Most people are probably wondering, isn’t she going to do an Arab Health followup post? Not yet….it usually takes a few weeks of frustration back in the office before companies who participated start shaking their heads and wondering how to move the contacts they made further. Today I decided to tell you about sushi the other night.
A friend called and asked if I would like to join him and two of his friends for sushi in an obscure location, which always means if it’s hard to find and still exists, it must be good food! The critical information to my decision is always who were these two friends? So a German disguised as an Iraqi, an Iraqi disguised as an American, and an Iraqi dressed as an Emirati walk in to a sushi place…..the perfect setup for a joke, but in all seriousness that’s what happened. We’re from different professional backgrounds, but all trying to navigate business in the Arab Gulf region.
On my way home it struck me that the evening had been a prime example of the natural ecosystem through which we accomplish business here in the region that I try to share with our clients. Here are the lessons that the exchange validated for me. I will call my dinner partners Hans, Bob, and Ahmed – to protect the innocent. Hans is a consultant specializing in strategy development, Bob heads up a major US insurance/tech company, and Ahmed dabbles and invests in a whole host of businesses from healthcare to apparel.
One of the things I consistently tell our clients is that boots on the ground, or at least some fashion of boots on the ground is very important to regular revenue generation from the region. Bob mentioned that his company was “camping” with a client. I thought to myself, that’s a novel idea but when I pressed him to explain, what he meant was that they embed themselves so deeply with the potential client to offer consistent support, when a project does come up, the first company they reach out to is the one in proximity. By “camping” his team has demonstrated how important the relationship is to them. So often, by the time a project gets to the tender stage, it is merely going through the motions of tendering compliance; the bid has already been awarded. That’s why if your company doesn’t have the means to setup an office here, it’s important that you partner with a local company who has the means and existing relationships to represent on your behalf.
I also talk a lot about relationships with the companies we assist; the camping technique above is a prime example of winning business based on relationships. But also our dinner itself was a great example. By the end of the meal, Hans was sending me his brochures; I was sending Bob several resumes; Ahmed and Bob had agreed to meet again to discuss a joint topic more in-depth; I met two new contacts that I may either help or be helped by in the future; and we had a wonderful sushi platter and green tea. Plus it was great to meet two new genuinely nice people. We shared contacts, intel, experiences – very common to the way we do business in the region. It’s like the golf courses all over the U.S. of yesteryear! Build the relationships, build the contacts, and move closer to doing real business in the future.
Often the contacts that one develops doing the work that I do, are at the C-Suite of an organization or company. Bellies full of sushi and now moving on to tea, we discussed the optimal level in an organization at which to make your pitch. Just because you have high level contacts, that may not always be the best place to insert yourself. This was one topic of disagreement and lively debate. Ahmed insisted you go to the top; here is where you will be able to set your price and stick to it. Bob was busy camping in the executive level. When and in what industry is it best to make nice with the procurement folks? Hans was not fond of the top down method, commenting it may secure a single project, but if the mid-level feels they have been circumvented, they will not be keen to work with you again. And how often do you really think you can ping your top level contact before you look like an opportunist? Bob, Hans, and Ahmed all had valid points. I would posit that each situation, each industry dictates a unique approach. Sometimes the answer is D: all of the above. You have to mine the entire structure to develop regular engagement with a company.
One last lesson from the meal. After the sushi platters were devoured, I couldn’t believe that Ahmed suggested soya ice cream; they could eat more?!?! He ended up ordering a banana split and what was served indeed did include a banana that was split. To my American eyes, it was no banana split – a couple scoops of ice cream, a blob of whip cream and what I would consider a whisper of chocolate sauce. When I claimed that this was no banana split, the men insisted that indeed it was a split banana, and proceeded to dig in, validating another point we make with our clients; it may be the same term but a totally different definition when you’re working in a region with as many expat nationalities as there are in the Arab Gulf. Make sure you truly understand what the meaning behind the language is, or you may be disappointed even when you’re all speaking English.
It was a pleasant evening and I was glad I went. We chatted about family, politics, and friends in common. The conversation flowed naturally and didn’t feel like business at all. That’s so often how we do it here in the region. Oh yes, and the final validation – no one knows how to make a banana split quite like an American!