Could a multilatina be your big gateway client to doing business in Latin America?

26/10/2015

Business in Latin America

Business in Latin AmericaNot all big multinationals are of European, North American or Asian origin. Multinationals that start off doing business in Latin America and go global are often called “multilatinas”. They are big, international and powerful. But who are they and why should they matter to you?

Who are the “multilatinas”?

They are as varied as they come. A good place to start finding out about these companies is the America Economia Ranking. For 2014, according to this ranking, the top 10 multilatinas are:

  • CEMEX (Mexico, cement)
  • LATAM (Chile, transport)
  • Brightstar (Bolivia/US, telecoms)
  • JBS/FRIBOI (Brazil, food)
  • CSAV (Chile, marine)
  • Tenaris (Argentina, metallurgy)
  • Ternium (Argentina, metallurgy)
  • Avianca/TACA (Colombia, transport)
  • Mexichem (Mexico, petrochem)
  • Ajegroup (Peru, drinks)

Cemex had sales of USD 15 billion in 2013, but the rankings are based on a variety of factors, so companies with even higher sales can be found farther down the list. For example, America Movil (no. 14 in the ranking) had sales of USD 60 billion. Not small at all.

Why should they matter to you?

1. Because these companies could be your clients.

Research multilatinas carefully. Find out as much as you can about them. They could be your gateway to real growth in Latin America.

Remember that any of these companies will need everything from staples (we staple and stamp a lot in Latin America, given our huge bureaucracy levels) and washing up liquid through to cables, cars and whole buildings. Is it worth designing a mini marketing plan for some of them?

If you are selling indirectly, for example, through a distributor, do they have access to these companies? Drop the names and they’ll know you are serious about the market.

2. Because these companies are global.

Some could be closer to home than you think. Can you supply them in your home market and then aim for a more global win? Could you supply them in one export market and then accompany them into a new market? Could a regional buyer be the key to more than one market?

3. Because they will have a “multinational” culture.

Although they have a distinct Latin flavour, work practices are likely to be aligned to what’s more familiar to you globally. The cultural gap will be slightly smaller.

And, critically, how to you get in there?

The million dollar question.

It’s not easy. It will take time and contacts. And a good dose of courage. Research is absolutely key to get under their skin, understand how they think and who your keyholder is.

Also, what I find lets exporters down many a time is readiness. You wouldn’t go to Coca Cola unprepared. You shouldn’t either with multilatinas.

You don’t get two shots. Have EVERYTHING ready and make sure you can respond and fulfill orders and requisites.

They are big companies, and they will be slow and full of internal and external paperwork. Do you really have the resources?

If they place an order that is 10 times the size you are used to, can you handle it?

My other key piece of advice is to be really aware of where the balance of power lies when dealing with multilatinas. Again and again I see European and North American exporters coming to multilatinas with the wrong attitude, sometimes borderline rude/pedantic. You need them much more than they need you.

Be humble – these are big companies, and very powerful in their own turf and beyond, and they know it.

Treat them with huge respect and show them that you really want their business.

Finally, when dealing with multilatinas, remember that as “multi” as they are, they are still “latinas”, particularly if dealing with HQ. Personal contacts help and cultural awareness is a must. They might not reply to emails or be extremely punctual. But they are way too big to ignore.

In what ways could multilatinas play a part in your Latin American market entry strategy?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Gabriela Castro-Fontoura

Gabriela Castro-Fontoura is Director at Sunny Sky Solutions (www.sunnyskysolutions.com), supporting overseas companies across Latin America. Gabriela specialises in market research, distributor recruitment, soft-landing and trade missions across the region, from her base in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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