Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country and its business culture is diverse. The location and structure of a company often defines how it conducts its affairs. Firms in business cities such as Sao Paulo can operate in a way that feels very western, while further north you may find a more conservative business mentality.
Traditionally even the most minor business matters here are dealt with by a company’s superiors, or in their absence, elder members of staff. Family businesses, commonly with a patriarchal structure, make up a large part of the economy.
Business in Brazil is seen as any other sort of social interaction, meaning people feature much more prominently in decisions than profit-margins and deals are often won and lost upon the strength of relationships and trust. Gaining introductions through a local contact, a despachante, can be a good way to start.
When doing business in Brazil first impressions are important, so show an interest in Brazilian culture, dress sharply, polish your shoes and book an impressive hotel.
It’s customary to shake hands and maintain eye contact with each person in the meeting at both arrival and departure and to address attendees formally, using their title (Senhor/Senhora) and their second first name (Brazilians have at least two, the second coming from their father’s side).
Make sure you have business cards written in Brazilian Portuguese as well as English and learn at least a few Brazilian Portuguese words. Speaking Portuguese should allow you establish a firmer bond, but if you need to speak through an interpreter, it’s important to still direct your speech at your business partner and maintain eye contact.
How to close a deal
It’s standard procedure to arrange a business meeting at least two weeks in advance and confirm about two days before. Meetings are usually held at around 10am or between 3 and 5pm and are rarely speedy, so it’s wise to allow two to three hours.
Business meetings in Brazil usually see seats arranged in a hierarchical order and are lively, loud affairs. Small talk is a big part of closing a deal, so prepare to discuss topics such as food, travel, arts, sport and family life and if you are asked personal questions, respond by showing similar interest in your business partners. In Brazil, skipping small talk to ‘get down to business’ can be seen as offensive.
Business presentations should be short and expressive, with your performance almost as important as the content, which should be visually attractive and stimulate discussion.
As personal relationships are valued so highly, don’t be disappointed if it takes several trips to Brazil to secure a contract and make sure you keep the same team in place throughout. Maintain regular contact and discuss things thoroughly until your Brazilian partners show they want to come to a satisfying conclusion before trying to close a deal and always do this in person, rather than by phone or email. Pushing too hard for strict deadlines is frowned upon and could lead to a negative outcome.
If an agreement is reached, it can be wise to consult with local legal professionals as well as established contacts, since working solely with advisers from outside of Brazil can cause offence. It’s also important to be aware that Brazilian contracts can be quite fluid, as they are not seen as a definite agreement and can change while already in effect.