Arab Health is always a very busy trade show for us. The Kallman US Pavilion gets larger and larger each year and as they grow, our services to US SME’s stay in step. It’s exciting and it’s exhausting. Over the years, I have come to some universal truths regarding Arab Health.Truth # 1: The market is spoiled for choice.
Each year I am in the midst of the largest healthcare exhibition in the Middle East and Asia, and I inevitably end up getting sick. My Grandma always said, you can’t burn your candle at both ends and expect not to get sick. What better place to fall ill than in the middle of a vast international gathering of doctors and healthcare professionals! In addition to the 4,000 exhibitors from 40 different countries, every healthcare product and service is displayed and demonstrated, the latest tech in every specialty. Competition is fierce, so bear in mind you will need to differentiate yourself. If I was really smart, I would go booth to booth and get my annual checkup done for absolutely free.Truth # 2: You need to be smarter than your shoes.
I am a stubborn slave to my cruel shoes and will start off that grueling first Monday morning in heels. As the days progress and I have spent too much time thinking about my aching feet and shifting my weight from one foot to the other, my shoes will get progressively shorter, until I am in the same flat ugly shoes as everyone else who considered themselves smarter than me from the start.Truth # 3: Don’t believe everything you hear.
If you are a first-timer, don’t be taken in by the snake oil salesman. Everyone and his brother has a healthcare distribution company, and just because they claim to represent other global brands, have offices in multiple countries, and have a sheikh as a business partner; take your time and do your due diligence. There are great distributors in the region but for every one of them, there are several questionable establishments. Make sure you have the real thing, not a placebo.Truth # 4: It’s a buyer’s market.
Investment in healthcare is a top agenda item across the Arab Gulf countries. You would be wise to study up on their strategic plans. Here are a couple to give you a headstart:http://www.vision2021.ae/en (UAE)http://www.moh.gov.sa/en/Ministry/nehs/Pages/default.aspx (Saudi Arabia) Within these strategies, there are gaping opportunities for private sector healthcare companies to engage and fill the necessary holes. Off the top of my head I can tell you addressing lifestyle diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and childhood obesity is a priority, cancer treatment specialties, increasing disaster/epidemic preparedness, and general wellness efforts such as smoking cessation all are key areas of focus. There are public and private hospitals in the works all over; every element of hospital build, fit-out, etc. is needed. Opportunity is abundant, but I caution that this is a buyer’s market and you will need to be ready to demonstrate why your products or services are the be-all-end-all.Truth # 5: The roads are not paved with gold.
A common misconception I see time and again is the assumption that in the Arab Gulf the roads are paved with gold. Yes, they like the best of the best, and there is the money to pay for it, especially in contrast to other more developed markets. But just because one has money, does not mean he or she will waste money. As much as they want the best, they also want to get the best price. This region is known for its negotiation skills. They are shrewd business people and will expect and NEED to believe they are getting the best prices possible. Best to build that knowledge into your own strategy now. Give yourself a comfortable margin for negotiation before you begin.Truth # 6: Listen as much as you speak.
A couple of years ago, I was resting my feet in the US Exhibitors Lounge and overheard a conversation taking place behind me between a US company and what was apparently a potential distributor. The American was very animatedly dictating the terms of engagement. Shifting in my seat for a better look, I could see the distributor’s body language shrinking and stiffening at the same time. I wanted to do a negotiation intervention, but held my tongue. First, you will need to take that American directness down a notch. Culturally, preference is for the slow steady build of a commercial relationship. Some people jump right in the deep end of the pool; here we prefer to start in the shallow and ease our way into the greater depths. The Middle East is not the same as the US market in many ways. To be successful, you will need to adapt your market strategy, and the easiest way to understand is to listen to what potential partners/distributors are saying. Pretty soon you will be able to see the common threads and understand the market expectations.Truth # 7/Bonus (because the one about my shoes doesn’t really count): Remember who the customer is.
This seems pretty common sense, but you would not believe the number of times I have encountered US companies who expect the Middle Eastern customer to accommodate them, rather than the other way around. We have hosted companies who have come all the way from the US but refused to take a car ride an hour down the highway to the neighboring city for a critical meeting. This dumbfounds me. It’s like running a marathon and quitting at mile 25.5. We have companies come in for big trade shows and then refuse to leave the show for a meeting that could be THE one.
My last bit of advice and possibly the hardest to swallow is to be humble. Yes, American made goods and services are respected in the Arab Gulf countries for their quality, value, and innovation. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s a buyer’s market and it would serve you well to approach these potential customers and partners not with arrogance of that knowledge, but with humility. I can say this because I am American and share the patriotic truth that of course, US products and services are superior. And yes, unfortunately Americans do have the international reputation for this flavor of arrogance. So again, I caution to dial this down a notch. Better to have the customer say, we love your products because they are such high quality, rather than saying it yourself. Good luck with Arab Health. If you need any help, you will recognize me immediately; I’m the one hobbling around in the ridiculous shoes…. Always easier to give advice rather than to take your own!