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Chuck Schaeffer The CRM Landscape in Latin America

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A Diverse Region with Call Center and Localized Requirements for CRM Software

There is no cookie-cutter or one size fits all approach to Latin America, a diverse region that encompasses nations from Central America, South America and the Caribbean. And even within a country's own borders, the differences—and impacts on business culture and supporting software systems—can be striking.

Yet, overall, adoption of customer relationship management (CRM) software continues to steadily grow within this vast part of the world, especially in the area of social CRM and social media. Whether organizations opt to use CRM software solutions from international providers such as SAP, Oracle, or SugarCRM—or choose to work with a local provider, research demonstrates that Latin American companies continue to invest in customer facing software technology.

CRM sales in Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to grow 2.4% this year, according to Gartner. The worldwide average is 1.8%, the researcher estimates.

Brazil leads the way in CRM software adoption, followed by Mexico, according to analysts. Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia typically round-out the top five CRM adopters, with the remainder distributed among the rest of the Latin American nations. Often, leading international developers hold CRM conferences in either Brazil because of its high-value in the Latin American CRM landscape or Mexico because of its proximity to the U.S. and native Spanish language.

Call Center Central

One reason for Latin America's acceptance of CRM is its role as a strong competitor to India as a provider of outsourced call center services.

"In the last 10 years, Latin America has become known as an established call center market. Mexico, Argentina and Central America have been great markets for outsourcing operations, and in the recent years countries like Peru, Colombia and Dominican Republic have seen an interesting growth, not only providing call center services to the United States, but to Europe and other countries in the region as well," writes Jesus Hoyos, a principal at Solvis Consulting and a leader of the Latin American nine-country CRM coalition, Customers Forever.

Because of this focus on call center services, many Latin American companies have invested in CRM solutions to meet the needs of their near shore or offshore clients. Increasingly, these call centers are looking to incorporate social media into their CRM solutions in an effort to better support customers, tap new customer channels, harness additional analytics and improve business intelligence.

But a huge opportunity remains: In Mexico, for example, only 53% of call centers have a CRM software system installed, according to a December 2009 MundoContact report. That will change as 78% expect to deploy a CRM application this year, the study found.

Differences in Culture Translate to Differences in CRM Software

Latin American companies have localization requirements that not all global CRM software companies can accommodate. Seemingly simple features such as names, addresses and payment terms can make a global CRM software system unworkable in Latin America.

For example, Latin American contacts normally have three or four components in their full names and two surnames. Traditionally, Spanish names consist of a first name followed by the father's surname and then the mother's surname. There lies the key difficulty in Spanish names; the last name isn't the last name (e.g. the main surname). The number of name fields in the CRM software system has obvious implications on the contact records as well as implications for contact reports, mail merges with contact data and form submits. Although many people initialize or delete their maternal surname in everyday life, it remains part of their legal name at all times. This of course affects data de-duplication efforts as you may incur the same contact with different versions of the same name.

Also, in several Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, where over 99% of the country’s roads have no names or street addresses, the CRM system must permit an increased number of fields for contact addresses.

Payment terms take on an increased importance in Latin America. In almost all traditional CRM applications, payment terms are excluded as they are considered part of the back office, accounting software or enterprise resource planning systems. However, in central and South America, identifying payment terms and conditions at the time of the sale opportunity is critical and therefore is often considered the missing CRM module when reviewing non-localized CRM systems.

Social Media and Social CRM

Like their counterparts in other corners of the world, Latin Americans are quickly adopting social media strategies and social networking. Since Facebook added a Spanish version in 2008, Latin American membership grew rapidly in November 2009, hitting 39.3 million active users, according to Inside Facebook. In February, Mexico added almost 1 million new Facebook members. Chile has a 35.7 percent market penetration and Argentina has a 20.4 percent penetration, according to Inside Facebook.

But there is more to social networking than Facebook, a fact not lost on some CRM developers working in the region. Orkut, Google's social media network, rules the social media roost in Brazil. And some Latin American users are being lured to Quepasa, a new social network designed specifically for Latin users.

Social media developers such as Joomla, developer of an open source content management system (CMS) for building websites and online applications; Ning, a service that enables the creation of branded social networks; KickApps, which develops a suite of hosted social media applications and services to create and engage online audiences, and others, are making successful first strides in Latin America, says Hoyos.

"This is an area of good growth, especially for retailers and government agencies," he says in his blog. "The question is who is going to go after the Latin American social market first: Lithium, Jive, Neighborhood America (now InGage Networks), etc."

Indeed, 45% of those Mexican companies responding to the MundoContact study plan to deploy social CRM or social media solutions in 2010, the report found.

"Today CRM vendors are already [integrating] with social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn channels. Your company needs to prepare for this," wrote Hoyos.

Getting Cloudy

Latin America - known for its sunny weather and intense rainy season - also is slowly getting into the cloud. Microsoft, for example, in July unveiled its plans to train about 2,000 Latin American partners in cloud computing services by year-end. Already, some cloud services are available in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, said executives speaking at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington, D.C. These services incorporate Microsoft solutions such as Dynamics CRM and Windows Azure.

"By moving their infrastructure services to the cloud, companies have an access point to affordable products and services that allow them to stop worrying about expenses and IT management," Cesar Cernuda, Microsoft VP of sales, marketing and services for the region, told BNamericas.

