Hacking Cultural Differences in LATAM

As a global account manager, I get to work with people from more than 15 different countries across Latin America (LATAM). That can mean more than 15 different ways to convey the same message. Since even small misunderstandings can halt progress on a project, people call me to iron out cultural differences and make sure conversations move forward.

Having lived and worked in both LATAM and the United States, I’ve come up with a practical system that supports the third component of Acceleration Partners’ Performance Partnerships® model (an ongoing relationship). If you’re interested in tapping into LATAM—the third-largest e-commerce market—then I believe these two “hacks” will help get you where you want to go.

The two-part plan centers on: 1) What to talk about; and 2) What to talk about first. Here’s how that breaks down:

What to talk about is all about space. You need to think about how you position your points. The same way two desks can’t occupy the same coordinates in the material space, two points of view can’t occupy the same position in a conversation. To move forward, it’s important to establish that you and your LATAM partners are starting at the same spot.

What to talk about first is all about time. Since time can be perceived as linear or circular, it’s important to consider the progression of topics towards the goal of the conversation. Basically, this means we can get to B by first talking about A, or about talking also about C and D.

Over the years, I have seen six common behaviors across these two dimensions (Space and Time) that when not addressed, can derail conversations in LATAM. The key is really to listen to what you say and what your counterpart says. When truly listening, you’ll detect any conversation stoppers on time. It is important to say that the differences between cultures are just that: differences. It doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. It means that by acknowledging the difference the conversation can move forward.

 

The behaviors in this chart reflect cultural differences in business communications. Learning to recognize these differences is fundamental to preventing them from derailing progress—and it all begins with planning what to talk about and what to talk about first.

Here are some examples of how I have hacked LATAM cultural differences to address real-life challenges.

Challenge 1: Publisher Partner tries to avoid conflict

We developed a great pay-per-install agreement with an affiliate/publisher partner. The plan was to reach 75,000 installs across more than five LATAM countries in three weeks. The partner signed the insertion order but after three days still hadn’t launched the project. I was told this was because the CFO had to approve the deal, but I was also promised everything would be ready soon.

Three days later, we were still in the same place, so I got everyone on a call. I started by saying how excited the Acceleration Partners team was about the campaign and then listened to the company’s representatives say, “Yes, we are too.” Then, I start digging into the issue by positioning a value statement before a series of questions.

For example, I said, “Since we partner through a third-party network, the payouts you generate as an affiliate are reported daily, even though you get paid net 36 days. Is this why the finance department is concerned?” After three to five questions phrased this way, I got it! They hadn’t told me their concerns outright because they were trying to avoid conflict.

To address the issue, I sent an email two days later saying, “We want to prepay 30 percent of the campaign … with the condition that we launch by Monday.” The campaign did launch on Monday. Obviously, we exchanged many emails on the logistics of the prepayment, and AP was held accountable. But the project launched.

Later I learned that this affiliate partner did not trust the promise of payments based on performance because they had programmed payments to their own partners and were afraid of losing money. If I had figured out the “what to talk about” element prior, we could have sent the prepayment proposal sooner.

Challenge 2: Client takes circular approach to planning.

One month after I started managing the affiliate program for a client, I went to my first on-site meetings in Mexico City. I had three weeks in country and a clear strategy: I wanted to address payouts, compliance, onboarding, reporting and the team.

After a few meetings, I noticed the schedule and conversations were following a circular path. We would discuss compliance topics during the payouts meeting and move into two other topics. To my surprise, these types of conversations helped us devise some out-of-the-box proposals relevant to the program. But late in the second week, I was still only getting input on three of my five topics.

Publisher payouts was one of the pending unresolved topics. I scheduled a three-hour meeting for this topic, but the challenge was how to isolate payouts conversation from everything else. The strategy I used for moving from a circular to a linear conversation was to state the current deviation from the goal and the need to adapt for success.

I took time after one meeting to approach the client. I said, “To grow our partner base fivefold in this time-frame, we need to redesign the payout structure. The way it is setup currently, I do not see a scenario where publishers understand which categories have the best growth opportunity.” The result? I  got the meeting!

As the leader of the meeting with the client, I made sure there were no deviations from the topic by reminding the team about the alignment with the growth goal, and that helped us completed the new payout structure on time.

While it took me some time to figure out how to transform a circular conversation into a linear one, which ultimately delayed covering the reports structure, the positive is that I gained a valuable skill that has helped me ever since.

Challenge 3: Publisher partner hesitates to trust expertise

Our first month working with a publisher partner was going well: We were 30 percent away from our cost-per-signup goal, and signups were on the rise. The campaign was unique. We had gotten the partner to add a button with our logo and a call to action in their product sales section, meaning we got them to change their user experience to benefit the partnership.

Before the call to negotiate the renewal, the publisher sent us an email asking for a 50 percent increase in cost. We asked them for the “why” behind this increase but received no response. Nevertheless, we scheduled the call.

As the call started, I had my negotiation goal, but my first objective was to make sure we both felt part of the same team. So, instead of diving right into the negotiation, I spent the first 10 minutes talking about the partnership. I said things such as, “It is amazing how we are changing the way advertising works in this industry,” and “My goal is for us to do a TED Talk together describing how we came up with this idea.”

Then, I shared my screen and explained to the publisher how much the cost-per-signup would increase if we accepted the increase that they had requested. I also pointed out why the customer acquisition cost would rise to a level where the campaign could not be sustained in future months. I suggested to the publisher that we could negotiate a payout increase with the client in turn for more exposure and a set target number of signups.

The publisher agreed to keep the original payout structure. The company even became interested in looking at weekly performance data on the network. And to my surprise, after saying goodbye and just before clicking the “end call button,” I heard a member of the team say, “He’s a cool guy.”

Question for Clarity

Bridging across cultural differences can be challenging, but planning ahead can help you overcome conversation stoppers and move business forward in LATAM.

To keep it simple, remember to ask yourself in advance:

1) What do I want to talk about?

2) What do I want to talk about first?

If an issue arises, rethink the conversation with these two questions in mind:

  • What did I talk about that I shouldn’t have?
  • What didn’t I talk about that I should have?

 

ELI SAAD is a global account manager at Acceleration Partners who oversees affiliate programs in Latin America.

You can learn more about Acceleration Partners’ approach to global performance marketing program management at https://www.accelerationpartners.com/capabilities/global-affiliate-program-management/.

 

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