We make you feel at home: former Argentinean first lady Juliana Awada welcoming the Chinese first lady to a G20 reception in Buenos Aires in 2018 in her very relaxed style (source: Alamy). Both Awada and husband Mauricio Macri are also renowned business people.

Most of my work since I set up Sunny Sky Solutions 10 years ago has been about making connections, and a lot of it about getting my clients speak to the right people across Latin America. I have been in many meetings, calls, negotiations, introductions, presentations, watching how both sides behave. I can see when things work and when things just don’t kick off. We have learnt a lot from those many years of getting key people’s attention and nurturing crucial relationships. This post will give you just a few tips on how to speak to the people that make things happen in two of our key markets, Argentina and Uruguay*.

Before we discuss practicalities, remember that business in South America is personal, and Argentina and Uruguay are no exception – if you’re just here for the quick win, not many people will open their doors to you, but if you’re here for the long-run, if you listen, and if you focus on people and relationships rather than price lists and agendas, you’ll stand a much better chance of engaging successfully with those at the top. We don’t work with clients that just want to email price lists around, our clients (mainly from the UK, New Zealand, Ireland and the US) tend to be highly technical and work in very niche sectors, and their aim is to grow sustainably in the region.

People do business with people they like – and here by the River Plate, that couldn’t be truer. So before you even read the tips below, remember to slow down and connect. These people can make or break your business in the region. Investing time to build those relationships and caring about them genuinely will make all the difference.

1. Take your time to find the right people to speak to – and prepare.

When we work on lead generation projects, for example, we take a good couple of months to find the right people to speak to. More often than not, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay, which are our core markets, and particularly in our core sectors (such as agrifood), we know exactly who they are and we often know exactly how to get in touch with them. If you are going solo, it can take several months, even a year including the odd visit, to figure that out.

But even if you have those contacts, or can find them, we never recommend contacting them straightaway. The order in which you contact people, the route you use to contact them (particularly since introductions are paramount here – again, people doing business with people and all that), and the timing, are critical.

Once you work that out, you will have to make absolutely sure that your speech is up-to-scratch since, as it almost always happens with decision makers around the globe, you only get one shot. We work a lot on this with our clients – parachuting into these countries doesn’t help, you need to show you know the market, and you need to show you care – showing that you prepared for that initial approach pays off and sets you apart from the (way too many) companies that come so unprepared.

2. How to approach.

Once you work who you need to speak to and you have prepared, you need to consider how to actually approach these people.

You probably think that this should be an email, right? Maybe, maybe not. It could be a face-to-face introduction by a third party, it could be a phone call, or even a WhatsApp message or (yes, I’ve done it) a direct message on LinkedIn or Twitter. This is when it really helps being introduced – your contact should tell you what the best way of approaching that person is – take their word for it.

Our best advice here is to keep it short. I’ve seen email introductions that are like an A4 of text with about 5 (annoyingly heavy) attachments. Really? Do you have the authority to demand all that time from that (very busy) person? Are you going on and on about your company and what you can do or are you genuinely showing some interest in their business?

Also, if you want to engage with very senior people, it helps if you have the same seniority, or at least, if you can promise to engage a very senior person very quickly. CEOs, MDs and other top level managers will always speak the same language of people making the sort of the decisions they also make on a daily basis, people who also know what to run a business is like.

Talking about language, a lot of people in Argentina and Uruguay will speak English but that’s again when it pays off to get introduced (your contact will tell you if English is ok) and to start with a short message. If you go for English, it is courteous to prepare a first sentence in Spanish (Google translate should be ok for this) to apologise for not writing in their native language.

Uruguayans and Argentineans are usually more laid-back than say Colombians or Chileans, so you can be a bit more informal, while still being very professional.

3. Remember: relationships are more important than content

It’s easier over a BBQ: meeting between the Presidents and foreign ministers of Argentina and Uruguay in Anchorena, Uruguay, 2020. Source: Clarin.

We insist on this because we see it every day. If you are personable, interesting, if you make the right connection, people here will want to talk to you about any topic. Business, rugby, food, family, travel, anything. Business is personal – sounds cliché, but it’s the way it is. Smile, relax, connect.

This means that business here will not be quick, of course. Argentina is unstable and those relationships will mean everything when things are tough. Uruguay is small in terms of population, and we tend to know the people we do business with. Slowing down and taking your time will set you apart from those hurried Europeans and Americans that just come and go.

Oh, and remember, we all know each other. Argentina is ten times the size of Uruguay but still, within a region (say, Córdoba) or a sector (say, livestock, refrigeration or international education), everyone knows each other. So tread carefully. On the positive side, if you need something, just ask, everyone will know someone who can help you – this is a very River Plate thing.

* The fact we chose just two markets in the region shows how diverse Latin America can be. Having said that, the fact we selected Uruguay and Argentina also shows how similar these countries are. Needless to say, all the above are generalisations since there are obviously variations across regions, sectors, and people, like in any other part of the world.