Indeed, Latin American businesses are welcoming on-demand and hosted CRM solutions, agreed Hoyos. Regional players and international players alike are vying for the space, pouring resources into educating prospective customers and further expanding the opportunity.

"The main tasks that can be successfully performed in the "cloud" in the short-term include application development and testing, back-up capabilities, disaster recovery and business continuity, and virtual desktops," said Fernando Belfort, ICT research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, in a statement. "Moreover, there is a clear growth opportunity for a range of companies, the most important ones being the SMB segment, enterprises, as well as service providers."

Vaya con CRM

Not surprisingly, CRM vendors are touting their initiatives and wins in Latin America.

In August, SAP renamed its energy-efficient building in São Leopoldo, Brazil, now calling the former SAP Lab "SAP Labs Latin America," to reflect the development center's main focus in serving customers and business partners in the Latin American market.

"With the tremendous growth SAP is seeing in Latin America, we aim to expand our team in stride with the increased demand for our services," said Erwin Rezelman, managing director, SAP Labs Latin America. "We designed the new building as an environment to inspire employees for innovation. Now, in re-naming it to SAP Labs Latin America and adding new colleagues to our team, we underscore our dedication to the region, and to enabling further innovation for customers and partners."

SugarCRM references several Latin American partners, including partners in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. The company's products support multiple languages such as Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish and the open source CRM company touts increased growth in the region.

For its part, last year, Oracle won a lucrative contract with Innova, a direct-to-home satellite television provider serving about 1.8 million subscribers in Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. Under the deal, Innova acquired an integrated suite of Oracle applications including Oracle Communications Billing and Revenue Management, Oracle Communications Service Activation and Oracle Communications Metasolv Solution, and also will integrate everything with its existing Oracle Siebel CRM solution.

And Kerry Ingredients and Flavours used the SaaS CRM solution to span Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Canada, a 1,500-user SaaS solution that manages more than 250 custom objects and 100 dashboards, according to

No matter where they live or work in Latin America, businesses large and small recognize the value of CRM strategies and supporting customer management software systems. With the ongoing acceptance of social media and social CRM, organizations will continue to turn to the technology to manage, analyze and improve the ways in which they communicate, engage and partner with customers. End

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Comments (5) — Comments for this page are closed —
Guest JulioP
  I think selling is different in most Latin American countries and this reduces the effectiveness of sales force automation and crm software.
  Chuck Chuck Schaeffer
    I agree the selling environment is different. There is a higher allocation of SMB companies. More companies are family owned than in other regions and this factors into their procurement and selling processes. There tends to be more rigid hierarchies and formal organizational structures even in small companies. Business is more local and personal relationships are much more important in Latin America than North America. Face to face time is generally required, a handshake can be like a hug and a dinner is a significant relationship building experience. But with all that said, I don't think the value and benefits of SFA or CRM systems are any less in Latin America than any other region. Instead, there are particular nuances and customs that must accompany the CRM deployment and operation so that the software supports the local culture and business processes.
  Chuck Luis Pascal
    If you're selling into LATAM you should also recognize that LATAM companies expect LATAM pricing. American or European pricing won't be readily accepted. Another difference when selling into LATAM is that the "T" in BANT tends to be much more fluid. Latam companies seldom make a purchase decision when they say they will.
  Chuck Ernesto
    I agree with the prior points. There's a lot of hub and spoke Latam sales deals that originate in the U.S. or EMEA (the hub) with additional locations in Latin America (the spokes) and there's quite often conflict when U.S. or EMEA prices are pushed on Latin business managers.

Guest Jose Vázquez
  Our company's research for a near-shore software development and call center operation took us to Columbia. Despite the country's image for drugs and kidnappings, which have been dramatically reduced over several years, Columbia stands out among Latin American offshore destinations for a number of reasons. The country is a progressive software technology adopter and the labor force is well accustomed to software technology such as CRM and call center applications. From a bigger picture, the 8 year administration under former President Uribe, which ended in 2010, implemented regulatory reform, favorable tax treatment and privatization which in many ways mirror US policy. The intent was to make Columbia stand out and attract US businesses, and it has worked big time. Consulting firm Business Monitor International says Columbia's business environment and investor friendly policy mix are making the country one of its favorite economies in Latin America.

The country is rapidly gaining popularity as a destination for call centers, business process outsourcing and outsourced software development. We've seen large offices for Microsoft, IBM, Citigroup, GE and HP in Columbia. Clearly, one of the big attractions is the lowest, or nearly the lowest, labor cost among Latin American countries. We've now been there for over one year and have been very happy with the quality of work and progress.



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Latin American companies have software localization requirements that not all global CRM software companies can accommodate. Seemingly simple features such as names, addresses and payment terms can make a global CRM software system unworkable in Latin America.


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Latin America Contact Center Statistics
  • A Datamonitor report predicts the number of agents in Brazil will rise from 3,900 in 2005 to 11,500 in the current 2010 year. Datamonitor expects demand for service based in Brazil from U.S. companies to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27% between 2005 and 2010 compared to 21% from other regions.
  • Datamonitor also forecasts Caribbean and Latin American based contact center agents servicing offshore customers to more than triple from 16,200 in 2005 to 44,900 in 2010.



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