HOW TO SELL TO CASHLESS BUYERS The Third World is a huge potential market but tough to crack. Making customers out of countries that are essentially broke takes creativity -- and lots of patience.
By Louis Kraar REPORTER ASSOCIATE Karen Nickel

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE THIRD WORLD is a marketer's nightmare. You have to hack through triple- canopy layers of bureaucrats, sidestep quicksands of corruption, survive political typhoons, and figure out some way to bring home the treasure in hard currency. The trouble is, there are no other big untapped markets left. Says Chairman Anthony J.F. O'Reilly of Heinz, which has plunged into sub-Saharan Africa: ''To continue to grow as a company, we had to look beyond Europe and North America.'' Making money while growing in such markets takes some doing. Since countries saddled with a collective debt of $1.2 trillion don't have much cash to spend, U.S. companies have had to develop the kind of complicated countertrade deals ^ -- finding something for the customer to export -- that soak up potential profits. The key is to take a long view. Says Jan Dauman, chief executive of Inter Matrix Group, a consulting firm that specializes in global business strategies: ''Companies are going to India and Indonesia because of the potential they see ten to 15 years out.'' You want to get a foothold now in a backwater that will turn out to be the next South Korea. Americans pushing into the Third World usually find foreign competitors already there. Japanese companies get a boost from their government's aid grants, which frequently include equipment specifications that seem to fit only products made in Japan. Europeans often do business with the help of government export credits that have interest rates far lower than those of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. And non-American companies don't have to worry about the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act when it comes to greasing a deal. Says a senior executive of a major U.S. multinational: ''Under-the-table payments to facilitate a transaction are a way of life in many Third World countries, but Americans can't do that. We have to find other ways of showing we're useful.'' ONE WAY is to help political leaders provide jobs and increase exports. ''You have to tune the company's objectives to the country's objectives,'' says Robeli J. Libero, president of IBM Latin America. After doing business in Mexico for nearly 60 years through a wholly owned subsidiary run by Mexican managers, IBM faced a new government decree requiring 51% local ownership of personal computer manufacturers. Apple and Hewlett-Packard quickly formed joint ventures. To avoid taking on a Mexican partner, IBM made a counterproposal. It would invest $91.1 million in a new plant in Guadalajara to make its latest PCs. In addition, the company promised to develop a network of local suppliers and to export more than 90% of the factory's output. As an added incentive, IBM offered to develop computer courses for Mexican universities and to help the government establish a center to teach semiconductor technology to graduate students. To the consternation of Apple and H-P, Mexico waived the rules for Big Blue. PepsiCo is breaking into the Indian market in a deal that makes India look like Tom Sawyer getting paid to let PepsiCo whitewash a fence. India will earn five times as much hard currency as it shells out for Pepsi-Cola ingredients, a much better foreign exchange arrangement than PepsiCo gave the Soviet Union and China. PepsiCo will export fruit juices and tomato paste and do research aimed at developing high-yield and disease-resistant export crops. Says Robert H. Beeby, president of Pepsi-Cola International: ''We're selling something that's nonessential, so we have to give them more than we're getting.'' PepsiCo figures India's potential is well worth the effort. Despite an image of hopeless poverty, India has over 75 million middle-class consumers, more than the population of West Germany. India is not the only Third World market Pepsi wants -- just the biggest. Says Beeby: ''It mesmerizes us when there's a market we're not in. We want to be in Albania. We want to be in Burma. We wouldn't make much, if anything, but we want to be there when windows of opportunity open. Coke has the same mentality.'' Pepsi-Cola was kicked out of Iran after the Shah fell, but Beeby hopes to get back someday. Pepsi did manage to stay in Iraq during the long war with Iran. Many American companies in Third World countries rely on countertrade. (About 6% of all U.S. exports are tied to countertrade.) Economists argue that such deals make little sense. Countertrade adds unnecessarily to the cost of doing business, the critics say, and countries would be better off developing export industries themselves. Marketing executives agree that countertrade is no panacea, but they see little choice, especially since the problem of Third World debt shows no signs of easing. They see the additional cost as an investment in future market share. PepsiCo does a lot of countertrade. PepsiCo World Trade Corp., a subsidiary, helps generate foreign exchange that enables soft drink bottlers to buy concentrate. In Mexico, Pepsi's largest foreign soft drink market, the company rehabilitated a locally owned pineapple canning factory and found U.S. buyers for its products. It has also backed a frozen broccoli operation. The Sudan pays for its concentrate with sesame seeds, while Tanzania provides sisal, which is used for making rope. Nicaragua, which Beeby terms ''an economic basket case,'' still sips Pepsi because the U.S. company has doggedly generated exports of sesame seeds and molasses. To sell copiers and printers in Brazil, Xerox exports Brazilian steel to Europe and venetian blinds to the U.S., among other products, worth $100 million annually. Says Gunnar B.V. Vikberg, executive vice president of Xerox of Brazil: ''It's a necessary tool for us to survive and import.'' On the . surface that seems