The Unique Requirements For Latin America CRM Success
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By Chris Bucholtz
Latin America CRM Solutions Must Harness a Culture of Personal Relationships
There's an old cliché that all politics are local. And, when it comes to regions such as Latin America, all Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is local as well.
While CRM software vendors and implementors would love a world where one customer facing methodology could be applied globally, the reality is that Latin American customs, customers and regulations merge to create a unique scenario that can be very hazardous for CRM vendors or businesses who think they can export their CRM approach unchanged, says Jesus Hoyos.
"I always tell people I do not believe in best practices," says Hoyos, a CRM consultant and thought leader devoted to the Latin American region. "There are things that work for companies in the specific places they do business, but you cannot assume what works in the states will work at all anywhere else."
Culture and the legal differences from country to country make CRM in Latin America a challenging proposition for the unwary – but, like in any market, a bit of effort to understand the local conditions can radically improve your prospects for success.
The first thing to understand is the way people prefer to do business in Latin America – with partners they know and trust. In North America and Europe, this is also the case, but to a lesser extent; IT buyers can develop a sense of trust through online research, social media content and referrals in these regions, but that's just not the way it works in the Spanish-speaking world.
"One-to-one relationship building is very important," comments Hoyos. "Everything depends on a handshake and a hug. You cannot build trust through Facebook or Twitter; in B2B, it's still old school: get in the car, visit people, knock on doors. The way prospects are viewed in North America and Europe – from a prospect that you qualify and convert to an opportunity, with one account per contact – that doesn't work. It's all about the person."
This creates what Hoyos describes as "islands of influence" – groupings of buyers, influencers and executive decision makers with whom a business has a complex relationship – which also makes CRM systems very useful in managing customer relationships. Systemically keeping track of multiple interactions can pay dividends as companies try to leverage B2C relationships, but also recognize while social CRM can help greatly in nurturing and sustaining these relationships over time, social CRM won't replace the one on one interaction necessary to build true customer relationships and close sales.
By the same token, social media technologies like Jigsaw and InsideView are unlikely to work in Latin America, according to Hoyos. "Sometimes, sharing personal data is not even legal, depending on the country you are in."
The second consideration is that in many Latin American countries the invoice document is everything – and many invoices are not electronic. "All the important data of a sale will be on the invoice – the tax ID, the legal contract, the person signing for the purchase order, and so on. And the laws of many countries require that you host that information locally." If you record this data into your CRM software system, which certainly seems like a smart thing to do, you then need to verify where the data is hosted. "That can rule out CRM delivered as software as a service (SaaS) in certain instances."
The differences in what's required for an invoice can also vary from country to country, meaning that certain fields in CRM software systems may have to be modified for specific regions or markets. "For example, Mexico requires you to include colony, municipality, the inside and outside number of the street address, and so on. In Costa Rica, almost all business do not use street numbers or street names, so the address may be 'the black colored office building next to the movie theatre,' because that's what works in that country. So you need to find a way to develop an address format within CRM software that works for every county, even though all that information has to be localized."
Another Latin American regional obstacle for Customer Relationship Management is the tendency for salespeople to hang onto their contacts and personally guard what they view to be their accounts. "Most sales people will only input the end results of their efforts – they do not want to enter the data along the way from contact to conversion, lest someone else be able to use that information," said Hoyos. "There needs to be a mentality shift in most of Latin America, with the possible exception of Brazil, in order for that sort of collaboration to happen."
Although Latin America's unique CRM environment has room to evolve, Hoyos says there are things that the rest of the world could learn from the Spanish-speaking world's approach to maintaining customer relationships. First, there is a greater emphasis on creating excellence around customer service. Hoyos described the concept of a "Customer Operations Performance Center of Excellence."
"A lot of contact centers offer service level agreements, and they can do that because there's a lot of focus on the ISO-9000 standard, which has put Latin America ahead of any other part of the world when it comes to customer service."
Latin America also does a far better job of including collections and billing into the CRM service mix. "For instance, we've seen the use of text messaging to remind people to pay bills and doing other cool things," Hoyos said. "You don't find collections in Salesforce.com, Oracle and SAP." Unlike North American and European businesses which include collections information and billing terms in back-office accounting software or ERP systems, this business information is considered a front office CRM function in Latin America.
That's a third thing to learn from Latin America – the top CRM software systems are often locally-grown, and are not the biggest international names in the industry. "There are many small vendors serving this market, and it's because they understand the ways people do business," said Hoyos. "Rather than having to customize a more generic solution, customers can get a solution that is already in touch with this market." Despite a fragmented CRM vendor landscape, several Latin American countries are beginning to see growing market share traction by global CRM vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce.com
Finally, the Latin American tendency to value face-to-face relationships is something that Hoyos said all CRM practitioners should contemplate carefully. "That really is the core thing for all business," he said, "and the better you can tie CRM to it, and make CRM as much like those face-to-face relationships, the closer you will be to achieving an ideal CRM situation."
One-to-one relationship building is very important [in Latin America]. Everything depends on a handshake and a hug. You can't build trust through Facebook or Twitter; in B2B, it's still old school: get in the car, visit people, knock on doors. The way prospects are viewed in North America and Europe, from a prospect that you qualify and convert to an opportunity, with one account per contact, that doesn't work. It's all about the person."
I always tell people I don't believe in best practices. There are things that work for companies in the specific places they do business, but you cannot assume what works in the states will work at all anywhere else."