Click on the photo: Ongoing projects, and salespeople recruited in the region with ties to other South American countries and strong connections to some of the bigger international companies led ISS to select Argentina (left) as a focal point. Brazil (right) is another country with much opportunity.
Moving forward at a gradual pace through the years, ISS currently has sales teams in 10 countries in Central and South America. It is imperative each salesperson possess entrepreneurial savvy and knowledge of vertical markets to be able to quickly open up new territories, particularly in those areas (e.g. traffic safety) where innovative analytics solutions are increasingly needed.
This is also a case where knowing the “art of the deal” Latin American style is very important. While deals don’t typically take as long to close as in China, where the social protocols involved are very long for the average Westerner, the “New York minute” approach — get in, get it done, get out — definitely doesn’t play well south of the border, even in larger cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
“The Internet and globalization have changed the pace of business, to be sure,” says ISS Country Manager for Colombia Sergio Brieba. “But you have to realize there are typically more moving parts to any given business deal in Latin America, more people involved in the approval process, even if it’s not a government application. So there’s a lot of patience required with all the back and forth, even when there’s a long-term relationship involved.”
According to Brieba, some of the deals that have come ISS’ way have been due to customer service issues with competitors.
“There was one foreign company in particular that took a very aggressive approach to getting new customers in the region,” he says. “They were good, in fact, at getting the customers, but they really didn’t have people on the ground here to follow up with issues that arose afterward. Customers didn’t want to talk to someone on another continent, in another time zone. They wanted personal attention to their problems this company simply couldn’t provide. Long story short, our ability to do that sort of handholding, to come in person if need be, has made a big difference with customer retention in this region of the world.”
ISS also does not rely strictly on its sales and integration teams for its customer service relations. Select company executives regularly visit with customers in different countries to check in with them and make sure everything is to their satisfaction.
“The idea is for them to be able to pick up the phone at any time and discuss any issue related to the service,” says ISS CFO Boris Kalk. “Because of the personal nature of these relationships, they know we are good for our word and will go to whatever lengths are necessary to resolve any issues.”
Paulo Hack, director of Speed Sistemas in Brazil, and whose company has been an ISS customer for more than 10 years, says, “It’s a very personal approach, even for Latin America, but we certainly have no complaints about that. The overall nature of the solutions is important, how effective they are, but to be able to have the vendor be like a partner is not something that is easy to come by. We put great stock in that, and to know they won’t be trying to sell us add-ons or other services we don’t need.”
Bringing It All Back Home
ISS was recently voted the leading VMS vendor in South America by IMS Research. Some have asked why a U.S.-based company has its major base of sales south of the border. The answer is because entry into the U.S. market is substantially more difficult in many ways than in Latin America. The “behemoths” tend to be much more entrenched and the cost of doing business more expensive than in Latin America or Eastern Europe, another area where ISS has had success.
By proving themselves in the Latin market, the word has spread globally, including Stateside. Competitors that only last year were at best maybe vaguely familiar with ISS now find themselves looking over their shoulder. So while you cannot always bet on the smaller company, if their solutions are genuinely innovative and the sales and integration teams work together to create long-term customer relationships, so any issues are easily resolved, a provider not a brand name today may find itself the vendor of choice tomorrow.