In sales we hear as a frequent refrain that social connections are the most important key to success. For some reason, though, while everyone seems to acknowledge the importance of this principle, it still seems to get lost in the planning and allocation of sales and marketing budgets.

On the itinerary of the business trip, “culture” is often assumed to happen by osmosis. While business travelers do inevitably experience the culture of the place they’ve traveled to, it’s worthwhile to set aside some time to mindfully observe and interact with it, with the aim of applying it to our local sales efforts.

On a recent trade delegation we hosted for companies from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the majority of the companies did set aside time for cultural enrichment and social connections. I’m uploading my observations on that hoping it will help companies remember the business case for culture in their international travels.

The trade mission formally kicked off on a Monday morning, over breakfast at El Bajío restaurant in the business district of Polanco. Our staff, a guest speaker, the delegates of 9 Virginia companies, and the representative of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership gathered in a conference space at the restaurant over enchiladas, tamales and huevos revueltos, introducing each other and taking in, indeed, a presentation from a lawyer specialized in risk management for international businesses on the importance of cultural considerations.

The session was productive, and the companies asked many questions and seemed engaged. However, it was miles away from the experience of some of the companies one day prior, when my colleague had brought three of the delegates, who arrived to Mexico City early, to the ruins of Teotihuacan.

A recognized World Heritage Site, Teotihuacan, formerly a city of 100 thousand or more inhabitants founded in 200AD, was a civilization that existed prior to the arrival of “the West” to Mexico via the Spanish colonial expeditions. The Spanish empire and its silver, smallpox, and concepts of property ownership ultimately absorbed the Mesoamerican nations into New Spain before those countries, including Mexico, were re-born as independent nations with continually evolving roles in global trade.

To our US visitors, part of this history bears resemblance to the history of their country, including in Virginia, but getting the chance to see a place like Teotihuacan does not occur in the United States as readily as it does in Mexico. Teotihuacan is part of the evolution of a civilization that has existed continuously, albeit under various names and languages, and it is part of what has become the culture in which our visitors were preparing to do business. The three delegates that participated in the Teotihuacan excursion went on to a week of meetings with Mexican customers and prospective business partners, interacting with counterparts whose culture they now understood a little bit better, with a little bit more lived context in common to that of the Mexican business communities they were seeking to become part of.