a lot of trouble to stay in a country mired in debt, caught in hyperinflation, and hooked on economic nationalism. But Brazil, with a GNP of more than $300 billion, is too big for Xerox to ignore. Meantime Xerox generates some $500 million in annual sales with a return that Vikberg says is ''sufficient to pay for the additional risk of being in Brazil.'' U.S. aircraft manufacturers have long peddled planes overseas by making what they term ''offset purchases,'' buying something from the customer's nation. Going a step further to penetrate Third World markets with little to sell, Boeing has set up a Bermuda-based company to help impoverished customers increase exports. Says Larry Clarkson, a Boeing vice president who handles international business: ''What we do has to make economic sense in its own right. You've got to be careful that you don't get into a what-have-you-done- for-us-la tely mode.'' In Peru the company is bolstering a proposed sale of Boeing 767 planes with an offer to invest in a plant to process fish meal for export. Boeing hopes to sell 737s to Malawi by investing in cotton, tobacco, or some other commodity. TO CLOSE a sale of $1 million in telephone switching equipment to the government of Colombia, Coherent Communications Systems, based in Hauppauge, New York, agreed to take payment in ginger. The company hired a commodity broker to advise on how much ginger to demand (two tons) and to help convert the brown root into dollars. Heinz turned to developing countries after discovering several years back that 85% of the world's population had never been exposed to its brand. With food consumption in Europe and North America growing no more than 1% annually, O'Reilly decided to seek joint ventures in the Third World, with Heinz holding 51%. His first was in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), a seemingly odd choice since the southern African country is run by an avowed Marxist, Robert Mugabe. But O'Reilly, an Irishman who was taught by Jesuits, just as Mugabe was, figured the Zimbabwe Prime Minister would be more interested in jobs than political rhetoric. He was right. With the country's unemployment rate at 23%, Mugabe was in no mood to turn down Western investment on ideological grounds. Moving into Zimbabwe has turned out well for Heinz. After buying a stake in a family-owned manufacturer of edible oils and soap, the company introduced Michigan pea beans into the country. The beans are baked and canned for local ) consumption and exported to neighboring Botswana. They are also shipped in bulk to Britain. Says O'Reilly: ''We already have most of our original $17 million investment back in cash and own a majority interest in a highly profitable business.'' Encouraged by the African experience, Heinz has made similar joint ventures in China and Thailand. Procter & Gamble used an experienced partner to get into China. After trying without success for two years, P&G aligned itself with Hong Kong billionaire Li Kashing, who has superb connections in the People's Republic. Li's trading company, Hutchison Whampoa, arranged a joint venture between P&G and the Guangzhou Soap Factory in China, taking a small stake for itself. The American company is importing its Camay brand from France and will soon be producing soap in China.

Seagram has been good at getting into developing countries before their economies take off. The company set up a joint venture in South Korea seven years ago. Says Edward F. McDonnell, executive vice president for international business: ''It was a very long-term investment, which is a nice way of saying that we knew we were going to lose money until we established local tastes for Western-style products.'' Seagram lost money in Korea for five years, but now has handsome profits on sales of more than $100 million a year. ''The wonderful thing about Asians,'' says McDonnell, ''is that they buy premium brands.'' ABOUT THE SAME time Seagram entered the Korean market, it invested in a joint venture in Thailand to produce a wine cooler. The cooler was profitable almost from the start, and Seagram now exports it from Thailand to other Southeast Asian countries. Seagram recently signed up to be the first Western distiller in China. Says McDonnell: ''The growth we expect for this decade is going to be in Asia.'' The company's Asian strategy is a repeat of its earlier approach to Latin America, where local plants set up long ago now generate a nearly 40% return on investment. The Third World is proving to be the savior of Singer Sewing Machine Co., the consumer products unit spun off from Singer Co. in 1986 after years of losses. The new company, which inherited the Singer brand, closed its U.S. plants and now assembles sewing machines and other products in such places as Chittagong in Bangladesh and Taytay in the Philippines. Some 75% of the company's $651 million in sales last year were outside the U.S., and more than half of those were in developing countries. + Singer Sewing relies on 9,000 door-to-door salesmen to peddle sewing machines on credit. It also owns 700 retail outlets. Says Neil J. Morrow, a vice president of marketing: ''Customers come into local Singer shops to make monthly payments and often buy other things from us.'' In Malaysia and Thailand, for instance, Singer Sewing buys refrigerators and TV sets from local manufacturers to resell under its brand, and they account for 80% of revenues. Profits would come quicker if the Third World debt burden could be eased. A study by the Overseas Development Council estimates that the economic straits of developing countries have cost the U.S. more than $60 billion in exports and 1.7 million jobs in the six years through 1986. But that's wishful thinking for companies that want to keep growing now. For them, the only strategy is to hack away, one obstacle at a time.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: LATIN AMERICA'S SHARE OF U.S. EXPORTS Debt-burdened neighbors to the south, the most loyal U.S. customers, are pinched for cash and buying less.