Finding and Paying in Valued Currencies; Overcoming Skepticism in Country Offices about Headquarters and Marketing People

Miguel (Mike) Garcia is a member of the marketing team for software in Latin America at a Fortune 500 computer company. As a member of a headquarters function, he has to gain cooperation from country managers and others who resist anything that comes from the central office and who have their own ideas about what might be valuable to them:

Our worldwide marketing team has the philosophy of going into an area of the world and working closely with our people there, capitalizing on opportunities. We’re like consultants—we create programs and materials, show best practices, and so forth. Unfortunately, we’re like consultants no one asked for. I’m lucky because Latin American markets are more open to someone like me because they recognize they may not be doing things in the most sophisticated way. But they don’t always take what I say, so I have to sell and influence.

To show you what we are up against, one of my colleagues from the European region had written a composite report of what he’d seen on a visit. The Portuguese people returned his report with notations next to each paragraph saying, “Not applicable in Portugal!” That led us to think that maybe we shouldn’t issue a report, but just try to influence managers in other countries when we’re there, hang out, talk, and subtly influence. We sense they don’t want an official stance. I’m from Chile, which helps in these markets. I try to be one of them, be their ambassador in headquarters; of course, in headquarters, I am “objective.”

One of the trickiest things is that the people in the markets don’t report to me, but rather to the area president. I’m not involved. I just cross my fingers that I’m influencing them.

I have to deal with different levels of authority in each country: the product manager, then the marketing manager, and above them the country manager. In each case, the higher-level person can block any of our ideas. Now I’m having conversations at all levels; with buy-in at all levels, we get better results. Recently in Buenos Aires, we had an important meeting of all marketing directors, who are most often roadblocks. It was a nice opportunity to show what we’ve already been talking about with their folks.

On the in-country marketing side … we sell intellectual property. We try to bring best practices from other countries, not money. Often the in-country people say they want a market study. We’re trying to convince them it’s not about us having the study money. At first, they said, “Who needs you without money?” but I’m slowly convincing them that we add value anyway.

Our company values acting based on market research data, so we bring lots of data to the markets. We want to show that our research is suggesting something useful; it’s not just arbitrary. “Here’s what data says . . .” is more compelling. Sometimes, we get the response, “That doesn’t apply here.” Other times, they say,

 “Good, but we still don’t have to do it locally.” As a result, we fill our presentations with what worked in other places, so it’s not us headquarters people, it’s what’s working in Holland or somewhere. In-country people don’t want to credit me or Connecticut; it’s better if they see it’s “like Venezuela.” I’ve learned to let the market be the hero, even though in Connecticut the marketing people want to be the heroes. That’s a big issue; in Connecticut, many think we need to go tell countries what to do. That makes me think maybe I’m not being strong enough. But by hanging out with the local people, they end up thinking it’s good to adopt ideas from elsewhere.

At headquarters, I try to influence our product team that a country group wants something, but I can’t always ensure it will happen. I need influence in both directions. Say Mexico says, “We need our study completed,” but I may not be able to make that happen. For example, our standards team at headquarters in Connecticut for new methods or ideas has defined standard operating procedures, which delays the completion of studies in other countries. But who am I to tell that expert team to get the Mexican study out the door? I wind up as an ambassador to them. That’s tricky, I don’t have the answer; they know what has to be accomplished to move forward.

In Buenos Aires they were joking that there are new regional acronyms: for Connecticut headquarters, it’s PAYOLA, “Pain in the Ass of Latin America,” or it’s BEBOLA, “Big Bully over Latin America.” I say, “No, I’m not a bully”; they laugh and say they know. It’s good that they can joke. I see them now as open, but there’s still some baggage. They say, “Europe and Asia are not even close to Latin America.” Wow, they’re not that open yet. There’s still some sense of resentment of headquarters.

Now I’m the triage person in Connecticut for my area of the world. That’s not the way other teams work. I say to the country people, “We’re partners.” They like that a lot.

Our software team’s focus worldwide is to partner with the biggest markets. Unfortunately, those markets come least to headquarters or want help. Little ones were the neediest, so they called the most, and we spent the most time with them, yet bigger markets have bigger payoffs. We’re telling them, “You’re big boys and we need to work together.” We can’t afford big markets like Brazil not being on board. If Costa Rica is not, too bad. We’re spending more time with them in the field and setting up meetings across the whole company to see what works. The big difference now is that we spend time with them, so we can influence them.

The U.S. marketing people spend most of their time in the United States. Just spending more time with big markets—Brazil, Mexico, Chile—it’s easier not to be seen as a seagull (who flies over from headquarters, eats their food, shits on their heads, then leaves). They love that they have a partner in Connecticut for them. It makes influence easier because of the time devoted.

I’m finally starting to hear that Mexico is very pleased with what we’re doing: “They hear us out,” rather than, “Connecticut comes once a year, tells us what to do, then leaves.” Historically, there was more tell, but we would not be available when needed. Now it’s better.