer. Now knocking the competition is done by office products, auto manufacturers, drug companies (the headache remedy wars), and a whole host of products.
The most insidious knocking of the competition is in the U.S. political arena, where a candidate’s private life (past & present) is thoroughly investigated and exploited by the opposition. Through the Kennedy years, politians could maintain a provate life without the constant scrutiny of the press. Reporters had a code of ethics that not only avoided reporting persanol skeletons, in the closets of politicians, but even included conspiracy to hide “personal matters” from the public if it wold tarnish an important political image.
Examples of press restraint and ethics can by found in the concealment of FDR’S physical handicap and Kennedy’s womanizing. The press corps until the late 60’s consisted of the three networks, and a handful of major newpapers, magazines and press services. Now the press includes a whole host of new players: hundreds of television options, talk radio jocks, shameless tabloids, and the internet. All are competing furiously for juicy gossip and willing to pay for it. This is not only an ugly smudge on our political landscape, it is preventing “good people” from running for office and causing effective incumbents to retire early.
In Mexico the press still respects the private lives of public figures. Also, it is still unseemly to brag on oneself and especially at the expense of someone else. There is a popular saying for folks who brag or exaggerate the qualities of a product or person “hachando demasiada crema a su taco” (adding too much cream to you taco). Whereas, in the U.S. we have a saying: “if you don’t toot your own horn somebody will use it as a spittoon”. If a Mexican stumbles and falls ssocially or financially, and their reputation damaged, it is in bad taste for the competition or detractors to exploit the misfortune. The Mexican saying is: “no haces leña de un arbol caido” (don’t make firewood from a fallen tree). “Never kick a man when he’s down” has become a mean spirited “finish him” press and public motto for those we dislike or oppose politically or financially. We are all responsible for this mean spiritedness. As a people, we can let those that try to sell us personal attack propaganda that it won’t sell cause we ain’t buyin it. We can learn a lot from our Southern neighbor about being ethical and corteous.
Mexico is still relatively free of a “dog eat dog” competitive mentlisty. The Mexican tradition of sharing with your neighbor is more firmly entrenched than in North America. In the U.S., even your neighbor is seen as a competitor. The culture has gone beyond “keeping up with the Joneses” to outdoing the Joneses. A horrifying example of competitive materialism gone berserk is inner city kids literally killing each other for “the right sneaker”. In Mexico the cultural tradition of sharing is reflected in the quite common practice of shopkeepers sending customers to competitors if they cannot provide a particular product of service. In the U.S. that might happen occasionally, in a small town, but not likely in the highly competitive cities.
In 1999 Ensenada, I still can’t pay my telephone or electricity bill by check via the mail. Lines are so long at the bank that it becomes a social event, friends asking friends to accompany them on the long wait in line. The banks and the phone company are probabley the worse examples of not atttending to customer needs. The banks charge extra for every imaginable service, fifty dollars is the standard charge for a returned check due to insufficient funds. The telephone company charges long distance rates and service installations that are 50% higher than in the States. This situation has improved since 1998 as foreign owned long distance providers have entered the Mexican market.
An example of not paying attention to your customer occurred in San Felipe, Baja California. A U.S. retiree convinced the phone company marketing reps to travel two hours by car to San Felipe from their Mexicali office to talk to customers about “new” phone services. The executives were shocked at the demand for telephone service as they signed up 100 new subscribers in one weekend.
The new customers were delighted to discover that Telnor had reduced installation fees by one half. The local telephone reps were double charging for phone installation and pocketing the difference. Also, unknown to San Felipe customers was that Telnor had touch tone dialing, call waiting , data transmission and the internet. All of these technological improvements had been implemented for over a year without informing the customers or prospective customers.
The lack of human resouce development (training) has also contributed to poor sales, marketing and customer service. The historical answer to increasing productivity in Mexico has been to simply hire more “cheap” labor rather than increase the productivity of existing workers. The tradition of throwing cheap labor at a production demand is still very much in vogue since minimum wages are still less than $5.00 a day. The lack of training is thereby compounded by the lack of incentive for workers who view their jobs as financially unrewording and not deserving of extra effort. The lack of training is compounded by the lack of incentive for workers . In the sales arena the cheap labor attitude of employers is evident with low commissions and small to non existant bonus pay. Mos tourists in Mexico see the result of these traditions in sales clerks who sit behind the counter watching television or talking to friends while customers enter and leave the store without an inquiry from the employee for sales assistance.
The point of all of this is that the U.S. knows how to train sales, marketing and sales service personnel. All the training that Mexico requires has already been developed and awaits translation into Spanish. Many programs have been translated and simply await implementation. Mexico most develop her managers and sales people if she is to compete more successfully in this highly competitive global economy.
Whether it is a marketing campaign for the world’s tourists or a sales/service clerk in a retail store-Gringos know how to increase sales through attention to customer needs, providing better service, and looking for value added products and services to enhance profitability. U.S. sales and marketing trainers have a lot to contribute to increasing Mexico’s revenues and the personal development and financial success of her sales people. I hear Mexican businessmen pay lip service to training and development, but most still do not understand the commitment required to successfully improve sales performance. They must also adopt new employee incentives to reward successful selling and abandon an age old proactice of a “cheap labor” psychology.
The sales, service and marketing technology can be easily made available but Mexican businessmen really “gotta wanna”. I believe we can develop a culturally sensitive approach to successful sales training in Mexico. The result could be a cadre of professional sales people in Mexico without the dog eat dog fallout that has ensued in the States. If Mexicanos don’t commit to developing better sales skills they might just as well get out of the way. If major commitments to selling differently in Mexico are not made then U.S. and other foreign entities will continue to kick the sales and marketing butts of their Mexican competition.
A lack of a sales and marketing culture is an advantage to those who are entering this arena in Mexico.