The trip basically consisted of my manager introducing me to my new clients, patting me on the back and saying congratulations the region is now all yours. It was like receiving the keys to a new car but with no test drive and no booklet in the glove box to figure out what that red button does.
It was challenging at first but through time and experience I was able to overcome these challenges and learn a few things which helped me not only to succeed but to thrive. Here are 3 key things I wish I knew when I started:
They tend to do things in their own time in the region. You’re very lucky if you get a timely response to written communication, if a response at all. It may take a few attempts before you make contact but you will eventually, although this will probably be a result of you finding the mobile number of the appropriate contact. Even then I’ve had instances where I haven’t been successful in organising a meeting before a trip, only to try my luck on the ground and being told to pay a visit an hour later.
In my last role I looked after the Middle East for 3 years. Every three months I would go and visit the same customers and prospects and seem to have the same conversations about product and price. One of the first meetings I had was with a customer which took me the entire 3 years to on-board. The first year consisted of me convincing them that we had the best product and price in the market the next 2 was them getting the necessary internal sign off and changing their processes so they were in a position to make the change. It would have been easy to get discouraged but sure enough I stuck with it and it was the biggest win of my career.
The Arab world is built on relationships. It’s not enough to simply have the best product and price in the market, you have to win their trust as well. You can’t begin a meeting by jumping straight into business - you must be prepared to discuss family, education, current affairs and personal interests (so watch Match of the Day before you go!). Once you’ve done this and built a relationship they will talk business when they’re ready. If you’ve spent time building the relationship you’ll find they can be the most loyal customers/business partners you have anywhere in the world.
Richard Cuda, UAE country specialist.
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